This book comprises a mix of content relating to the life of Stan Lee. Much of the material consists of transcriptions of interviews with Stan Lee, many of them from the 1960's and 70's when Stan was at the peak of his productivity. There are also interviews with comic industry greats who knew Stan at that time, along with a mix of other material designed to throw light onto the great man.
This book is not really a biography as such. It has little to say about Stan's life in general. If you're looking for the definitive history of Stan Lee as a person, the book you probably want is Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.
Rather, the primary intent of "Universe" seems to be to give insight into how Stan worked during his days as "Marvel Editor of Everything" during the 60's and 70's. Much attention is paid to "The Marvel Method", and to how Stan would adapt his approach to work with different creators.
The interviews which give this insight include one-on-one interviews with Stan, plus transcripts of radio shows on which Stan appeared. There are also shorter interviews and letters from Stan's colleagues, Mike Esposito, Joe Sinnott, Romita Sr., Romita Jr., Jim Mooney, Larry Lieber, Gene Colan, Flo Steinburg, and more.
Among the "other stuff" are script and annotated art work for the Silver Surfer Graphic Novel co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. There are other fragments of history, including the original outline for the Fantastic Four. There are some family photos too, and information about some of Stan's very early prose work.
Sure, much of the material in this book has already been published elsewhere in one form or another. For example, several of the interviews were published in the industry magazine Write Now. But the primary value of this book lies in the collation of this hard-to-find content in one excellent reference source, and the thorough editing.
Of course the editing quality is first-class. What else would you expect from Danny Fingeroth and Roy Thomas? Remember that Roy was the guy hand-picked by Stan to be his successor as Marvel Editor (although that didn't turn out as planned, as also discussed in a couple of places in this book).
In summary: This book is predominatly a compilation of interviews, with bits of history, traces of essay, and fragments of biography.
Now it would be tempting to suggest that by attempting to be many things, the "Stan Lee Universe" fails to achieve any. But that isn't true. What this book does manage to do is provide an enlightening, multi-faceted insight of the man who undeniably formed the heart of "The Marvel Age of Comics".
And the insight that it provides is almost universally positive. Stan Lee of the 1960's is clearly portrayed as a brilliant, driven, erratic, humble, considerate, inspiring, motivating, sharing, intelligent, eccentric dynamo of a human being. And there's no fakery in that. In their own voice, everybody who knew him paints the same picture of this wonderful man.
Sadly, I'm not sure where that Stan Lee has gone to. Somehow, somewhere, that spark of genius was lost to the world around thirty years ago. Be it burnout, old age, corporatisation, or just a failure to change with the changing times, I don't know. But somewhere in or around the 1980's, we lost Stan Lee.
Reading this book has made me realise just what a tragic loss that was.
This is a fantastic collection of information. It belongs on the shelf of any serious Marvel fan.