Much like Mad Men, I would like to do a TV series about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, set in the 50s and 60s, at Marvel, creating some of the most iconic characters we know and love today.
For those don’t know, Stan Lee was born Stanley Lieber in Manhattan New York, December 28th 1922.
With the help of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others, which I’ll mention, went on to create Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, Iron Man, Thor, Dare Devil, Dr. Strange, and many others.
The challenge with creating this TV series is the timeline. Many of these important events happened over decades, so I would need a little creative freedom with the timeline in order to tell a compelling narrative in a condensed amount of time.
The last thing I’ll say before we get into the pitch is that I want to try something that’s never been done before. I would like to incorporate comic book animation into the show. So I was thinking about every once and a while, I wouldn’t want to overdo it, I would have comic book animation crawl across the screen almost like we’re seeing the world through Stan’s eyes. As the animation moves across the frame, everything it touches turns to comic book art — the street signs, buildings, people, etc. and then back again.
So, for instance, if he’s walking down the street and sees a man in suit holding a briefcase, as the animation crawls, the man turns into a warrior with armour and a battle axe, then back to a man in a suit. This is almost like the muse hitting him, this moment of inspiration.
We could have one scene where his boss is yelling at him, and then the boss turns into J. Jonah Jameson. We could then show a slight smirk on Stan’s face and have him jot some notes down in his notebook. I think that would be really cool to see.
Anyway, without further, here is my pitch for The Marvelous Ones.
Okay, so season one episode one I would open with a panning shot of New York city with a text overlay appearing in the lower third that says, New York City, 1941. It’s the tail end of the great depression, so I would show a little montage of what the city and people look like at that time. I would have old timey newspapers, cars, clothes, dock workers, etc.
That would be my establishing shot.
I would then go to a Manhattan apartment building, inside one of the small two bedroom units. The camera would pan around Stan’s room, around his bookshelf are classics like Mark Twain, Sherlock Holmes, and Superman. Perhaps there are little army men figurines and a movie poster hanging on the wall.
The camera pans around to a young, 18 year old Stan Lee standing in front of the mirror, slick hair and fumbling with his tie. In his frustration, he goes to his father, who is eating breakfast at the kitchen table, reading a newspaper. His father tells him to go to his mother. His mother helps him with the tie and gives him some inspirational message about how talented he is and how he will do great. Stan has a younger brother who’s nine years younger than he is, so his mother is about to take him to school and wishes Stan good luck at his first day of work.
Since this is a period piece, I need to establish the social, economical, and political climate of the time, as the world was heading into World War II. Stan’s father was a dress cutter and worked in Manhattan where they lived, so he and Stan leave the apartment together and walk to the subway station. His father gives him some parting words — be kind to everyone and whatever you do, never leave before your boss.
Now, Stan Lee had a distant relative named Martin Goodman, who founded a small publishing press called Timely Comics. That’s how Stan was able to get a junior level position there running errands and doing odd jobs.
When he arrives at the office, he gets a tour and meets the team, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. Stan gets brought into Goodman’s office and is explained a brief history of comics.
“Do you know where comic books came from?” Goodman asks.
Stan shakes his head.
Goodman then proceeds to tell him that in 1933 this cat named MC Gains started running comic strips in newspapers, which were popular among readers. On the weekends, he would look to make more money when there wasn’t a newspaper and reprint all the daily comic strips from the week into comic books.
1938 Superman came out and was widely popular among kids and teenagers. Two years later, Timely comics was formed and artists Jack Kirby and Joe Simon worked at Timely and created Captain America, which was also a popular book.
So Stan gets to work and he’s learning the business. He’s in meetings, taking notes, and doing basic stuff. He works a full day and well into the night and is the last to leave.
When he gets home, there’s a plate of food waiting for him, he eats it, and goes to bed.
To speed up time, I would show a montage of him working all day like a dog, coming home late, exhausted, and repeating. During the montage, I would show him trying to offer his opinions and suggestions, but nobody is willing to listen. He’s relegated to proofreading and erasing pencils from the finished pages.
So he comes home and complains to his father who tells him that this is just part of life, nobody cares about your ideas. You have to pay your dues.
For episode one, I’d probably end it there. Nothing crazy, no cliffhangers, but really just an introduction into Stan’s life.
I won’t go through every episode in detail, but I’ll paint with broad strokes.
The Rest of Season One
Episode two, we see a young Stan Lee finally getting some copywriting experience.
In this episode, we see some issues arise at Timely Comics. After 10 issues of Captain America, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon leave over a dispute about financials.
Goodman didn’t really respect comics and thought that anyone could write them, so he puts 19-year-old Stan in charge of writing Captain America.
