In August of 1962, the Amazing Fantasy editorial of graphic novels debuted Amazing Fantasy 15. On the cover, could be seen a drawing of a costumed hero, carrying a man under his arm, clad in a crimson and blue bodysuit patterned with webs. From the mouth of this masked man, came the proclamation:
"Though the world may mock Peter Parker, the timid teenager, it will soon marvel at the awesome might of Spider-Man!"
Fifty-six years later, and this bizarre character needs no introduction. He is a household name, an icon of pop-culture that has rocked the world and dominated silver screen and printed page alike.
And who was the man who brought to life what is arguably fiction's most iconic character? A New-York born Jewish man named Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee.
Most obituaries tend to carry a biography of the deceased, yet I do not wish to bog you down with unnecessary facts. Born December 28th of 1922, Stan Lee always cultivated a passion for stories, adventure and most importantly, comic books. His first job was as an assistant in Timely Comics, where he carried out the less-than-glamorous task of filling up inkwells. However by May of 1941, Lee had made his writing debut, penning under his pseudonym of "Stan Lee" to illustrate the adventures of Captain America, another icon of what was to become Marvel Comics. Lee was to continue creating and working throughout the "Golden Age of Comics" until 1942, where he joined the US Signal Corps at a time when war had broken out, and Hitler could not be so easily foiled as he was countless times in the pages of a Captain America comic book.
Following his time served in the military, by the 1950's Lee was witness to the revival of the superhero in the modern era by what would soon become Marvel's fiercest competitor, DC comics. Tasked with creating a superhero-team that could compete with the likes of the Justice League of America by his editor, Martin Goodman, Lee, together with legendary artist Jack 'The King' Kirby, created the world's first superhero family: The Fantastic Four. Neither of the two could have imagined the roaring success their creation would have. Stan Lee had begun to pave the way for what was to be his most beloved and enduring legacy. Bolstered by their success, Kirby and Lee began to churn out a cavalcade of characters. The Fantastic Four were soon joined by cocky and roguish genius-playboy Tony Stark, when Iron Man made his solo debut in 1968, joined by the raging, monolithic Hulk and the Mighty Thor, ripped straight from the tales of Norse Mythology. The friendly-neighbourhood Spider-Man also swung in to take his place into the ever-expanding pantheon. In September of 1963 the world was introduced to The Avengers, with characters such as Captain America, who had fallen into relative obscurity since 1940, revived to triumphantly return to the page.
The rest, as they say, is history. Despite creative differences with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee forged on, forming the Marvel Comics Editorial. Years later, Lee's wildly popular characters have etched themselves indefinitely into pop-culture, spawning multi-million dollar franchises, record-breaking sales and movies, and having been featured ceaselessly on television, animation, novels, merchandise, toys, adverts....the list goes on, appealing not only to children, but everyone's inner child and sense of adventure, Lee populated his Marvel Universe with a plethora of the most colourful, creative, bizarre and instantly iconic characters imaginable, yet his achievements go further than that. What stands out of Lee's genius, was the uniqueness of his characters.
Where DC's stories were filled with immortal, invincible paragons such as Superman, Wonder-Woman and the like, Lee's characters were strikingly human, prone to being selfish, bickering, doubting, and moments of actual weakness. Peter Parker fought crime by night, but tended to his elderly aunt, worried about his University grades and paying rent by day. The arrogant, flashy Tony Stark suffered an almost disturbingly (for a comic, that is) realistic struggle with alcoholism, and the fearless Daredevil tore down vicious crime empires yet had to focus on keeping his struggling career as a small-time lawyer afloat. Through Lee's visionary genius, comics were introduced to a new wave of naturalistic characters, who could balance flashy, camp fights and powers (filled with the ever-nostalgic bubbles of POW! CRACK!) with inner monologues and struggles over identity, justice, obligation and personal needs.
And Lee's characters did more than just entertain in new ways. In July of 1966, between the pages of the Fantastic Four Lee debuted the futuristic, techno-utopia of Wakanda, an African nation ruled by its protector, T'Challa, the Black Panther. This was the first time an African superhero had been released in mainstream comics. Yet, T'Challa was not some obscene, grotesque African stereotype. He was a noble, honourable, valiant character, and a genius to boot. Lee continued this trend in 1969 when Captain America was joined by a new companion, the Falcon. More than just entertainment, for Lee, comics were a way to address real life issues, including drug problems in ghettos, sexual abuse, the Cold War and Vietnam. Influenced by Stan Lee, the mutant X-Men became a strikingly effective allegory for the mistreatment and persecution of minority groups, with one of its lead characters, Erik Lensherr (Magneto) being himself a survivor of Auschwitz.
And for Stan 'the Man' Lee diversity was no problem. Alongside Bill Everett he breathed life into Matt Murdock-Daredevil, a blind superhero, also openly Catholic. Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. "Stan's Soapbox", besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice.
Now, in 2018, it is difficult to imagine a world without Lee's universe. Marvel Comics remains one of the most enduring staples of pop-culture ever created, and its success shows no signs of stopping. From its humble roots in 1960, Marvel has become a veritable behemoth, all galvanized by Lee's work as writer, editor and publisher. Millions continue to read the adventures of Lee's characters to this day, whilst thousands flock every year to watch the newest Avengers movie. On every street, one will be hard pressed no to find a backpack, a t-shirt, a bus, a poster, anything, not emblazoned with one of Lee's characters or icons. And, despite his tragic passing, that is Lee's most touching and powerful legacy. A man who created demi-gods and titans, paragons of heroism which we look up to in awe, a man who worked all his life doing what he loved to bring the greatest gift of all to the masses: entertainment. Escapism. A way-out from the cruel, unjust, unfair world where we live in, where we could step into a world of mutants and Avengers and Gods of Thunder, a world where the true monsters could be soundly beaten with nothing but a kick, a punch, and a witty quip.
As a child, I adored every single creation of Stan Lee's. To this day, I still do. I still wait in line for tickets to the latest Thor, still laugh whenever he makes one of his classic and endearing cameos on screen, still avidly read the sagas birthed from his mind. For me, personally, I cannot overstate the impact Stan Lee had on my life. His endlessly entertaining stories and characters made my childhood a paradise of web-slingers and golden avengers, his vision inspired me, as it has done to so, so many others, to embrace my creativity, to seek out and create, and write, to build worlds and universes, and most importantly, Lee helped give me joy. Give all of us joy, make us laugh, cheer at his heroes victories, boo at his villain's plots and crimes, instil us all with a sense of childish wonder and imagination that seems so rare in today's cynical, disillusioned world . That perhaps is his greatest achievement.
And I'm sure Lee himself would be proud, if in this age of war-crimes, fake news, sexual misconduct, radicalism, and mass murder, away from all the horror and misery, he could still see children running around in playgrounds, momentarily the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, laughing and smiling at his creation.
And with this last, perhaps melodramatic, yet to me at least, heart-warming image, this sincere tribute to a man who shaped my childhood, and to whom I owe some of my fondest memories, a Grandparent to us all, I bid adieu to the phenomenal Stan Lee. And as he would say: Excelsior!
You will be missed Mr Lee. Rest in Peace.
Pablo C, Year 12