Sheldon Cooper's reverent reaction to Stan Lee on a memorable episode of "The Big Bang Theory" is fairly common even among non-comic book readers. Lee, the subject of the new documentary "With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story," attracts attention like a visiting dignitary at diverse places like the San Diego Comic-Con and Park City, Utah.
Produced by 1821 Comics, "With Great Power," which recently made its debut at Slamdance 2012, looks back at the career of the 89-year-old Lee, whose given name is Stanley Lieber. Through Lee's words and the recollections of his co-workers and friends, the documentary paints an interesting, even-handed picture of the comic creator and doesn't shy away from controversy.
For those who didn't come of age in the 1960s, "With Great Power" looks at some Lee innovations, in particular a more direct interaction between the creators and the readers; this included a fan club dubbed the "Merry Marvel Marching Society." Lee also gave the writers, artists, and letterers descriptive adjectives (i.e. Jack "King" Kirby) and dubbed the creative forces at Marvel Comics "The Bullpen."
Speaking of Kirby, one of the definitive artists in comic book history, fans still debate whether the artist born Jacob Kurtzberg was more creative than Stan "The Man" Lee. The documentary doesn't turn away from the debate, touching on the period in which Kirby broke away from Lee and Marvel to work for rival companies.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Kirby did not live to see his beloved drawings come to life in a series of live-action films. "With Great Power" contains testimonials from such actors as "Fantastic Four" star Michael Chiklis who have personified the decades-old Marvel characters in this lucrative motion picture endeavor.
Taking its title from the hardest life lesson Peter Parker ever learned in his superhero career, "With Great Power" is a breezy, detailed, and informative look at one of the comic book industry's most celebrated creators.
"The Man" Chats With Gene Simmons
On January 24, Lee himself appeared at Slamdance for a live question-and-answer session with entrepreneur Gene Simmons. During the 1970s, Simmons, along with the other members of the rock group Kiss, appeared in a highly coveted comic book produced by Marvel. As the two men chatted in front of a studio audience, the video feed was carried in real-time via the Ortsbo platform. The Ortsbo application allowed for online questions from around the world, which were automatically translated for Lee and Simmons.
One interesting question directed at Lee came from a fan named Lee in Singapore. Translated from Chinese, this online viewer said "I started reading comic books when I was young, and now as an adult I still love reading them. Why do you think that they are so appealing?"
Lee responded that he had to give a very profound answer: "All of us, when we were young, I think, loved fairy tales. We loved tales of people bigger than life and wilder and witches and monsters and trolls and demons and things like that. Well, you get a little bit older, and you can't keep reading fairy tales. But you never out-love your feeling for these bigger-than-life stories."
Lee continued by saying that superhero comic books are really fairy tales for grownups: "They enable you to have the same fun and excitement, to titillate your imagination the same way that those fairy tales did when you were young. And I think that's the reason and luckily, there is no scientific way that anybody can prove I'm wrong."
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