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With great power comes great responsibility. Many would recognize this as the philosophy that has driven Spider-man for the past 56 years. Equally it could apply to Spider-man’s creator, Stan Lee, who passed away last Monday at the age of 95.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that Stan Lee invented the modern superhero. While Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the architype with Superman in 1938, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger hit on a cultural icon with Batman in the following year, the early years of superhero comics were filled with pulp stories of war-time intrigue, gangsters, and simple characterization. Comics in the forties and fifties were more interested in tales of chilling horror to delight and amaze than telling complex, human stories.

 

Stan Lee changed that. Having already been a veteran of the industry by the 1960s, Lee was given a chance by the new Marvel comics to tell more complex stories. Instead of white-and-black hatted cowboy stories, Lee wanted heroes that had personalities, who suffered loss and self-doubt, and didn’t always win at the end of the day. Marvel’s heroes were modern heroes, and their masks became metaphors.

 

It is no surprise that Lee’s heroes – the rage-induced Incredible Hulk, the prosecuted mutants of the X-Men, the morally questionable Daredevil – all appeared and rose to popularity during the tumultuous time that was the 1960s. The counter culture revolution had young people questioning their parent’s straight-laced and more repressed mindsets. Unlike Superman, who was a stalwart beacon of truth, justice and the American way, Captain America was a man out of time, proud to wear his uniform but also willing to question his orders if he thought them unjust. The Civil Rights Movement and second wave feminism allowed the voiceless to rise up, and readers wanted to see themselves reflected in the comics. Lee obliged, with characters like Black Panther, and the Wasp.

 

His motivations weren’t all altruism and social responsibility. Lee was a showman, and had an eye for what would sell. He created She-Hulk – Bruce Banner’s similarly green afflicted cousin – as a response to the popularity of the Bionic Woman. His first creation for Marvel, the Fantastic Four, was a direct response to DC Comics own Justice League, and would eventually lead to the creation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers

 

His instinct for the limelight wasn’t always positive though. Through his monthly column Stan’ Soapbox, Lee became the face and the voice of Marvel throughout the sixties and seventies. However, the contributions and accomplishments of his frequent artist collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Dikto were minimized. It was these artists’ designs and visual storytelling that gave the comics revolution their style. Lee’s self promotion did not always win him friends, and he tied the Marvel Brand to his own.

 

Ditko – who died earlier this year – was Lee’s co-creator on Marvel’s most popular character, and the most relatable hero of the 20th century: Spider-man. Not a brilliant inventor, a billionaire playboy, a famed scientist, or an all-powerful alien; Peter Parker was just a boy. He found himself out of his element, in a world increasingly dangerous and unpredictable. He had responsibilities but struggled to keep up with them. He doubted himself. He had girl problems. Take off the mask, and he was no different than multitudes of readers picking up the comic week after week.

 

Lee left Marvel in the nineties, during a period of near bankruptcy for Marvel. Because of the nature of the industry, when Lee started working for them, he never saw any of the profits from the dozens of characters he created. But Lee had spent decades tying his name to his characters in the public mindset, and neither could ever escape the other. Lee’s cult of personality lead him to movies and television, where he pushed to have Marvel’s characters take to the screen.

 

While a painted green Lou Ferrigno won fans in the eighties, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium when the action truly left the page and jumped to the screen, and Lee went along for the ride. From the release of 2000’s X-Men to this year’s Spider-man ; Into the Spider-verse, Lee made a humourous cameo in every film based on his creations, the superhero equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock. Lee lived to see his characters go from the funny pages to Saturday morning cartoons to the company he helped put on the map being bought by Disney for $4 billion. The MCU movies featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson are among the most successful movies ever made. Not bad for a bunch of characters jumping around in their pajamas.

 

"I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Lee once told the Washington Post. “And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing."

 

We’ve put together an Slist of books and movies created or inspired by Stan Lee, which you can view here.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Excelsior!

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