Sunday Matinee: Stan Lee

Stan Lee passed away at the age of 95 on November 12. Stan Lee for many was the man who created Marvel Comics – which he did with a lot of help from co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto (who also sadly passed away earlier this year).

When superhero comics first appeared in the late 1930s they took the world by storm but by the 1950s the genre was almost dead – only DC Comics were keeping the genre alive. Stan Lee started working for Timely Comics in 1939 for owner Martin Goodman as an office assistant. He would soon start writing back up stories for comics, he took the pen Stan Lee (his real name was Stanley Lieber) because he wanted to be a real writer and comics were looked down on.

Stan kept working for Timely – then renamed Atlas Comics in the 1950s. Superhero comics were no longer selling and comics about horror, war, westerns, comedy and romance were all the rage and Atlas produced many comics about them. In the mid-50s the Comics Code Authority was put in place with the help of public concern (or hysteria) that comics were too violent and inappropriate for kids. DC Comics was one of the only comics still making superhero comics and used to the Comics Code to wipe out the bigger selling comic companies like EC Comics which specialized in horror comics. Atlas was almost whipped out too but managed to hang on. DC then start a resurgence of new superhero comics, revamping Green Lantern and the Flash with success. This success paved the way for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to change the face of superhero comics forever.

Goodman wanted superhero comics like DC’s and gave Stan free rein. Stan and Jack would create some of the most memorable superheroes of all time starting with Fantastic Four. With Jack’s awesome art and storytelling, Stan would co-collaborate and create different kind of superheroes. These characters were flawed human beings and everyday people unlike DC’s characters who all seemed to lack personalities. Hal Jordan became Green Lantern because he was the fearless person on the planet. Other than that Jordan is boring. Barry Allen is boring character. But the Fantastic Four are pickering family. Spider-Man is teenage kid who feels guilty for what happened to his uncle.

Despite his many faults with his collaborators over the years, Stan did work hard to bring comics to the masses and try and make comic books more mainstream and is a little responsible for Marvel’s massive appeal. While Jack and Steve created many of the heroes and stories that made Marvel the mega entertainment it is today, Stan gave the characters heart, depth, humanity and humility. What I remember most about Stan is his salesmanship of Marvel. He narrated cartoons. He was genuinely excited to talk about comics. He became the face associated with Marvel.

I’ve briefly talked about Marvel’s cinematic history here, here, here, here and here.

Excelsior.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.