Goodreads Reviews

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan LeeTrue Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always thought myself in the minority regarding the opinion that Stan Lee’s creativity ended when he became Marvel’s publisher in 1970. Thankfully, I have learned I am not alone with no biography addressing this as pointedly as Abraham Riesman does in this fascinating biography.

There is no question Riesman has an agenda, which seems to be debunking the Stan Lee Myth. We may argue he goes too far in stripping Stan of his creative contributions to the Marvel Universe, but it may be a result of trying to balance the scales in a debate that will never end since most of the primary sources are no longer with us.

Riesman does a nice job on the early years, right up to Lee going into World War II. But the post-war period, through FF #1 needed more. First of all, many co-workers always said he was an excellent art director and developed a good commercial sense. Al Jaffe recounted on time he attended a cover meeting, expecting it to last all day, but Stan generated a few dozen cover ideas in a matter of hours. There were reports of him dictating full scripts during this period to secretaries so he seemed adept at the plot-first and full-script styles.

We have anecdotal evidence that Stan and Jack did kick ideas around, both in the office and in the car rides back to Long Island (courtesy of driver John Romita). So, it wasn’t as cut and dried as Riesman makes it out to be.

I think Roy’s role of mentee and creative contributor during the latter ’60s got short shrift.

But, the complete and utter failure of Stan to create original works on his own in new media (film, television, webisodes) is sad to contemplate. Because we also know that in the right environment, he still could make valuable contributions. As Mark Waid recently noted on Facebook, Stan read work with his name on it and would make editorial and art comments that seemed more often than not to be spot on.

Not mentioned here is the series of How to books bearing Stan’s name, packaged by Dynamite and published by Watson-Guptil. I co-wrote the How to Write Comics volume and was handed an outline that Stan clearly had a hand in creating. He answered emails from me about things he wanted to be covered or addressed so he was not always an absentee landlord of his name.

The book is a must-read bio, but possibly the best critical analysis of Stan’s written work probably remains the volume from Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael.

View all my reviews OutlawedOutlawed by Anna North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This alternate history take on the Hole in the Wall Gang is a fascinating feminist take, filled with exciting characters and situations. When Ada finds herself barren, she finds herself dismissed from her marriage by her mother-in-law and, soon after, is scapegoated for a series of infant deaths her hometown is convinced was a result of witchcraft. We’re talking 1894-95, so one would think we were past this nonsense but apparently not.

After spending some time in a covenant to avoid being arrested (and likely stoned or killed), she sets out for Hole in the Wall in the hopes of finding her way to a master midwife who has written the only sensible book on women’s health issues. She finds eight others, lesbians and other barren women who have formed a small, close-knit family, including their spiritual leader, the Kid. They thieve and rob, under the Kid’s guidance, to sustain themselves, slow to welcome Ada to their ranks.

Then they set their sets higher, and all hell breaks loose.

The writing is clear and draws you into Ada’s plight. The others are well-sketched but lack her depth of characterization. Weakening the overall impact was the narrator’s poor ability at creating other voices for men and women.

An engaging story worth a read.

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White Teeth by Zadie Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve seen good things written about Zadie Smith, especially related to her debut novel. When I decided I needed something modern for my British Literature class, this came to mind.

Having just completed it, I have no idea how to teach it. I was so incredibly let down after all the fever-induced hype, especially all the back cover quotes. What did they see that I missed? Why do I feel nothing for this novel?

It’s a generations-spanning work as two unlikely men are thrown together at the end of World War II and become friends. We watch them take wives, sire children, hate their jobs, suffer indignities, and family drama. We then follow the wives and then the children and it’s all messy, set against the second half of the 20th century. It’s hard to remember it’s set in England because cultural, political and world events seem nonexistent, we’re trapped in this small melodramatic bubble.

There’s no one to like, no one to root for, as everyone is casting about, adrift yearning for meaning to their lives. It’s a bleak and largely unpleasant look at British society.

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Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I could not skip reading this book, given the enthusiasm for Angie Thomas’s works among my students. I specifically bought the book, so I could be up on the conversation and then make it available in my classroom library.

This prequel to The Hate U Give was seemingly inspired by the questions actor Russell Hornsby had about Maverick Carter, the man he played in the film adaptation. Thomas got to wondering more about the man’s backstory and hence the novel.

She does an effective job of showing the mistakes a teen can make and either learn from the experience, as Maverick does, or shy away from the consequences as Iesha, the mother of his first child, Seven, does. He makes mistakes but thanks to his mother’s love and the belief Lisa has in him, he slowly starts to make the decisions that put him on the path to the man we know.

Lisa, the teen who loved him and is pregnant with Starr, is nicely contrasted with Iesha who loves Seven, but is not ready for the parenting responsibilities. Lisa, smart, dedicated, and college-bound, acknowledges her role in the conception and her story is as interesting as Maverick’s.

There are some subtle nods to both THUG and On the Come Up.

Definitely good my high schoolers.

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