How do you start off an article discussing the life and death of Stan ‘The Man’ Lee?
A rherotical question is fitting, given his gift for making us think about things in a new way.
I invite you to read what I (and also some of our readers) had to say about him and to find out why I’m personally looking forward to the Avengers 4 Stan Lee cameo. It’s probably not the reason you think it is.
Stan Lee was a very busy man
I learned a lot about Stan Lee while researching this article, and a lot of it blew my tiny little mind.
I mean, that’s the point of research, sure, but he was responsible for creating many more characters than I thought he was (including Groot and Hawkeye), and yet he also didn’t create many characters which I thought he did (such as Captain America or Morbius The Living Vampire).
He also took up the chance to create alternate versions of existing DC characters as well by making his mark on them. Interestingly, Lee’s Batman-of-colour predates the official one (i.e. Batwing) by roughly a decade.
Why Stan Lee changed his name
Like many of the characters he created, he used an alternate name to hide his true identity – his real name was Stanley Lieber.
I’d assumed for years that he’d used the name ‘Stan Lee’ because Jewish names, shall we say, ‘weren’t popular during that period’ or that perhaps he’d changed it for more patriotic reasons.
He was just ashamed to be in comics.
He says as much in his biography. He used the name Stan Lee because he wanted to save his real name for when he authored a novel – something which sadly never seems to have happened. He was, however, responsible for co-creating what’s widely considered to be the first Marvel graphic novel: The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience.
The irony of it all – he was eventually so well known as Stan Lee that people would probably just ignore a novel by some guy called Stanley Lieber anyway!
That’s a little bit like Mary Jane loving Spider-man while ignoring Peter Parker, don’t you think?
His first comic work wasn’t a comic
His first printed work was in comics, but it wasn’t a comic: It was a text-only story called ‘Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ that existed purely to fill out that issue.
Here’s a guy who’s ashamed to work in comics, and his first work in comics is literally just filler – it’s hard to believe this is the same man who’d eventually become the face of the comics industry.
Stan ‘The Fan Of Equality’ Lee
As much as people throw around the term Social Justice Warrior as an insult, we still need people who can only be described as such – even if they aren’t allied with section of society that carries the SJW moniker.
What is (modern) Captain America if not a literal champion of social justice? This is why he fights against the American government sometimes: He’s not a puppet, and he’ll rally against injustice.
And the same was true of Stan. That’s why he helped create Black Panther, Falcon, and Captain Marvel.
Yes, that’s right: Helped to create. Not created.
I can’t put off the next part of this article any longer.
Stan had reputation for stealing credit…
It’s here that I must admit I don’t – didn’t – have the same opinion of Stan Lee as everyone else seems to. I didn’t see him as a friendly uncle, I saw him as a hustler.
Don’t start your hate mail just yet though – I’m going to explain why I was wrong.
A Vox article titled ‘The darker side of Stan Lee’s legacy’ explains this side of his reputation better than I could, with this quote from Vulture’s Abraham Riesman (who spent months talking to Marvel employee’s about Lee):
“The popular refrain is that without Lee, Marvel’s superheroes would never have become such beloved fixtures of popular culture. But in the comic book
For years I believed that was all there was to the story, like some kind of real-life J. Jonah Jameson judging Spider-man on the destruction he causes instead of the lives he saves.
I believed the worst because I couldn’t find any other information on this aspect of his life.
…but that’s simply not true.
Riesman then goes on to point out that Stan Lee isn’t the reason that his fellow creators didn’t get recognition: It was the fault of the media at the time.
The whole thing comes from one particular newspaper article which was published in 1966. The Vox article states (with added emphasis by yours truly) that the 1966 newspaper article:
“…was a glowing piece on Lee, giving him credit for Marvel’s success but it also failed to acknowledge the work of his collaborators, even when Lee himself said in the article that he wasn’t as involved as others in some of the company’s titles, including Spider-Man. “
That’s why I was so wrong. Because I didn’t think to read the 1966 article for myself. Any of my regular readers will know exactly how much pride it cost me to admit that.
The wider impact of that one newspaper article cannot be stressed enough. This was the beginning of comics being treated as a legitimate art form by the mainstream. It laid the groundwork for the Marvel Cinematic Universe being financially viable.
But it didn’t seem like that to many people working in the comics industry at the time.
Exit Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby, the man who Stan Lee had co-created the Fantastic Four with (along with many other characters as well), left Marvel because of that one article. It made him feel that he’d always live in Stan Lee’s shadow, so he went to DC.
Kirby ended up creating a self-aggrandising comic character based on Stan Lee, called Funky Flashman.
That’s how I came across all of this ‘Stan Lee stole credit’ malarky – by researching the origins of Funky Flashman, many years ago.
For over 15 years I’ve considered Stan Lee less of a Johnny Appleseed character (someone who spreads joy) and more of a Bill Gates type (someone who takes the work of others and then becomes rich off of it).
I’ve never had an ‘Oh hey that’s cool‘ moment during his MCU cameos. It’s always been more like ‘Bah! Why don’t the other creators get a look in?‘
And that’s why I’m looking forward to the next Stan Lee cameo, which will be in Avengers 4.
Because, for once, I’ll be feeling the same way as everyone else – only this time everyone won’t be thinking ‘Hey, that’s neat!‘ (or whatever normal people actually think) – we’ll probably all be feeling a bizarre mixture of depression and hope.
