Taped by Weller/Grossman Prods. Executive producers, Robb Weller, Gary H. Grossman. Producer, director, Nat Segaloff; coordinating producer, Sue Nadell; camera, Jake Clennell (New York), Sovonto, Victor Smith, Dasal Banks (Los Angeles); editor, Mark Walters; sound, David Plisken, Lee J. Randell (New York), David Jamal Banks (Los Angeles); music, OGM. Ole Georg/Capitol Records, Audio Action. Narrator: Robb Weller Stan Lee should be the hero of every middle-aged dreamer: After toiling some 25 years writing comic books that he didn’t like, he created “The Fantastic Four”– and comic books were changed forever. The evolution of the comic book and Lee’s story are so intertwined that this “Biography” suffers tunnel vision, ignoring other innovators in the field, although as a tribute to the man who invented “Spider-Man,””The Incredible Hulk” and “The X-Men,” it’s an informative, delightful diversion. The development of the comic book — a purely American folk art form, as writer Harlan Ellison puts it — was almost stymied in the ’50s, when a right-wing psychologist, Fredric Wertham, stirred up public outrage over the sexual, violent and horror elements of comic books.
As a result, some comics were banned and the industry invented the “Comics Code” to protect itself. Looking back, it seems that the public was rather naive in believing something as innocuous as a comic book would contribute to juvenile delinquency.
But Lee and artist Jack Kirby created the “Fantastic Four,” bringing humor and humanity to superheroes. “Four” breathed fresh life into the stale genre, and for Lee, the hits just kept coming.
Platitudes and anecdotes from artists, historians and such diverse creatives as Gene Simmons (Kiss) and filmmaker John Singleton move docu along nicely. Revealed as the most important contribution Lee made to the industry was his tireless crusading to gain legitimacy to the form, to have it labeled “art.”
Doc glosses over controversy, but talking heads, especially Ellison and historian Mark Evanier, bring much insight to this tribute to and short history of the comics, and the genre’s most famous name.