Remembering Stan Lee (December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018)
Stan Lee didn’t just create superheroes, he was and remains a superhero. It’s hard to imagine a single person with more to say or more impact on the state of popular culture than Stan Lee. Creator of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and countless other characters that are household names passed away on Monday, November 12, 2018, at the age of 95. Rarely has a more complete life of creative ingenuity been lived.
Stan Lee started as little more than a coffee boy at Timely Comics decades ago. Eventually, he would not only write comics but become Editor-in-Chief and finally Publisher of the media giant, Marvel Comics. For a while, he single-handedly wrote every comic that Marvel issued, spreading a new kind of storytelling throughout the world of entertainment. His writing method put him beyond a simple storyteller and into the role of universe creator, making a vast interlocking world so cohesive that the otherworldly abilities of the characters feel plausible and down-to-Earth.
One of the biggest innovations that is so easy to overlook these days was Lee’s addition of human frailty into the character of superheroes. When we encounter a story, we often look for how we can relate to it, and that is why since Shakespeare’s time, most protagonists have been the Everyman – someone we can picture becoming in our mind’s eye. Superheroes are exciting because their abilities far exceed our own, which gives the audience a challenge in relating to the hero or feeling the possibility of their failure. However, Lee embedded his characters with neurosis, burdens, and other imperfections that forced the characters with such unique abilities to make very human decisions during their stories. This aspect of relatability brought comics from the world of pulp fiction into the world of literature.
Lee was also a staunch supporter and advocate of equality and inclusiveness. Aware that representation mattered, he worked to make sure that not all heroes looked alike. Through this concern for equality, he created characters such as The Black Panther, seeking to influence younger generations’ view of race in America. In 1968, he famously wrote a small editorial in his comics about Civil Rights, condemning racism at a time when the industry could have turned on him for such views.
As Stan Lee’s creations grew older, and the Marvel Universe became more refined, the movie industry finally caught up with his creative vision. Paramount Pictures, and then Disney Studios have contributed to his world creation in film, making an interlacing network of movies and television shows that try to replicate the transformative storytelling of Lee’s comics. The discerning eye can catch the cameos that Lee so playfully insisted on, as he appears in each film in some small capacity. His cameos may be even more famous than Hitchcock’s, as Lee proudly struts himself on camera without any of the gloss or glamour that Hollywood bestows on her actors.
At age 95, Stan Lee had not only changed the world of entertainment but the world as a whole. It is worth asking, without his contribution, how many children would have become voracious readers just so they could better understand the action-packed drawings of Spider-Man? How many doctors, teachers, astronauts, and firemen found themselves in their heroic roles because they had access to exceptional models of Lee’s creation? How many artists owe their creations to the world that he built for them? We may not have the answers to these and myriad other questions, but we were lucky enough to have Stan “The Man” Lee take us down avenues of endless exploration.
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