The world of comic books, and by extension movies, would simply not be what it has become today without the influence of Stan Lee. As one of the pioneers of comic book storytelling and business practices, Stan Lee is synonymous with anything related to Marvel Comics. The 2023 documentary, simply titled Stan Lee, chronicles the early life and career of Stan “The Man” Lee and how his work was part of the foundation for what Marvel would turn into decades later. It’s a walkthrough of a man with an incredible career that continues to impact both the entertainment world and the personal lives of many people around the world to this day. And while the documentary is a perfect overview of Stan’s life with Marvel, it comes very close in ways that are both surprising and heartfelt.
The Stan Lee documentary is meant to be an homage to Stan’s 100th birthday, with the bulk of the documentary covering the genesis of Marvel Comics. Much of what was happening with Stan Lee before and at the start of his time with Timely Comics, which Stan would rename Marvel Comics later, coincides with many important historical events over various decades. The documentary covers Stan’s birth right before the start of World War II and goes through many other points of American history. This includes the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and even the space race. As those major historical events happen in the backdrop of the documentary, Stan’s life is that of a man working hard to have a steady job and eventually begin a family.
Surprisingly, the documentary gets very candid about some aspects of Stan’s family and personal life. Though everything is kept within the context of when Stan was getting into the comic business, there are some things that are touched on that have never been mentioned in other documentaries. This same level of honesty extends into the later decades when Stan Lee began working with comic legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Great lengths are taken to highlight much of the work that was accomplished by Stan’s collaboration with the artists at comics, despite a lot of the foundation and core elements of the company extending from Stan.
Even more surprising is some of the controversy from when Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics. The documentary doesn’t take a side, nor does it downplay, why both artists left the company and why they had conflict with Stan Lee. Instead, there’s a lot of praise given to the work that both artists did before and after Marvel, as well as emphasizing how the relationship between all of them was very beneficial for everyone.
There are a lot of historical images, audio and video clips, as well as television segments used throughout the documentary. Some of the older pictures from the 1930s and 1940s are interesting, despite being very few of them in comparison to later decades of Stan’s career. The entire documentary is narrated by Stan Lee using a large variety of audio clips pulled from many sources. Everything about this documentary is 100% Stan Lee with input from others only when it is necessary. There are quotes and clips from people like Jack Kirby and many of Stan’s other colleagues of the day, as well as tons of television and live segments that show Stan speaking with a variety of people in each decade. But what makes this documentary feels so deep is how the collage of audio still manages to have Stan’s candid voice and inviting tone. It’s not only Stan’s own words describing nearly everything featured in the documentary but done in great detail, delivered a man who told many stories throughout his life. It just feels very right.
In the middle of this, however, there are statues or doll-like creations of scenes that are mentioned through Stan’s dialogue. Places like the office where a young Stan Lee worked as he came up with the pen name that would go on to define him. It’s a nice way to visualize important places like this, as well as give a timeless element to many of the themes that get reinforced by Stan throughout the documentary. However, it’s not used as much in the later sections of Stan’s life, right before he becomes the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.
One thing that is heavily emphasized is how much Stan Lee was an important part of what made Marvel different from the competition as far back as the early 1960s. Even more so than Stan Lee being around during the creation of characters like Captain America and the renaming of the business to Marvel, Stan was helping push the limit of how comics would be viewed in pop culture. A lot of the major turning points for comic stories could be traced back to specific stories that Stan Lee wrote during his time at Marvel.
This would include tackling topics of real inequality and bigotry happening in the world, the inclusion of various people of all colors and races into stories, facing the harsh truths of drug use, and even the problems normal people faced every day. All of this would change comic books in the years that followed, but none of it would’ve been possible, or as widely accepted by everyone, had it not been for Stan Lee pushing for everything. The documentary doesn’t just explain it but shows just how much Marvel Comics was really supporting important topics like that as early as 1962.
The final sections of the documentary round off with the cameos that Stan Lee was known for in Disney Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Unfortunately, this is the one place where the documentary falls short and misses a giant portion of his story. While most of the MCU is featured in a major way, the Spider-Man movies and early Marvel adaptations are completely skipped over. A big section of the documentary covers the creation of Spider-Man and the impact of his comics, but nothing is mentioned about the release of the first Spider-Man movie or its sequels. This could be partially due to those films being created by Sony Pictures and not Disney, but it’s hard to know the exact reason why because nothing is said about them.
It’s a major omission in the context of the documentary because of how much Stan Lee’s story is tied to Spider-Man’s creation. It would’ve been fine to have a small bit of Stan commenting on the first time Spider-Man hit the big screen, or the idea of any of the Marvel Comics characters getting adapted into live-action. Other documentaries have highlighted Stan’s influence and effort to push the Marvel characters into live-action adaptations as far back as the 70s, and eventually into the 2000s. But to skip over it completely ignores a major part of the story of Stan Lee.
The Stan Lee documentary is a very well-constructed guide through the life of one of the comic industry’s most influential figures. It has a lot of historical context and backstory that feels relevant, tying back to the things we know today. As a way to celebrate the 100th birthday of the man who helped build Marvel Comics from the ground up, it’s a great watch that everyone will enjoy. While there might be more complete or detailed documentaries about the late and great Stan Lee, this one would definitely get the seal of approval from many fans across generations… Nuff said.
Have you gotten to see the Stan Lee documentary on Disney Plus? What do you think about Marvel Comics and how Stan Lee helped create many of its characters? Share your thoughts about everything in the comment section down below!
Stan Lee (2023 Disney+ Doc)
This is a great documentary that gives a lot of interesting details on the life and career of Stan Lee. While it’s not a complete view of everything, it does have a lot of insight into the creation and success of Marvel Comics, as well as how it’s impact is felt to this day. The best part is how audio of Stan Lee helps narrate the entire documentary, letting you hear everything from the man himself.
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