Writers: "Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man": Stan Lee; "Some Steves": Joss Whedon; "Waiting For the Man": Fred Hembeck; Amazing Spider-Man #87 - "Unmasked at last!": Stan Lee
Artists: "Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man": Olivier Coipel (p), Mark Morales (i) Jose Villarrubia (colours); "Some Steves": Michael Gaydos (p & i), Pete Pantazis (colours); "Waiting For the Man": Fred Hembeck (p & i), Bill Crabtree (colours); Amazing Spider-Man #87 - "Unmasked at last!": John Romita Sr. and Jim Mooney
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This is a fun comic. If you're looking for some respite from the dour deconstruction of the Marvel Universe that is Civil War, and hunger for a bit of nostalgia for a time when things were sillier and more simple, this is the book for you. An anthology of stories loosely themed around the hero-worship of Marvel demi-deity Stan Lee, the first tale is the only new material written by the man himself and sees Spidey seek out his creator for some advice on why he shouldn't quit the hero game for good. Whilst it's nice to see that Stan the Man hasn't lost his flair for simple, direct dialogue (his Spider-Man somehow still manages to capture the essence and voice of the original character in a way that no other writer can), it's also good to see his self-awareness come to the fore. Stan builds himself up as the cliché superhero guru that everyone pictures him as, but peppers his script with more than a few self-deprecating quips and a neat, surprisingly cynical punchline which lets on that the avuncular figure of Stan Lee isn't exactly the daft old coot that he sometimes makes out. Spidey has served Lee very well over the years, and this story doesn't shy away from that, but gives us a distilled shot of everything that makes Peter Parker such a sympathetic, realistic everyman character, and everything that makes Stan Lee such a barely-believable and unique creator.
Having Olivier Coipel along for the ride proves a massive boon for the book, too. I first became aware of Coipel through his work on House of M, but since then he's softened his style somewhat, turning in some excellent work on the New Avengers Annual and the recent Spider-Woman Civil War tie-in issue, and he continues to impress here, producing some beautiful, delicately-drawn and decidedly retro images to accompany Stan's story. Coipel depicts a cavalcade of Spidey baddies and classic-feeling Spider-Man images with apparent ease, but the most impressive moments are those which give us a sense of Stan's character. His 60s-style apartment evokes the era of Spidey's creation with an emphasis on the kitsch and the then-modern accoutrements of the young and hip, and it's hard not to be won over by the stylised art approach as "Mas que nada" floats through the air courtesy of the artist's languid lettering. Yes, the story is thin, simplistic and relatively one-note, but Coipel gives it a charm which helps it to overcome its limitations and make the best of what was always going to be a slightly self-congratulatory project.
Joss Whedon's story, "Some Steves," sees a comicbook fan from our world visit an interdimensional comic-con and discover other versions of himself whose lives weren't touched by Stan Lee's Marvel creations. It's less of a story and more of an excuse for Whedon to flex his comedic muscle, making the most of his chance to re-invent Stan's most inspired creations as less exciting, less fantastical comic books. The most successful gags come from these alternative takes on characters and storylines we know and love, and even if a couple of Whedon's other jokes fall a little flat - the "pornworld" thing might have been funny once, but suffers from the law of diminishing returns - it's not a bad hit rate for such a simple story (and all is forgiven for the inspired Snakes on a Plane visual gag). Michael Gaydos seems to have changed his artistic style a little for this short story, as whilst the form of the characters and panel composition is recognisably his, there's less of a reliance on thick lines and heavy blacks than usual, and his looser inking style actually helps to sell the sketch-show feel of the writing.
Rounded out with an amusing and dense double-page strip cartoon from Fred Hembeck and a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #87 in which Spidey accidentally reveals his identity to everyone before somehow contriving to get the cat back in the bag again (just how many times did that happen anyway?), this is a pretty good package, even considering the slightly higher-than-usual cover price of $3.99. It's not going to change the world or re-invent comics for a new generation, and it's not going to give you a look at what really makes Stan Lee tick, but it's a nice commemoration of 65 years (!) of the man's comicbook work at Marvel. Worth picking up for longtime Marvel fans.
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