No comic book personality was more well-known than Stan Lee. You didn’t have to know comic books to know his name or his characters.
Some have mixed feelings about him concerning whether or not he took more credit for creating certain superheroes than he should have. Which certainly he did do; he took the lion’s share of the credit for work he did with Jack Kirby, who died in 1994 and Steve Ditko, who died earlier this year.
But no one could deny the impact Lee had. I can’t recall meeting anyone who disliked Lee, even if they were critical. I am critical too, but that’s not because I didn’t like him. On the contrary, the reason I am critical at all is because he meant so much to me.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, he grew up poor in New York City during the Great Depression. He started as someone who refilled the ink wells for the artists back when Marvel Comics was known as Timely Comics. Then he became a writer, an editor-in-chief, a publisher, a showman and the spokesman for all of Marvel and superheroes as a whole.
Lee once dreamed of writing the next great American novel. In a way, he did the next best thing: He created some of the greatest superhero characters of all time. In the world of comics, he was a genius. He helped create characters who weren’t just superheroes. They were relatable. The Incredible Hulk has a Jekyll and Hyde dynamic, Iron Man struggles with his own ego, and Spider-Man is just a regular person with regular problems.
When Lee began his career, adults didn’t take superheroes or comics in general seriously, viewing it as childish. Part of this was due to the Comic Code Authority of the time, which required strict censorship. People like Lee changed the public’s perception. His work challenged the code and helped to pave the way for the mature stories we see today.
His down-to-earth personality and his cameos in seemingly every Marvel production to the point I have heard them called Staneos (although that did get a little annoying after a while), his outlandish use of vocabulary or how he could list out past issues to buy while reading a current one and still do it with so much charm that it would make you smile all became signature personality traits.
Even when he and his colleagues created iconic characters by unabashedly ripping off other iconic characters from DC Comics, we still couldn’t help but secretly love him a little more for it.
The Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Ant-Man, The X-Men – the list goes on. Whether he was the creator or co-creator, it doesn’t really matter in the end. His work was legend.
We loved him. We loved his work, what he stood for and what he represented.
Did Lee steal from other great people like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko? Yes. Even as a fan, I have to admit that. History should be remembered for how it really was. And Kirby and Ditko deserve to be remembered as much as he does.
He wasn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but neither were his characters. They were great and human at the same time.
To Stanley Martin Lieber – the one and only Smilin’ Stan Lee – Excelsior!