Stan Lee, age 95, has died and with him goes a portion of my heart. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, he apparently always wanted to be a storyteller. And he worked a few odd jobs until finding himself an assistant at Timely Comics. He worked his way up at Timely Comics which, in 1950 rebranded as Atlas Comics. He worked his way up at Atlas Comics which, in 1961 rebranded as Marvel Comics. And from that point on, as you know - history was made.
Stan received his first writing assignment in 1941 for a Captain America comic and used the pen name - Stan Lee. He said, at the time, that he wanted to use a pen name for comics and his real name for novels. As it turned out the novel career never quite got off the ground. Regardless of that, I believe his storytelling prowess was put to fine use.
And then, after decades in the comic business Stan, “The Man” Lee became Marvel’s first Editor-in-Chief and he really did revolutionize comics. In 61’ there were a host of comic heroes we recognize today; a lot of the DC core folks from the Justice League - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc, etc. But DC comics, and comics in general, were mainly marketed to children. Lee pushed Marvel founder Martin Goodman, and publisher John Nee to market to an older audience. And they listened. And so Lee and his co-plotter and artist Jack Kirby turned in Fantastic Four #1. According to wikipedia:
“...broke convention with other comic book archetypes of the time by squabbling, holding grudges both deep and petty, and eschewing anonymity or secret identities in favor of celebrity status. Subsequently, Marvel comics developed a reputation for focusing on characterization and adult issues to a greater extent than most superhero comics before them, a quality which the new generation of older readers appreciated. This applied to The Amazing Spider-Man title in particular, which turned out to be Marvel's most successful book. Its young hero suffered from self-doubt and mundane problems like any other teenager, something with which many readers could identify.”
Lee, along with Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Romata created many of the comic book legends we recognize today: Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thanos, Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Loki, Green Goblin, Magneto. The list goes on and on.
Personally, I was a huge Spider-Man fan. I don’t quite recall exactly my first Spider-Man comic but it was sometime around kindergarten so - 1977? Which means, I probably fell in love with Spider-Man the exact same year I fell in love with Star Wars.
Actually, I think I just found it. Spider-Man #168, “Murder on the Wind,” featuring little seen since villain Will-o-the-wisp. In fact, I believe he died in that issue. But, it is Marvel comics so he probably came back, eventually. I would certainly not suggest that was the best Spider-Man comic in history (in fact, it’s not that good) but it certainly captivated my heart and soul and from that moment on I was hooked. Pretty sure I still have the comic.
I would even go so far as to suggest that much of my young morality was shaped and formed by Spider-Man’s struggles, actions and choices. “With great power comes great responsibility.” To coin the famous phrase by Peter Parker’s uncle. To me, Spider-Man and Peter Parker will always be the greatest of all super heroes.
And that’s all because of Stan Lee. I know there was controversy about ownership of some of the characters and the historic lessening the roles Ditko, Kirby and a few others played. It’s true. A lot of it played out behind closed doors and in legal corners. I hope it all worked out but I honestly don’t know. But for more on that, I will leave you with these very fine and true words by author Lance Parkin who tweeted, “There's a time for cynicism, there's a time for a more jaded, footnoted, analysis of Stan Lee's contribution and impact.
One of the great creative powerhouses of our era is dead. One of the great creators of children's characters is dead. One of the most important, influential and talented editors and publishing promoters of all time is dead. An artist whose audience, for over half a century, has been measured in billions is dead.”
Stanley Martin Lieber, the scrappy Jewish writer from NYC was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (1994), the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame (1995), given the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush (2008), nominated for a Hugo Award for Iron Man in 2009, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Saturn Awards (2002), the Visual Effects Society Awards, and the Producers Guild of America. May he rest in peace.