In Memoriam: Stan Lee

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Stan Lee, the legendary comic book writer and editor, sadly passed away on the 12th November at the age of 95. An icon of popular culture, he co-created a multitude of popular superhero characters alongside the other two kings of Marvel: Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. His characters have entertained several generations from when he first joined Timely Comics in his teens, to the present day as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to dominate the box office. Not only did he co-create iconic characters, his infectious enthusiasm for comic books and sense of hope was also something to be admired. His famous catchphrase “Excelsior!” was the epitome of this.

Born Stanley Lieber, he became editor of Timely in the early 1940s and used the pseudonym of ‘Stan Lee’ while writing his earlier pieces. This would eventually become his legal name years later. In 1961, Lee oversaw the re-branding of Timely into the now famous Marvel Comics, with the first heroes to be created under this being the Fantastic Four (Lee and Kirby).

Throughout the 1960s, Stan Lee worked with fellow creators such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Everett to create the characters that are still loved to this day. Amongst these were of course The Avengers, who debuted as a group in 1963. Many of the team who feature in the MCU Avengers line up were first brought to us by Lee in the 1960s, including:Tony Stark/Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, Clint Barton and Nick Fury. Today these characters stand as some of the greatest ever featured in both comics and on screen, and we owe Stan Lee for their conception. He, of course, has his own presence on screen too, having appeared through brief cameos in Marvel films and as a result has the unique status of being the only person to have appeared in every single MCU film; 20 films from Iron Man (2008) to Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

One of the driving forces behind Stan Lee was his desire to create real-world, humanised characters, with relatable motivations and surroundings. As a result, he used the ‘real’ settings of places like his home of New York, where most of his characters are also from. The issues Lee’s characters faced were also more real, which lead to a clash with the Comics Code Authority in 1972. The story in question was a three comic arc in The Amazing Spider-Man #96, #97 and #98 which revolved around Harry Osborn’s LSD problem and the famous web-slinger’s attempt to help him. Marvel were asked by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare to write a story addressing drug abuse, but the CCA refused to approve it. Lee ignored the CCA and released the story anyway. The arc sold incredibly well and turned out to be a popular story. Not long after this, the CCA changed their code.

Also amongst his heroes are some that aimed to represent marginalised groups in society. One of those was the X-Men. They were introduced to the world in 1963 by Lee and Kirby and several parallels have since been drawn between them and the civil rights movement. Then, in 1966, the same duo were behind the introduction of Black Panther, the first ever black comic book superhero. Despite the multitude of characters he co-created, there is perhaps one who Stan Lee will be associated with most: Spiderman. Through the artwork of Steve Ditko, who also sadly passed away this year, Peter Parker’s alter ego is one of the first superheroes that pops up when considering comic books.

Lee and Ditko were also responsible for many of the character’s villains including Norman Osborn, Doctor Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio and The Vulture. Spiderman has been adapted for both the big and small screen several times, and in terms of the cinematic versions everybody has their favourite. Lee made cameos appearances in all of them, including the recent 2018 video game.

The MCU is one of the greatest achievements in cinema history, and has entertained millions of people worldwide. Although Stan Lee’s involvement isn’t as much as it was in the 1960s, none of it would be possible without his beautiful imagination, contribution and support. His work has meant many people, young and old have respected and adored not just Marvel, but comic books as a whole. We should remember Stan Lee, along with his fellow kings Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, for the iconic characters he has gifted us with, and through them he will always live on.

Matthew Moorey

Image Courtesy of John Salangsang