Why Stan Lee deserved our love
Stan Lee being a credit thief was fake news, pure and simple. Not that he’d have cared what I thought of him – he had far better things to do than listen to haters.
Besides, the reason that Stan Lee deserves all of the love that he gets isn’t purely for his creations, it’s also because he turned comics from a niche hobby into a mainstream product – at least some good came from that article!
Comics might not be as popular as they once were, but nobody’s getting beat up in the playground for reading comics anymore. They might still get beat up for reading a particular comic (because people are still jerks) – but not for reading comics in general.
The same is also true of video games nowadays, but there’s nobody who made that happen. Gaming has no Stan Lee. Maybe Notch (inventor of Minecraft) might have counted once, but he’s not the face of gaming anymore. Stan Lee was involved in comics until he died.
Goodbye from me
I’m sorry I was wrong about you. I’m sorry that I believed fake news about you for far too long. But most of all, I’m sorry that I didn’t find this out until you’d passed.
I don’t even know why I’m sorry about that. I don’t think you would have cared what I thought about you, and rightly so – you were a man of action, not someone who sat around worrying about what others thought.
You often said that Peter Parker was based on a younger version of yourself, so I’m genuinely happy that you got to live long enough to see another top notch Spider-Man movie.
Some people live long enough to see themselves become the villain, but you lived long enough to see yourself become a hero – and not just vicariously through Spider-Man, either.
One day, there’ll be a Marvel movie that doesn’t have a cameo of you in it – or perhaps they’ll have a CGI appearance of you – and I’ll try not to cry. I’m not making any promises, though.
Goodbye from others
Now let’s hear from some of our readers (including some of our writers). I’ve condensed and edited them where needed, but the final entry is left essentially untouched because that particular reader worked with Stan once.
“A visionary. Someone who made my dreams and boyhood superhero fantasies more accessible. An idol of creativity and work ethic, still involved with his projects up until death – that’s awesome.” – Dean
“A lifetime of happiness and the creator of so many things that I love and I admire him so very very much. I also love the fact that he was with his wife for 69 years.” – Jo
“Stan Lee created my equal biggest childhood hero, Spider-Man. Stan Lee brought humanity to heroes and heroes to humanity. Stan Lee was a hero to humanity. ‘Nuff said.” – James
“Stan Lee was a part of my childhood and now part of my daughter’s childhood. He is a big part of my adult life too, something I can share with my family and bond over. The co-creator to many loved characters and an escape to me from life. I loved looking for his cameos in the movies, they always brought a smile to my face.” – Willow
“Stan Lee got me loving superheroes and then I introduced them to my sons and now most of my grandchildren are into superheroes…..all because of Stan Lee. Long Live Stan Lee!!!” – Christine
“By telling stories about fantastic people who at their core were broken just like me, Stan helped me to believe and accept that even though I was broken I could still do fantastic things, and be a hero – just like the heroes I was reading about.” – Martin
“Stan Lee reintroduced me to superheroes. If not for him I would have stopped at Christopher Reeve as Superman (still the best) and never learned about: X-Men or any of the Avengers” – Tarsh
“The guy radiated positive energy. One in a billion. Will be sorely missed by many. 95 is a sick innings though – props to the legend!” – Ezra
“He helped create a universe of characters that inspired us. Without Stan and his role at Marvel, the cosplay community wouldn’t be the same.” – Kara
“He created a universe where people could escape to, he inspired me to excel and dream and that nothing was impossible and to strive to be the most amazing person I could be. He gave me a hero that I could relate to and believe in,
“I had an opportunity to meet him at a convention when I was about 14 or 15. He was only supposed to sign for two hours, but he stayed far longer than that until everyone in line got a chance to meet him. I thanked him for what he’d done and asked to take a picture with him. Convention security tried to keep me from going behind the table to take the photo next to him, but he waved them off and put his arm around me like we were old friends.” – Perry
The next and final quote deserves some context. It comes from David Quinn, who often appears onstage with international celebrities while hosting events such as Supanova as part of his work at The Periodic Table Of Awesome:
“To me, Stan was someone who went from legend to human.
I met him twice over the years and the first time I had the magical experience of hearing him at a distance saying in his distinct and raspy voice: “So who is this Quinny who is hosting me?” – which stopped me dead. This was Stan THE MAN lee and he knew my name!
He was funny, smart, sharp and incisive. He was over 92 then and he was still walking around and making gags. He seemed to forget how old he was too, especially when it came to things like stages – he walked to the edge of one and was about to jump down, seemingly forgetting that he would likely break a hip or every bone in his body. I caught him as he came down and had a tiny moment of feeling like a superhero in the Marvel universe.
But he had a sharp edge too and was not to be messed with. He was someone who grew up around the funny books (the industry nickname for comics, long story – Editin’ Liam) in the
He said a couple of times that he lived his life like he drove: he never wanted anyone to overtake him. He was always wanting to be there first and get the front of the line. Even in his final years, he was still surrounded by an entourage of people who had similar attitudes.
Unfortunately, I think that’s what lead him to
I am so glad to have met him, worked with him and been heckled by him. He was a salesman and a businessman who also had just enough of the right kind of genius that he could sell us all our dreams for 10c an issue…and make us absolutely love the fact.
He was a funny, smart-talking grandfather to us all and he will be sorely missed.” – David
With great power comes great sign-off catchphrases
I don’t know how many other writers have signed off their Stan Lee articles like this, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to end it exactly as follows:
“Excelsior! ‘Nuff said.” – Stan ‘The Man’ Lee