Book Review: ‘Excelsior!: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee’ by Stan Lee and George Mair

With Stan Lee passing away recently, I wanted to finally read his autobiography, as I’ve had it for quite some time.

Overall, this was a good and informative read. The highlight is reading Stan’s stories, told in his own words.

The only real negative about this book is that it had a co-writer. While that’s okay and most autobiographies have co-writers, I didn’t like the style in which it was done.

There would be long sections written by Stan, himself, and then long sections spliced in by the other writer, George Mair, in an effort to add more context. I certainly appreciate the extra clarity but it made this a disjointed read.

When I read Don Cherry’s biography, I loved that it was Don Cherry speaking to me as Don Cherry. It was tightened up or edited to come off as cleaner and more academic, it felt as if the entire book was the man talking to me. I heard Cherry’s voice in my head, which made it a really fun experience. I had that same experience here, as I read Stan’s words, but it was always broken up.

I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on the book, as it is a must read for fans of Stan. It is his life’s story, it covers a lot of ground but I feel like it could have been presented better.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other comic industry biographies but most notably, “Kirby: King of Comics” by Mark Evanier.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 4 – Overkill with Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 26 Minutes

Review:

Revisiting this video series from my childhood has been a lot of fun. In fact, this episode is a real highlight in this series, even if it only clocks in at a scant 26 minutes. But unlike me in the early ’90s, you don’t need to spend half of your allowance on this episode just to see it, as these are all streaming on YouTube for free… assuming they don’t get pulled down, at some point.

The first two episodes in this series were interviews with comic book legends Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld, this brings both of them back in an effort to create a new character, as dictated to them by Stan Lee.

What’s funny about this, is that this character named Overkill eventually showed up under the name Overt-Kill in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn about a year later. I’m assuming the name alteration, change of color scheme and some artistic tweaking saved McFarlane and Liefeld from any legal shenanigans, as Stan Lee did come up with the name and had some other creative input.

Anyway, this was really fun to watch, especially for me, as I was an aspiring comic book artist the first time I saw this. Todd, Rob and Stan talked through the process and I learned a lot from their insight here and I think any aspiring comic book artist would find this just as useful as I did back in 1991.

This is just a really engaging and fun video series. I’m still glad that Stan Lee did this way back in the day and even if it feels dated, the knowledge gained from these episodes isn’t.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Comic Review: The Defenders: The Best Defense

Published: December 5th, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Chip Zdarsky, Al Ewing, Gerry Duggan, Jason Latour
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 164 Pages

Review:

I was really excited for this crossover miniseries when I first saw it announced. Plus, Chip Zdarsky and Al Ewing have been writing some great comics over the last year. However, this was really a bit of a dud.

It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t good. It sort of fits in a weird limbo and frankly, I wasn’t crazy about the format of it, as once the four heroes do come together, it’s just in the final issue of this five issue series.

You see, each of the four heroes got their own single issue and then the fifth part was the big finale. While this wouldn’t be so bad, the story just wasn’t very exciting and thus, didn’t really keep me engaged.

Al Ewing’s work on The Immortal Hulk is top notch stuff and I’ve loved Zdarsky’s runs on Marvel 2-In-One and The Spectacular Spider-Man. I hate to say it but it feels like they either dialed it in here or that they’ve been stretched thin with their other projects. However, Gerry Duggan and Jason Latour also wrote this and maybe it just falls flat because there were too many voices and not a lot of planning behind this.

This is a strange release, as it doesn’t really tie into anything else or anything that’s going on in larger pop culture. I’ve always liked Defenders books though. This one just doesn’t cut the mustard.

And man, I really wanted this to be good because I loved the superhero team and the creative team.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: recent runs on Hulk and Doctor Strange. Also, the upcoming Invaders title, which will heavily feature Namor.

Comic Review: Infinity Wars

Published: August 1st, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Gerry Duggan
Art by: Mike Deodato Jr.

Marvel Comics, 212 Pages

Review:

Not all Marvel mega events are created equal. In fact, the last several years have seen many come and go that were pretty forgettable. While this doesn’t do much to right the ship, it at least had some interesting ideas, was pretty ambitious and had some top notch art by Mike Deodato Jr.

If I’m being honest, I was really pleased with the first two issues of this six issue story arc. It started out with a bang but once we got mashed up heroes and Infinity Gems switching hands quicker than a potato in a game of Hot Potato, my head started spinning so fast that it nearly exploded.

Plus, apart from Sleepwalker, the tie-ins to this were terrible.

I guess someone thought that mashing up Marvel heroes was a cool idea but man, it felt gimmicky as hell and none of these new creations really worked. Well, except for the Ant-Man sized Hulk. That was actually kind of cool.

Anyway, Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy is the villain in this. It seems completely uncharacteristic of her and the only reasoning for her turn to the dark side seems to be the fact that she is a daughter of Thanos. Daddy issues aside, it doesn’t work for me even though I did like her new, evil look.

It should be obvious to anyone that this mega event was created in a cheap attempt to capitalize off of the release of the Infinity War movie but I doubt that really helped sales of this mediocre book.

The first issue sold out at my local comic shop but issues two through six are just sitting on the shelves still, along with all the tie-in crap.

But at least I got a Sleepwalker comic again, even if it was just four issues and sadly tied to this event.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events that fell way below the hype.

