Just when I thought I’d had enough of Stan Lee, between all of his silly cameos in Marvel movie adaptations, his ridiculous reality series ideas, and his constant presence throughout Morgan Spurlock’s new film, “Comic-Con IV: A Fan’s Hope,” a conventional biographical profile has come my way and I’m back in love with ‘The Man’ behind so many of my favorite comic book characters. Actually, I’m in now love with Stan and Joan Lee, who together make the documentary “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story” more extraordinary than I had anticipated.
Forget looking up to his creations, like the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Spider-Man, or finding inspiration and wisdom from Professor X, Iron Man or Silver Surfer, it’s the Lees’ 60 years of marriage that I find far more super-heroic and deserving of admiration. I’ll take a spin-off reality series full of their classic screwball comedy banter, please. Or just get rid of Johny Depp and let these two play elder versions of Nick and Nora Charles in the “Thin Man” remake. They’re simply adorable. Best couple in a documentary in years.
Of course, they’re only a fraction of the film, which is co-directed by Will Hess, Nikki Frakes and Terry Dougas, and which made its debut at Comic-Con in 2010. As a laudatory biographical documentary it’s a very simple and straightforward work, though I think even huge fans of Lee, to whom none of his story is unknown, will get a kick out of all the old photos and TV archives from the ’70s especially. Those of us who aren’t so familiar with his life learn about his origins as an assistant at Timely Comics through his sometimes difficult partnerships with artist Jack Kirby, the congressional investigation of comics’ influence on delinquency, Marvel’s financial ups and downs, Lee’s disastrous attempt at founding his own company, and obviously his prolific and revolutionary days developing new heroes and titles in the ’60s. Obviously the story of Stan Lee is the story of comic books themselves, at least since World War II.
A main draw for both the hardcore geeks and those more interested in big name stars is the enormous selection of interview participants, including numerous Hollywood filmmakers and actors who’ve starred in a film based on a Marvel comic (such as Nicolas Cage, Kenneth Branagh, Bryan Singer, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Stewart and James Marsden), plus less-obvious celebs who are fans of his work (Seth Rogen, for instance) and comic book artists such as Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Joe Quesada, Joe Simon and John Romita Sr. Yet they are all overshadowed by Joan, who in interviews and other contemporary footage provides us with an uncanny understanding of Stan the Man, as a husband and as a great human being. She’s the one with the greatest power here and she fulfills her requisite great responsibility perfectly.
“With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story” is screening as part of the Icons program at the 2011 DOC NYC documentary festival on November 6 and 10. Click here for more info.
Recommended If You Like: comic books; screwball comedy couples;