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As I noted in an earlier post, Stan Lee, Marvel giant, co-creator of many of its titles and constant cameo in many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films has passed away today at the age of ninety-five. He and Jack Kirby began Marvel Comics in 1961 with its first title, The Fantastic Four, and went on to create some of the most iconic characters in the genre: Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men as well as many others: Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and collaborated in the creation of Iron Man, Thor, and Ant-Man.
Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in Manhattan, New York City. Even in his youth he wrote and began his comic career with Timely Comics which would later evolve to Marvel. Stan Lee served in the military during World War II in the US Army where his talents were eventually applied to training films and materials.
DC comics grew during the Great Depression and became prominent after the end of WWII, but its success began to wane. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby came in at the right time with their new characters The Fantastic Four. It proved a hit and they would introduce more titles that would eventually create the comic book giant Marvel which would dominate the industry along with DC even today over other smaller publishers.
I will admit, my first introduction to Stan Lee was not in comic books. As a young boy my parents limited my comic books and most of them remained in the “for kids” category. No, I remember his distinctive voice on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, “Welcome true believers, this is Stan Lee!” As a kid I loved superhero cartoons and I had no idea who this guy was or why he introduced Spider-Man, but it made the show that much better. It was only later that I learned just who he was and what he was to the industry.
In fact, his later career most of us know him by his appearances, both in public and in film. The earliest cameo I can recall him in was not a Marvel film at all, but in Kevin Smith’s highly underrated film, Mall Rat, but he has appeared in some television cameos beyond his narration for Spiderman. He appeared at Conventions, had his own television shows, and of course Marvel Cinematic Universe aficionados eagerly looked for him in films. He always seemed to enjoy those, and was gracious to his fans.
It was my hope to meet him at last year’s FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention where he was scheduled to appear. Health issues made him cancel and many of us hoped he would recover well enough for another appearance, but we all – as many did – feared that was the last chance. He suffered several illnesses in the past year, suffered a bout of pneumonia and vision trouble. Most likely sensing his time was near, Stan Lee filmed several of his cameos. His presence will be missed in those films.
Before health issues loomed, Stan Lee enjoyed a rather active Twitter presence and was one of the first who challenged the character limit rules by tweeting multiple times in succession and of course always signing off his Twitter threads with, “Excelsior!”
One of the suggested strengths of the Marvel stories were that they were meant to be human stories. DC characters are frequently compared to the Greek Myths: heroes greater than those around them with the confidence and the ability to overcome. Marvel characters instead were meant to be humans who happened to become extraordinary in some way and often developed into allegories. Spider-Man, for example, is frequently discussed as a coming-of-age story, a boy discovering new found power but also responsibility that comes with it. Rather than being above the day-to-day human struggles, Lee’s characters wrestled with humanity as well as with the supervillains. Couple that with banter and it was a recipe for success.
He was an ambassador for his industry, and one confident on the page as well as on the screen. We will miss him and his presence. He’s had a sizeable footprint on the entertainment industry, creating lasting characters that appeal to so many even today.
Rest well, Stan Lee. Excelsior!