Comic Review: Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 1: Revival

Published: November 5th, 2014
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Dave Marquez, Mark Bagley, Mark Brooks, Stuart Immonen, David Laufente

Marvel Comics, 130 Pages

Review:

Since I really dug Brian Michael Bendis’ first run on the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man, I really wanted to jump into this. Also, there was some open ended stuff after the first Spider-Men event that I was curious at seeing play out. Although, that stuff isn’t quite addressed yet.

This starts off with Miles and all of Peter’s loved ones having a wake for him. It’s a really good single issue that sets the tone, especially since we discover that there is a version of Peter Parker alive in this universe now.

Miles comes into conflict with Peter Parker once again but this version of Parker isn’t the same one he met in Spider-Men and his appearance is a mystery weaved through the story, which definitely motivated me to read through this pretty quickly.

We don’t get a lot of answers here, as I’m assuming that those will come in volume two, the second half of this run for Miles.

But this also leads to the first confrontation between Miles and a mysteriously resurrected Norman Osborn. Also, this universe’s version of the Green Goblin is very different.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, as the Miles stories are typically a fun read with this one being no different. I have been critical about Bendis’ work as of late but his creation of the Miles Morales character and his work on these short runs show that he still had something worthwhile to offer just a few years ago.

I can’t say the same for his work at DC, which started this past summer.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other early Mile Morales Spider-Man stories. Also, Spider-Men I and II and Spider-Verse.

Comic Review: Spider-Gwen, Vol. 5: Gwenom

Published: April 18th, 2018
Written by: Jason Latour
Art by: Robbi Rodriguez, Khary Randolph (covers)

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

I think that I took too long of a break between reading volume 4 and volume 5 of Spider-Gwen. Reason being, this felt like the title had run out of steam. Maybe that’s because it did run out of steam by this point but it could be my own fault for lacking the enthusiasm I had for this series before I took a long break.

This just didn’t hit the right notes for me but that also probably has a lot to do with this being just another story of a Spidercharacter becoming Venom. Marvel has done this to death. Apart from the original Spider-Man titles, we got to see this with Miles Morales and Otto Octavius, both fairly recently.

I’m not saying that the Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Woman shouldn’t have a Venom story but this felt forced and like the writer was pushed into this by Marvel or because this series has now be rolling for a couple years and its hard to not become formulaic. It’s almost as if a Venom story was expected.

But just because something worked a few times, doesn’t mean that it will keep working. Also, it doesn’t mean that you can’t veer away from it and do your own thing. In fact, it’s much better to do your own thing and to explore new ideas with new characters, as opposed to rehashing some tired ass shit most Spider-fans have lived through multiple times.

I’m also just getting tired of this alternate universe. I kind of like the evil Daredevil thing but it’s also become a bit tiresome, as has this version of the Punisher and just about everyone else. It’s like the comic had some good ideas for twists on these characters but there wasn’t much else there beyond those twists.

This story arc also wedges in so many characters that it feels like a mess. I’m not even sure why some of them were there other than to have cameos galore in an effort to show how different this alternate reality is. But if you haven’t already done that by volume 5, hell, by volume 2, then maybe this series doesn’t deserve to continue.

I love Gwen Stacy and I really like this take on her character but she’s got to find a purpose for existing other than just being a cool idea and a really cool costume. And I feel like that’s all that she is now.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Spider-Gwen collections.

Comic Review: Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – December 12th, 2018
Written by: Chad Bowers, Chris Sims
Art by: Todd Nauck

Marvel Comics, 90 Pages

Review:

Sleepwalker was a comic book series that I was a big fan of in the early ’90s. I know that most people didn’t read it and a lot of people I have brought it up to over the years barely remember it. But I was always fond of the character and thought that the lack of his appearances over the last twenty years or so, has been a wasted opportunity by Marvel.

That being said, while I haven’t cared much for the Infinity Wars mega crossover event that is going on, I had to add a new Sleepwalker book to my pull list. And I really hope that this leads to the character being used more often, even though I’m pretty sure that this comic’s sales are far from great.

This ties in directly to the events of Infinity Wars but you also don’t need to read that in order to follow this. The only thing you probably need to know is that instead of Thanos wiping out half of the life in the universe, this time his daughter has the power of the Gauntlet and has mashed up all living beings so that two people are now merged into one. I guess it doesn’t really kill anybody but it still makes the population of the universe half of what it was. It’s a weird concept and I don’t like it but it has created some mashup heroes like Ghost Panther, Iron Hammer, Solider Supreme and Weapon Hex, just to name a few. In this Sleepwalker series we do get a cool mashup of Fin Fang Foom and Man-Thing.

Anyway, this deals with Sleepwalker trying to save his human host Rick Sheridan from being merged with Nick Fury. This sees Sleepwalker trying to fix things from the Mindscape, the dimension he usually inhabits when not on Earth.

The story was enjoyable and I certainly liked it more than the actual Infinity Wars event but I felt like it could have been fleshed out more and expanded on over more than four issues. But being that this is part of a crossover event, it is just one spoke in a wheel and that wheel has to keep rolling. Still, this miniseries could be a decent jumping off point for more Sleepwalker comics in the future. At the very least, maybe we could see him join a larger ensemble.

I thought the art was pretty good and better than a typical Marvel book in 2018.

But really, all this did was whet my palate and then it was over. I hope I don’t have to wait another ten to twenty years for one of my favorite ’90s creations to return.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the ongoing Infinity Wars mega event, as well as the ’90s Sleepwalker series.