If you're looking for a stocking stuffer for the comic-book lover in your life, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story hit the street earlier this month on DVD. Directed by Terry Dougas (executive producer of Swing Vote and The Box), Nikki Frakes and William Lawrence Hess, the documentary chronicles the life of the man who is credited for creating the "Marvel Universe." The film takes viewers from his early days as a writer for Timely Comics, through the formation of the "Marvel Bullpen" to his current status as a media figurehead with Marvel Entertainment. Most fans of Marvel Comics should already be familiar with Lee's life story, but the film does offer some unique nuggets and insight to the legendary comic-book writer's life.
When I sat down to watch With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story I did so with a family member who was unfamiliar with Mr. Lee and his career. If her reaction was any indication, newcomers to comic books will be impressed with the sheer cast of characters that Lee (formerly Stanley Lieber) played a part in creating. Characters like the X-Men, The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer are a mere sampling to say the least. But, with all the attention Lee has gotten for revolutionizing comic-book superheroes, it has always pained me to see his co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko get short-shrift in the mainstream media. Fortunately, Lee makes a point of emphasizing the role these talented artists played in creating characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk, giving them their just due. My newbie family member admitted to never having heard of them before, so I'm glad that the film addresses that.
(Another thing that gave me a chuckle was the inclusion of an actual photograph of the reclusive Steve Ditko, co-creator of The Amazing Spider-Man. He is known for his aversion to having his picture taken, so this is akin to getting a decent picture of Bigfoot!)
Beyond the comic-related stories, the documentary delves a bit into Lee's personal life, introducing viewers to his wife Joan and daughter "J.C." (Joan Celia). There are some intimate moments between Lee and Joan where they speak about her miscarriage after the birth of their first child, along with the frustrations they encountered in trying to adopt. These are moments when Lee, who sometimes takes on a mythic quality with comic-book fans, comes across as very human.
If I have any qualms about the film, it's that the chronology gets a bit muddled at times. If I weren't already familiar with his story, I would have thought that Lee created all those characters while he was still at Timely and not a fledging Marvel Comics. They also gloss over the part where Lee's internet venture - Stan Lee Media- collapsed, without really digging into the hows and whys. And the bit where they animate comic-book panels for cut-scenes gets a bit overused.
Still, for all these nitpicks, the documentary gives newcomers a nice primer, and long-time comic-book fans something new. Add to that a bunch of extras that include interviews with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada and With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story is as close to the definitive version of the comic-book legend's history as you're gonna get.
WITH GREAT POWER: THE STAN LEE STORY gets a GEEK FACTOR RATING of 3 (out of 4) web-shooters!
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