×

Remembering Stan Lee: Marvel Legend Succeeded by Making Superheroes Human

Stan Lee’s creative peak was in the 1960s, when the comic book artist came up with the novel idea that the most compelling superheroes were the ones that were the most human. The masked avengers who, when not saving the world from oblivion, grappled with real-world issues — from financial struggles to alcoholism to the difficulty of getting a date to the prom.

More than five decades later Lee’s influence is still being profoundly felt. The legacy of Lee, who died Nov. 12 at the age of 95, lives on at Marvel, the comic book publisher he helped transform. Today, the company has moved far beyond panels and dialogue boxes. It is responsible for many of the most financially successful film franchises of all time and is also making inroads into television and streaming. It’s Stan Lee’s Hollywood, even if most moviegoers only recognize him from his sly cameos in the “Spider-Man” films and the various “Avengers” outings. This particular mustachioed, ink-stained wretch had as much of an impact on popcorn movies as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or James Cameron, even if he never slid behind a camera or hunched over an Avid.

Need proof? Here’s a partial list of the characters that Lee created or co-created: Spider-Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Widow, Nick Fury and Daredevil. Had Lee never put pen to paper, studios would be short several billion-dollar-grossing franchises.

Lee never intended to reinvent the comic book genre. He only grudgingly got into the game as a way to pay the bills before writing the great American novel. In fact, Stan Lee is a nom de plume. Lee’s real name, Stanley Martin Lieber, was intended to be reserved for more serious literary efforts.

That was not to be. Instead, history was made in the late 1950s and early ’60s, when the struggling Marvel Comics empowered Lee to come up with some way to compete with the far more successful DC Comics, the publisher of “Batman,” “Superman” and “Wonder Woman.” Whereas DC’s characters tended to be square-jawed exemplars of virtue and altruism, Lee gave an injection of vulnerability to figures who seemed impervious to self-doubt.

The Fantastic Four, Lee’s first major creation, was a family like any other — riven by petty feuds, prone to bickering, but also able to put aside personal differences for the greater good. And so it went from there. Spider-Man, another Lee creation, was a typical teenager, trying to balance crime-fighting with passing calculus; Daredevil was a crusading attorney who also had to contend with an accident that left him blind; and the Hulk was a roiling, barely suppressed manifestation of rage. All of them were revolutionary, cutting-edge additions to a genre that had grown stale. But Lee didn’t abandon all of the traits that made comic books such an enjoyable source of wish fulfillment. Indeed, the sinew that bound all these characters was a desire to do right, a knowledge that they were spandexed parts of the main and a realization that, as Lee noted, with great power comes great responsibility.

“The world always needs heroes, whether they’re superheroes or not,” Lee said in a 2016 interview with The Big Issue. “Since time immemorial there were stories and legends about evil people who had superpowers, and some human being had to find a way to conquer them. It seems to be part of the human condition.”

By putting the human condition back into stories of costumed vigilantes and dastardly villains, Lee left an indelible mark on popular culture. Or, as he would put it, “’Nuff said.”

More Biz

  • best airlines ranked inflight entertainment

    Holiday Travel Survey Reveals Airlines With Best In-Flight Entertainment

    There are many ways to pass the time if you’re in the air, but for most people, settling in with a glass of wine and a movie is the preferred way to fly. But not all airlines share the same script when it comes to entertainment offerings. A new survey from the website, CableTV.com, ranked [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

  • Jennifer Lawrence Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Bragged of Sex With Jennifer Lawrence, Lawsuit Claims

    Harvey Weinstein was hit with a lawsuit Friday from an actress who claims he forcibly performed oral sex on her, repeatedly masturbated in front of her, and threatened to harm her career if she objected. According to the suit, Weinstein pushed her to the ground during a meeting in his office in 2013. He then [...]

  • Times Up Hollywood

    Time's Up Entertainment Announces New Industry Mentoring Initiative

    Time’s Up Entertainment, an affiliate of the Time’s Up coalition of women across industries working to improve workplace safety, has announced the “Who’s in the Room” industry mentoring initiative. The program’s goal is to increase the presence of people of color from diverse backgrounds in the entertainment industry’s executive ranks. Funded by a $500,000 grant from [...]

  • Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in

    Paramount Inks Deal for Theme Park in South Korea

    Paramount Pictures has announced a deal to install a studio-branded theme park in an entertainment resort being developed in South Korea. The agreement was struck between Paramount and Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, which owns the Inspire Integrated Entertainment Resort in the South Korean city of Incheon. Mohegan has invested KRW 2.8 trillion ($2.4 billion) in [...]

  • Davan Maharaj Mel Gibson

    L.A. Times Publisher's Lawyer Was Accused of Extorting Mel Gibson

    The attorney who negotiated a $2.5 million exit package for L.A. Times publisher Davan Maharaj was previously accused of using secret recordings to extort actor Mel Gibson. Surreptitious recordings also figure in the Maharaj case. NPR reported on Wednesday that Maharaj taped Tronc chairman Michael Ferro. According to the report, Ferro was heard on the [...]

  • 'Blurred Lines' Suit Ends With $5

    'Blurred Lines' Suit Ends With $5 Million Judgement Against Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams

    After five years, the legal battle over the copyright of the Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” has ended, with Marvin Gaye’s family being awarded a final judgment of nearly $5 million against the song’s primary writers, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, according to CNN and other reports. The pair were accused of copyright infringement [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content