Tom Russo
July 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

As comics’ longtime cultural ambassador, former Marvel honcho Stan Lee is familiar to many. The astonishing part of journalist Ro’s tale is that the late artist Jack Kirby, who in the ’60s created the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and numerous other characters with Lee, is not only unknown to the mainstream, but often was the doormat of a work-for-hire industry he helped define like no other artist. Though relatively light on analysis of Kirby’s muscular style and why it was so influential, the book compellingly depicts the codependent relationship between the charismatic Lee and the rough-edged Kirby, as well as Kirby’s retirement-age struggles to get a fairer return on work that netted his employers millions. The story packs as much pathos as any of the duo’s signature supersagas.

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