Whether you know him as that old guy that appears in a cameo during every Marvel film, the person who created the stories of your favorite superhero, or the man who has become a role model for your life and an inspiration for your artwork, it is not an exaggeration to say that anyone who is fairly versed in pop culture knows the name Stan “The Man” Lee. Becoming such an iconic household name after his first major creation of Fantastic Four in the early 1960s, Lee was the leader in a revolution of comic book storytelling. He built a superhero empire with his characters and stories which enabled Marvel to become the only competing force that was able to succeed in the once DC Comics-dominated comic book industry. Unfortunately, this past Monday, Nov. 12, Lee died of pneumonia at age 95.
Lee was perhaps most credited for his popular character, Spider-Man, who first premiered in 1962. Before Lee’s creation of the Spider-Man franchise, otherwise known as Peter Parker, superheroes followed strict character structures, and fell into the same archetypal roles. Spider-Man, as well as The Hulk, Iron Man, X-Men, and more, were created out of the need to compete with DC Comics’ Justice League characters and series. Spider-Man was revolutionary because his character broke out of these traditional molds. His interesting personality, relationships, and character depth gave readers of any age more of a commitment to following his story.
Lee humanized superheroes, giving them background stories and flaws that were previously unseen in the untouchable and undefeatable characters of DC Comics. Creating human characters gave readers something to relate to, which was simply not done before. Spider-Man eventually grew to have multiple renditions that exist within alternate universes and has also been made into multiple movie series just within the past 30 years. Spider-Man is still often considered the historic face of Marvel.
Not only did Lee’s characters have new qualities that hooked readers, but his view and passion of the industry was unparalleled. His seriousness for the art of comics helped transform society’s view of comic books from a fun pastime for teenagers, to a medium of artistic and literary value. “Comic book should be written as one word. So, from now on, I want you to remember that. They are not funny books. They are not comic books; they are comicbooks! Remember that, or incur my wrath,” said Lee in 2013.
Lee began his career at Timely Comics, which evolved into his first works on Fantastic Four, Spider Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and X-Men. He then continued writing for these characters for the rest of his life, always with the goal to develop more storylines that would draw readers in. “Most people say, ‘I can’t wait to retire so I can play golf,’ or go yachting, or whatever they do,” said Lee to TheArtsDesk.com. “Well, if I was playing golf, I would want that to finish so I could go and dream up a new TV show.”
Although Lee’s comics have been made into movies and TV shows since the late 1980s, in 2009 Disney bought Marvel in order to carry out the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These movies became popularized through the Avengers series, which originally debuted in 2012. Marvel movies have grossed over $24 billion worldwide as of April of this year. Marvel Comics and The Walt Disney Company released a statement on Marvel.com headlined with the following quote from Lee: “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comicbook writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. Then, I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain, you’re doing a good thing.”
Lee will be remembered both as a pop culture icon and as an inspiration to individual creators of all types. He lived his life with the goal to bring a new wave of superheros for kids to relate to, grow with, and find inspiration and hope in. “You know, my motto is ‘Excelsior.’ That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ It’s on the seal of the state of New York. Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”
Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor