True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee
The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, a writer and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost
HUGO AWARD FINALIST • EISNER AWARD NOMINEE • “A biography that reads like a thriller or a whodunit . . . scrupulously honest, deeply damning, and sometimes even heartbreaking.”—Neil Gaiman
Stan Lee was one of the most famous and beloved entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as head editor of Marvel Comics for three decades and, in that time, became known as the creator of more pieces of internationally recognizable intellectual property than nearly anyone: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk . . . the list goes on. His carnival-barker marketing prowess helped save the comic-book industry and superhero fiction. His cameos in Marvel movies have charmed billions. When he died in 2018, grief poured in from around the world, further cementing his legacy.
But what if Stan Lee wasn’t who he said he was? To craft the definitive biography of Lee, Abraham Riesman conducted more than 150 interviews and investigated thousands of pages of private documents, turning up never-before-published revelations about Lee’s life and work. True Believer tackles tough questions: Did Lee actually create the characters he gained fame for creating? Was he complicit in millions of dollars’ worth of fraud in his post-Marvel life? Which members of the cavalcade of grifters who surrounded him were most responsible for the misery of his final days?
And, above all, what drove this man to achieve so much yet always boast of more?
Journalist Riesman unpacks the minutiae-gnarled debates swirling around comics writer and producer Stan Lee (1922 2018) in his eventful, myth-dispelling debut, while also telling a story that will resonate even for those who don't know Spider-man from the Red Skull. With the caveat that reports of Lee are "where objective truth goes to die," Riesman does his best to separate fact from hype. Lee, raised by Jewish immigrants in New York City, grew into a hustler and tall-tale-teller, and Riesman breaks down Lee's life into three epochs. Pre-1961, he ground out stories for his cousin-in-law's publishing company. In the 1960s he helped launch the series (Fantastic Four, Spider-man, X-Men) that redefined the comics genre. Lee became Marvel publisher in 1972, and Riesman characterizes him as perfecting the chipper "Stan Lee character" displayed in his "Stan's Soapbox" column, where "he'd pontificate and rile up his base with slogans and jittery word-jazz." Riesman delves into controversies about whether Lee who never missed an opportunity to slap his name on a product took credit from artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. Later chapters detail Lee's unhappy Hollywood sojourn, marked by subpar output, horrific family dysfunction, and scandals (two of Lee's companies collapsed in potential criminality). This detailed, clear-eyed examination pulls back the curtain on one of America's great storytellers and is sure to reignite debates over Lee's legacy.