Digitalk: Thank you Stan Lee… Excelsior

Ross Tibbles
Ross Tibbles

This week we said a sad goodbye to one of the most influential creative minds of the comic and movie industry.

Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA after battling pneumonia for several months.

He will be sorely missed but dearly remembered in the legacy he has left behind. And what a legacy! Responsible for the creation or co-creation in collaboration with other comic book giants such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and his own brother Larry Leiber of some of the most popular characters to be penned or filmed this century.

These include Spiderman, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Black Panther, X-men, Antman, Ironman and Thor. Basically we wouldn’t have the Marvel movies we enjoy today without his amazing mind.

Born 28th December 1922 he grew up in Manhattan and later, The Bronx, New York with his family who were Romanian born Jewish immigrants.

Stan Lee got his first step on the ladder with the help of his uncle when he was hired as an assistant at the Timely Comics division of Pulp Magazine in 1939 where his duties included making sure the inkwells were filled, erasing the pencil lines from pages and doing lunch runs! Timely later evolved into Marvel Comics in the 1960s.

He soon graduated to writing copy for the comics and in late 1941 was promoted to interim Editor by Publisher Martin Goodman shortly after Goodman had fallen out with Jack Kirby.

Stan Lee was just 19 at that time and displayed a knack for the job which saw him stay Editor in Chief of the comic book division until 1972 when he succeeded Goodman as Publisher.

One of the most defining moments of Stan Lee’s incredible career was when Martin Goodman assigned him to come up with a new superhero team in response to DC comics’ revival of The Flash and Justice League.

Up until then, all comics had been written with perfect characters with no issues or problems that lasted or couldn’t be super punched away after a couple pages, but with encouragement from his wife, Stan decided to write stories the way he wanted to. His characters had flaws, complex personalities, bad tempers and characteristics such as vanity and worries about paying rent (the only similarity between me and Spiderman).

And from this, in collaboration with Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four was born which was met with instant popularity and led to the flood of new characters that we love and can relate to. Working further still with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko they produced Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange and Spiderman, Marvel’s most successful superhero.

Peter Sanderson, Comics Historian wrote in the 1960s “DC was the equivalent of the big Hollywood studios: after the brilliance of DC’s reinvention of the superhero … in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had run into a creative drought by the decade’s end. There was a new audience for comics now, and it wasn’t just the little kids that traditionally had read the books.

‘The Marvel of the 1960s was in its own way the counterpart of the French New Wave… Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond. Moreover, among this new generation of readers were people who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and push the creative envelope still further.”

From here, the prolific creative reach just continues to expand – title after title of the world’s most loved characters, that should I even list them would require us to add extra pages to this edition of the paper.

Thanks to Stan Lee we have heroes ranging from the perfect super humans to those who do what they can because they can. An ethic in many of the comics that I love is that it doesn’t take much to be a hero.

Summarised surprisingly well in the antihero comic book movie Deadpool (2016) by Colossus of the Xmen: “Four or five moments – that’s all it takes to become a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend – spare an enemy. In these moments everything else falls away.”

Stan Lee has also been making cameo appearances in Marvel movies since the Trail of the Incredible Hulk in 1989, nearly 30 years ago, and has been in most Marvel movies since.

From being the old man on the street reading a newspaper when a young Daredevil adjusts to his abilities and as a postman in Fantastic Four making a delivery to Mr Fantastic.

These little personal touches I feel help make the movies what they are. It’s going to be weird seeing future Marvel movies without him.

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