The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, a writer and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost
“A biography that reads like a thriller or a whodunit . . . scrupulously honest, deeply damning, and sometimes even heartbreaking.”—Neil Gaiman
Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—was one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as head editor of Marvel for three decades and, in that time, launched more pieces of internationally recognizable intellectual property than anyone other than Walt Disney: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor . . . the list seems to never end. On top of that, his carnival-barker marketing prowess more or less single-handedly saved the comic-book industry and superhero fiction. Without him, the global entertainment industry would be wildly different—and a great deal poorer.
But Lee’s unprecedented career was also filled with spectacular failures, controversy, and bitter disputes. Lee was dogged by accusations from key collaborators such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko over who really created Marvel’s signature characters—iconic figures for whom Lee had always been suspected of taking more than his proper share of credit. A major business venture, Stan Lee Media, resulted in stock manipulation, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. A second one, POW! Entertainment, has been repeatedly accused of malfeasance and deceit. And in his final years, after the death of his beloved wife, Joan, rumors swirled that Lee was a virtual prisoner in his own home, beset by abusive grifters and issuing cryptic video recordings as a battle to control his fortune and legacy ensued.
Abraham Riesman is a veteran culture reporter who has 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. Lee’s most famous motto was “With great power comes great responsibility.” Stretching from the Romanian shtetls of Lee’s ancestors to his own final moments in Los Angeles, True Believer chronicles the world-changing triumphs and tragic missteps of an extraordinary life, and leaves it to readers to decide whether Lee lived up to the responsibilities of his own talent.
About the Author
Abraham Riesman is a Providence-based journalist, writing primarily for New York magazine about arts and culture. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, and Vice, among other publications.
“Illuminating . . . A well-researched, engrossing and compulsively readable book.”—Los Angeles Times
“Tantalizing . . . Riesman puts in the hard yards to separate fact from myth.”—Dorian Lynskey, The Spectator
“An illuminating and reliable account of Lee’s improbable odyssey.”—Jacob Heilbrunn,
“Striking . . . True Believer paints a portrait of a man who was just as flawed as his heroes, and he emerges all the more human for it. . . . [Riesman is] a must-read chronicler of the comic book industry.”—The Hollywood Reporter
“For those who know Stan Lee from his sunny, funny cameos in Marvel films, get ready for an unputdownable deep dive. The man lived a life—warts and all—and Riesman captures the shadow and sunshine in equal measure.”—Patton Oswalt
“True Believer is in every imaginable way the biography that Stan Lee deserves—ambitious, audacious, daring, and unflinchingly clear-eyed about the man’s significance, his shortcomings, his transgressions, his accomplishments, and his astonishing legacy.”—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road
“Stan Lee was a mythmaker, both creatively and autobiographically. To reach the truth of his troubled and troubling life story, Riesman has had to peel away layers of quarrel, exaggeration, credit-grabbing, dispute, and faulty memory. The result is an enthralling, vibrantly written portrait of one of American popular culture's great innovators."—Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back
“The story of Stan Lee is a wild ride, sometimes breathtaking, often shocking—but it is also a wholly American one, rooted in the transformation of hardscrabble reality into glorious dreams, of legends into truth, of absence into action, of immigration into assimilation.”—Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita
“Stan Lee was, all at once, a genius, a schlepper, a hack, a huckster, a marvel. Riesman painstakingly dug into how much credit each of those overlapping personae deserves, and then he spun all those threads into a book that reads with the supple speed of Mr. Fantastic himself.”—Chris Bonanos, author of Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous
“A life rich with unexpected turns and a biography filled with personality. In looking at a man who created heroic stories for a living, Riesman bravely examines the trace lines underneath the legends of his life. The result is a startling, fresh portrait of a truly American career.”—Nathan Heller, author of The Private Order
“. . . jam-packed with carefully compiled evidence of just how much delectable bullshit, staggering failure, and vicious backbiting goes into the making of a great American genius. I genuinely could not put it down."—Penny Lane, director of Hail Satan?
“Take it from someone who has always found comic books alluring but knew next to nothing about the medium’s history before reading True Believer: this book will pull you in no matter what level of knowledge or built-in curiosity you bring to it.”—Leon Neyfakh, co-creator of Slow Burn and Fiasco