Stan Lee transformed our lives and our pop culture by skillfully asking What If?
What If a bespectacled 15-year-old nerd was bitten by a radioactive spider?
In one of his final projects―Lee passed away on November 12, 2018―Smiling Stan asks one more powerful What If.
What If a budding YouTuber heads out on his boat when suddenly an odd storm appears and he’s struck by lightning and when he wakes up finds he’s become… cyberkinetic?
What If Stan Lee created one more universe? One filled with freaky aliens and wonderfully flawed characters who suddenly come in possession of superpowers. Lee’s final and fantastic universe is co-created with Luke Lieberman and Ryan Silbert. The Alliances’ first book, A Trick of Light, is co-written by Kat Rosenfield. If you’re not familiar with Kat, she is a most excellent writer. She writes for Playboy so yeah, I really do read the articles.
Initially released on Audible (via Amazon Studios) as an audiobook, A Trick of Light is the first installment in Stan Lee’s Alliances series. If you listened to it, you would have heard a friendly and familiar voice reciting this opening narration:
“Welcome, true believers. This is Stan Lee! We’re about to embark on the exploration of a fantastic new universe, and the best part is that you are gonna create it with me. You may know me as a storyteller, but hey, on this journey, consider me your guide. I’ll provide the witty and wonderful words, and you’ll create the sights, sounds and adventures. All you need to take part is your brain! So take a listen, and think big. No—BIGGER. We’re making an epic!”
What began as an epic audiobook became a book. A book. Like paper and everything. The current hardcover edition features exclusive content, including bonus chapters with an afterword by Luke Lieberman and Ryan Silbert. Just like when you buy a trade, you get all this bonus material the monthlies can’t offer! This is a review of the hardcover book.
No sooner does lightning charged YouTuber Cameron find out he is cyberkinetic (able to manipulate computers and iPhones with his mind. Like Professor X but for computers) he also meets Nia, a pretty 17-year-old girl. Even though their attraction is fueled by loneliness, it’s a meeting as electric and charged as the fateful moment where he was blessed with powers. The coming together of these two teens has the power to save the world or destroy it. Classic Stan Lee, right? (Thankfully, while there are echoes of Peter Parker in Cameron, he has no Uncle Ben!)
Both characters being 17 doesn’t make this a YA novel. Just the opposite. They are however at that age of wrapping up high school and starting college soon. They’re figuring out their identities and their careers in the real world as much as they’re figuring out who they are online.
A Trick of Light is a meditation on virtual and augmented reality and how the internet has in many ways failed to deliver on its promise of connecting us in new and more profound ways.
To put it in a more Stan Lee type of way, you have an online identity and you have a real-life identity. Just like how a superhero has a secret identity. Is Spider-Man Peter Parker or is Peter Parker Spider-Man? (The novelty of the Fantastic Four is they did away with secret identities instead. They chose to be themselves 24/7.) Is it an illusion that we can control our fate in cyberspace, similar to the way a writer directs characters? Or are we at the mercy of an unseen and stiff rudder?
These astute mediations are wrapped around all the unfolding and relentless action. Nia has a domineering father. Worse, she might be connected to the shocking accident that gave Cameron his powers. He turns to his friend Juaquo to sort out these experiences and emotions only to draw him into this flourishing adventure just in time as the consequences of their actions become, cosmic?
Peppering all the escalating situations is a surprising abundance of fun pop culture references like Thor, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Lord of the Rings and lots more. This is fascinating because one of Stan Lee’s hallmarks was his deft ability to connect to our pop culture (as much as he made our pop culture). His early comics reflect the turbulent sixties. He probably had to because he hadn’t created and fully fleshed-out the Marvel universe yet. Like when Stephen King was writing in the 80s, he wasn’t a pop-cultural thing yet.
Eventually, characters in horror movies/TV shows would dryly comment about feeling like they’re in a Stephen King story. That emotion/reference had to be created and established and formalized to become a legitimate thing. As Stan Lee aged into his 90s, he never really lost that passion, that enthusiasm, and that connection with “the youth.” It’s like Stan was a mutant whose natural power gave him an inside-outside cultural POV. It proved handy when co-creating the Marvel universe and decades later co-writing this book with Kat.
Stan Lee passed away at 95. It is still sad to see him go. From his work at Marvel Comics to his fantastic movie cameos, his work was always about fun and joy and good times.
His work has allowed us to form friendships and establish careers. He has made our lives better. While it is sad to see him go he’s still with us. And as the Stan Lee Alliances universe continues, he will continue to be with us which is astonishing! I mean accountants and pharmacists don’t have enduring and infectious legacies like this.
A Trick of Light is a final satisfying Amazing Fantasy from the man who has given us so many amazing fantasies. Thank you, Stan! And thank you Kat Rosenfield for making all the magic happen. It must have been such a thrill hanging out with Stan.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!