Stan Lee, writer, director, and modern comic book pioneer passed away in Los Angeles on the 12th of November 2018 aged 95.
His work with Marvel brought us iconic characters such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, and Black Panther, and thanks to his innovative style of character development and storylines, he helped change the face of comic books in the 1960s onwards.
He wrote his characters with a persistent humanity, with flaws and quirks that his readers could see mirrored in themselves. When previously superheroes were depicted as unattainable perfection, Stan Lee’s stories showed powerful heroes who share daily struggles similar to our own. Stories to make any child believe that they too could be extraordinary.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber to Jewish immigrant parents in New York City, Lee began his story writing career at the age of 17 at Timely Comics with illustrators and future co-writers, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Growing up during the Great Depression, Lee admired stories of heroes and their courageous, selfless acts of justice.
However, though many of his characters mirror these qualities, Lee’s characters were different, from those of the past. His unique collection of superheroes captured the world’s attention as for the first time, comic book characters were seen struggling with real-life issues from racism and substance abuse to discrimination and interpersonal conflict. Also, it should be pointed out that while much of his output could be qualified as progressive, it remains very U.S centric in nature with all that can entail culture-wise.
Tolerance seemed to be Stan Lee’s driving force behind his stories and characters and throughout the 1960s he and his team worked at creating a more inclusive Marvel Universe. The stories became more topical, focussed on social justice and politics, while African-American characters were being brought to the fore. The first African-American character to play a serious supporting role- Robbie Robinson- was created in 1967, and Black Panther, the comic’s first Black superhero, was introduced soon after. Stan believed comic books are the perfect way to spread messages of tolerance and hope alongside a fantastic adventure with complex and meaningful characters.
Through his stories, Lee became a household name, recognized for unconventional superheroes like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the X-Men who broke the stereotypical archetypes and offered subtle political commentary on society.
Like many comic book creators before him, he took his inspiration from current political events.
His timely presentation of the ‘The All-Winners Squad’- with a Hitler-hating Captain America; the Fantastic Four, and Spiderman offered soldiers a distraction and relatable heroes to admire while across seas during WWII, with a less stellar bit during the Cold War as well.
While, the 1966 character, Black Panther, who starred in the 2018 Blockbuster film, was inspired by the Civil Rights and black power movement. The story of a Black hero from the fictional African country of Wakanda reflected the changing social diorama and political environment of the time.
Various themes throughout the popular X-Men series touch on other controversial topics such as prejudice, oppression, feminism, fascism, homophobia, and people with disabilities.
As a writer and editor, Lee was key to the ascension of Marvel into a comic book titan in the 1960s when, in collaboration with artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he created superheroes who would enthrall generations of young readers.
“He felt an obligation to his fans to keep creating,” his daughter J.C. Lee said in a statement to Reuters. “He loved his life and he loved what he did for a living. His family loved him and his fans loved him. He was irreplaceable.”
She did not mention Lee’s cause of death but the TMZ celebrity news website said an ambulance was called to Lee’s Hollywood Hills home early Monday and that he died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Americans were familiar with superheroes before Lee, in part thanks to the 1938 launch of Superman by Detective Comics, the company that would become DC Comics, Marvel’s archrival.
Lee was widely credited with adding a new layer of complexity and humanity to superheroes. His characters were not made of stone – even if they appeared to have been chiseled from granite. They had love and money worries and endured tragic flaws or feelings of insecurity.
“I felt it would be fun to learn a little about their private lives, about their personalities and show that they are human as well as super,” Lee told NPR News in 2010.
He had help in designing the superheroes but he took full ownership of promoting them.
As Lee told Times of Israel in a 2012 interview, he tried, “[E]verything I could think of! A full international platoon of all religions; and people said, ‘Oh, you can’t do that, Stan, the book won’t sell down south, or up north, or here or there.’ And it was one of the best selling books, which shows there’s something good about the public.”
He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2008, the highest government award for creative artists.