I can still remember getting my very first comic book. After taking a trip to a chain pharmacy with my old man, he decided to get me a little something for my troubles. It was an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man which featured the costumed hero on the cover along with the Green Goblin, one of his greatest foes. If I read it once, I must’ve read it 1,000 times. Front to back, back to front, skipping to my favorite points of that particular issue. I ran head-first into that immersive world, mesmerized by the characters and their tendencies. It was all thanks to the imagination of one man, who, unbeknownst to me at seven-years-old, proved to be a heavy influence.
That man was Stan Lee, a Manhattan-born illustrator who revolutionized the comic book industry in the 1960s and created countless well-known characters. And like Batman and Superman for competing DC Comics, Lee created characters that transcended the industry and would ultimately left an indelible mark on popular culture. On Monday, Lee passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 95. What Lee left us with, however, is at its simplest form joy, a legacy of some of the greatest characters to ever grace paper and film – a rare double-dip in these times. Best known for his creation – in collaboration with artist Steve Ditko – of Spider-Man, Lee also had his hand in co-creating several other mega-characters with the help of Ditko, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby, including the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Black Panther, the X-Men, Ant-Man, Iron Man and Thor.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) November 12, 2018
Stanley Martin Lieber was born in a New York City apartment in 1922 to immigrant parents and was influenced heavily by books and films, especially films containing Errol Flynn. After several small part-time writing jobs in his youth, Lee landed an assistant gig with Timely Comics, a magazine and comic book publisher which would ultimately turn into Marvel Comics. His duties were miniscule – fill the ink, get lunch, proofread the comics – but Lee took to his duties and eventually he wrote his very first comic in 1941, Captain America Comic No. 3, under the pseudonym Stan Lee, hoping to save his given name for future literary works. Well over 70 years later, Lee is responsible for the pulp-fiction heroes that have defined the early part of the 21st Century and it’s led to a flood of merchandise and growth that the comic book industry hasn’t been seen in decades.
Lee wore many other hats over the years for Marvel Comics including promoter, editor-in-chief, director, publisher and Hollywood executive. It was safe to say he was the face of the company and he remains the most recognizable human associated with the brand. With all of his duties, Lee became one of the most well-known entertainers in modern American history, even if it was mainly through a different medium, one that was often looked down upon. Think about it though, actors like Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio are best known for a handful of iconic characters while Lee created more than a dozen well-known superheroes and their protagonist counterparts. His stories started in comics, but became more recognizable to yet another generation of fans thanks to actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth. For more than five decades, these characters have been relevant, picking up new ideas and characters along the way, while being passed down from generation to generation.
Sure, he had his difficult moments like the rest of the comic book industry, but in the end, everything Lee touched seemed to turn to gold. He appeared in every MCU film with a cameo that’s often so quick, if you blink you’d miss his one-liner. Meanwhile, the films have earned excess of $25 billion dollars worldwide, with Lee’s POW! Entertainment earning a nice piece of the pie after winning a court dispute with Marvel Enterprises in 2005 for earning originally nothing from the films. He proved that if you put your mind to something and have a passion, you can be a success story, no matter what people say.
Excelsior, Mr. Lee. You will certainly be missed, though you’ll live on through your art.