I read True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee recently. I generally respect it and learned a few things. I don’t agree with every call Abraham Riesman made—I think he should’ve taken a more stylometric approach to the old “how much writing did Lee actually do” question, rather than just shrugging at the irreconcilable interview records—but there’s one passage in particular that’s on my mind today.

The book discusses Stan’s tumultuous relationship with his daughter JC, only some of whose issues can be laid at his feet. Toward the end, it discloses there are recordings of the two screaming at each other. That’s shocking enough, but in those screams, Stan seems to voice the prejudices of his 1920s upbringing more than the gentle progressivism often embodied in his work and public statements. Riesman talks about how much the recordings trouble him. He has a hard time reconciling them with the rest of what he knows about Lee.

I don’t. I suspect Riesman has not experienced a truly dysfunctional long-term relationship. I’ve been lucky overall, but I have had a couple—and those were relationships I could walk away from, not familial bonds, so I’ve only glimpsed dysfunction compared to what the Lees experienced. Still, I’ve seen enough to know it can mess you up. In heated moments, it can frack away all the layers of who you are until it exposes things so long buried, you forgot they even existed. Those things are real and part of you, they demand to be faced, but they are not “who you fundamentally are.” Who you are is who you choose to be, day by day.

So I don’t blame Sundar too much for panel 1. Yeah, he’s reverting to type a little with his old “magick user” prejudice, and E-Merl doesn’t really need to hear how useless he is from anyone. But they’re overwhelmed and scared. On the very next page, when death seems even more imminent, it’ll be a better Sundar who says what he thinks might be parting words to E-Merl.