Comic books is considered low status at the time and Stan is so embarrassed that he uses a pen name “Stan Lee” instead of Stanley Lieber so that nobody would associate his real name with comics when he someday writes the great American novel.
This went on from 1941 to 1942 so in order to speed up the timeline, I’d probably do another montage. Every time we jump ahead, I would put the year as an overlay at the bottom.
As Stan continues to plug away, he gets enlisted in the army, holding the title of playwright. World War II was 1939 to 1945, so after the war, he returns to writing comics.
Stan returns from the war and falls into the only thing he has really ever known, which is writing comics. He writes whatever comics are trending — war stories, romance, horror, monster, humour, whatever is the trend at the moment, that’s what he writes.
By this time, he has found an apartment of his own, and perhaps I would take some creative liberties and have him roommate with Jack Kirby. Somewhere in Queens perhaps.
We’d see him write comics, visit with his parents, hang out back at the apartment, go to movies, and go to parties. According to Stan, comics at that time was an industry that lacked prestige. Whenever he would go to social events, he would be embarrassed to tell people what he did because they were considered to be for kids.
On one particular party, he meets a young actress / writer named Joan. However, he actually went there to meet someone else, a blind date if you will. But when Joan opens the door, he sees her and says, “I think I’m going to fall in love with you.” Stan tells her that as a kid he always drew faces, and more specifically idealized faces. When he meets Joan, he was astonished that she was the face of this girl he had been drawing all these years.
So they get together and there’s some drama there because she was married at the time. I would flush that out in the show.
They eventually marry in 1947 and apparently Stan proposes to her only two weeks after they meet. And when they get married, she had only been divorced for an hour prior. In fact the same judge who divorced her, marries her.
We’re now near the end of the season and Stan has been working in comics at this point for over half his life and always thought he would quit at some point.
By 1954, comics were violent, full of monsters and crime, and parents were upset. A senate subcommittee for juvenile delinquency meet to discuss if comics are appropriate for children. I would play out this drama and show the creation of a self-regulatory committee established called the Comics Code Authority, which stripped away all the violence and gore from the books. By the late 50s, the only comics that remained were safe and boring. Nobody was more bored and uninspired than Stan Lee.
Goodman thought comics were for children and didn’t want there to be vocabulary that was above what children would understand, which really frustrated Stan. He was in a slump, growing dissatisfied of his job and felt as though he couldn’t continue like this.
So one day he wife Joan says to him, “Why don’t you create characters that you like? You’ll get it out of your system and if you get fired, not a big deal, because you were going to quit anyway.”
In the season finale, I would have Stan and his roommate Jack Kirby create the Fantastic Four. The year 1961.
Now, in season two, this is really the start of Marvel comics. This is where the show really picks up. I basically needed to get all that season one stuff out of the way and I thought about omitting it and starting the story while he’s already established at Marvel, but I chose to show these early beginnings to allow the audience to grow with this character.
Timely turns into Marvel comics on the back of Fantastic Four, which is a huge smash. Stan and Kirby ride this wave and come up with their next idea — Incredible Hulk, which is first published in May 1962.
Stan says to Jack, “I need you to draw me a monster, but a good monster, a good-looking monster that audiences can sympathize with.” As he said it out loud, he realized how stupid it sounded, but nevertheless, Jack delivered as usual.
The Incredible Hulk animated show came out in 1966 and Hulk and Fantastic Four were hugely popular. It attracted top tier talent like John Buscema, John Romita, Steve Ditko, and even his younger brother Larry Lieber.
They came up with the Marvel Method, which is where Stan would discuss the story without a script or formal guidelines, and the artists would draw it. Using this system, Stan was able to create many books very quickly.
From 1961 to 1962, Marvel’s sales exploded from 7 million to 13 million copies sold. Season two would be all about this journey. Then in the season finale of season two, I would have Stan pitch an idea for another superhero.
He says to Jack, “You something that’s always bothered me. I hate the idea of a teenager sidekick. Why can’t the teenager be the hero? He should be like us, from where we live in Queens.”
We essentially see him come up with the idea of Spider-Man and as he’s describing the idea, Kirby is sketchy what would later become Amazing Fantasy 15, which was published in August 1962.
Season two would be about the comic book wars with DC, creating new superheroes such as Thor, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Dare Devil, Ant Man, and others. As Marvel grows in popularity, they have more licenses, more money, and move to a bigger office. I think it would be really cool to document that journey.
Of course, if this thing ever did get made into a TV show, the people involved would be able to fill in a lot of the gaps that I missed. There’s probably a ton of cool stories that fans would love to know, a peek behind the curtain if you will.
So that’s about as far as I got. Let me know if you like this concept or if you can think of ways to make it better, leave me a comment.
As always, thanks for checking out my pitch. Please don’t forget to like and subscribe to my YouTube channel, and I will see you next time.
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