Stan Lee was the man.

2018/11/19

 

Stan Lee, 1922-2018.

Stan “The Man” Lee is dead.

I’ve been bracing myself to write those words for years now. The effusive frontman of Marvel Comics and co-creator of most of its most enduring heroes had been ailing for the past year and finally, at age 95, he left this life.

To say he affected my life is something of an understatement.

My first comic book that I can remember owning is The Amazing Spider-Man #198 (vol. 1) in the late 1970s. Nearing his milestone 200th issue, the hero appeared to be running a gauntlet of sorts, having just been beaten senseless by the Kingpin. After a brief recuperation at a hospital, he continued his quest to get to the bottom of his Aunt May’s death (!) only to run into the villain of the month: Mysterio, master of illusion.

Thus began in earnest a lifelong love of the comic book artform (one that my mom regrets to this day. But sorry-not-sorry, Ma — there was no way I was ever NOT going to be a comic book fan. “The Electric Company” saw to that). And although Lee didn’t write this comic — he hadn’t been a hands-on scribe of Spidey for nearly a hundred issues by then — it was his creations and, more importantly, his vision that captured my imagination.

Though Lee goes down in pop-culture history as the creator of Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Thor, the Hulk and more, it’s more accurate to say he co-created them, with artist collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko bearing at least equal credit for their respective hands in the characters’ genesis. Some argue that they were responsible for nearly all of it and Lee simply took the lion’s share of the glory.

I wouldn’t doubt that’s true. But what Lee brought to it all was his new brand of sophistication to superhero comics that turned then-upstart Marvel Comics into the industry leader that forced the older, more established DC Comics to up its game in a rivalry that continues to this day.

Here’s a key passage from that very first Marvel Comic that made such an impression on an 8-year-old Khari:

I do believe this was the first time I ever encountered the words “anonymous” and “anonymity.” But more than that, the doctor’s speech introduced the concept of justice and troubled times, things with which I, in my rather idyllic home life, was unconcerned.

Stan Lee’s successors (in this case, series writer Marv Wolfman) had completely bought into his vision of creating fantastical stories with clear connections to real-world themes and problems. And so the genre and medium only grew more sophisticated.

———

For more than half my life, I wanted to be a comic book creator. Now well into my adulthood*, although that dream has subsided almost completely, I remain a great lover of the art form and of vast universes of comic book creations. And I will remain so into I slip into eternity to meet the creator of the real universe.

 

* (my alleged adulthood, if trollmeister Bill Maher is any authority. Maher gained a bit more notoriety for suggesting that we’re all fools for mourning Lee and that we should have outgrown comic books ages ago. But what Maher doesn’t have a clue about is how comics, superhero or otherwise, have grown up along WITH us. And Stan Lee’s influence is fairly directly responsible for sparking the medium’s march to maturity.)

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