The legacy of Marvel Comics maestro Stan Lee has been muddy for decades. Even as the supposed mastermind behind the early days of Spider-Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four evolved into a beloved international icon with cameos in every Marvel film, controversy nipped at his heels. At the heart of it all: the constant rumblings that he didn’t actually co-create his most famous characters, and that he went out of his way to bury the talented artists who worked alongside him.

The new biography True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee explores Lee’s life in detail, unraveling mysteries, asking troubling questions, and coming to grips with the the fact that this icon’s life was full of contradictions, half-truths, and shifting narratives. Author Abraham Riesman isn’t just a biographer, but a detective, forced to dig deep and even rub elbows with a number of shady figures.

True Believer is a harrowing read for Marvel fans, but the stories within this book should prove fascinating to anyone with an interest in history and culture. Lee’s childhood as the son of immigrants in New York City is a window into a fascinating world. His years in the wilderness of Hollywood, where he strived and failed to make movies, is illuminating. And his final days, where Lee was surrounded by men and women who seemingly meant him only harm, are heartbreaking.

I recently spoke to Riesman about True Believer, which is available anywhere books are sold. Our conversation included what it is like to explore the Stan Lee archives, why so many fans and professionals alike are so quick to defend Lee at any cost, and what we are to make of one of the most important, and complex, legacies of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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