Robert Johnson Jr.
The unthinkable has happened – Stanley Martin Lieber, or the man whom many would come to know as Stan Lee, died on Nov. 12 at the age of 95.
Everyone expected it to happen, yes, but no matter how good one’s foresight is, it still stings sharply and hits home hard – he was the grandpa-like figure of the comics industry to many people, young and old, myself included.
Lee was one of the biggest if not the biggest, visionaries behind comic book history.
Lee started his career as a mere assistant for Timely Comics during the Golden Age of Comic Books from 1938 to about 1950. He reached his creative peak at a re-christened Timely Comics, now known as Marvel Comics, during the Silver Age of Comic Books from 1956 to 1970. Lee played a major role in giving the world Spider-Man (alongside Steve Ditko), The Incredible Hulk and Black Panther (in collaboration with Jack Kirby), and many others along the way.
Of course, with all this work behind him, Lee quickly found a spot in the hallowed halls of comic history, creating characters and storylines that still hold relevancy in 2018, as they did back in the timespan of the Silver Age of Comic Books.
We need to remember this: “The Man” made comics into the deep, emotional medium we have today. He crafted characters that were more than their superpowers – they were actual people with valid emotions and feelings beneath the suits and uniforms. The stories that featured them were real, and readers, especially young, impressionable readers, could relate to.
Before Lee’s breakthrough in the industry, comics were campy, nonsensical tales of spandex-clad heroes pursuing the villain of the day, with little-to-no attention paid to character development. Everything was just high-octane action for a youth dealing with the struggles of being at war and the brave soldiers who participated in it.
Like him or loathe him, you must give it up to the man who basically forged his own path and made comics into the media juggernaut they are today. There should have been no possible way that comics made it into the ’60s, but Lee and his common collaborators of the day made the medium into a true, valid part of American culture – a part of American culture that, if removed, would be a huge loss to multiple mediums at once.
Because of his hard work, Lee’s influence can be found everywhere. Take the extremely popular manga-series-turned-anime, Kōhei Horikoshi’s “My Hero Academia,” for example – a series that takes many of its cues from American comic books, specifically the works of old-school Marvel Comics penned by Lee.
In an interview with Shonen Jump, the publication that distributes “My Hero Academia,” he informs the reader how much he adores “Spider-Man” as a franchise and how influential Sam Raimi’s portrayal of the titular character in the 2002 movie was in the creative process of the series.
To me ... he is the only hero that I think of that defines the title,” Horikoshi said.
Stan Lee was a man who worked to give a voice to the voiceless, using his position of privilege for the greater good. He fought against racists, fought for the lesser man, and made society and American pop culture better in the long run. Every “Stan’s Soapbox” column was a direct line of sight into the man Lee was – the genius Lee was.
May his memory be a blessing – we cannot thank him enough for all the work he did for us in the comics medium, for there will never be another Stanley Martin Lieber. That’s a fact.