Stan Lee: Marvel’s misunderstood showman

Fred Hembeck on Stan Lee (2009): “The man is Fantastic, Amazing, and Incredible, with the Uncanny ability to keep us in Suspense, all the while Astonishing us–even if he is a bit Strange at times!”

Stan LeeBy the time I started reading comic books in the early 1970s, Stan Lee had just recently stopped scripting the bulk of the Marvel titles. He had ceded the title of editor-in-chief in 1972 to Roy Thomas, and other writers were joining the fold.

But Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber, was listed as publisher and his name was still prominent in every issue: “Stan Lee Presents” and his chatty Stan’s Soapbox. Then I started reading the back issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, via the reprint title Marvel Tales, drawn by Steve Ditko. This inevitably brought me to reading other 1960s works, mostly Lee/Jack Kirby material.

The Hollywood Reporter noted: “Beginning in the 1960s, the irrepressible and feisty Lee punched up his Marvel superheroes with personality, not just power. Until then, comic book headliners like those of DC Comics were square and well-adjusted, but his heroes had human foibles and hang-ups… The evildoers were a mess of psychological complexity.”

As I was learning about the Marvel Universe, I picked up The Origins of Marvel Comics, a book by Stan Lee which Alan David Doane lovingly wrote about. And I got Son of Origins and several other books.

Larry Wilson, who owned a comic book store rival of FantaCo in Albany, noted that “he taught me history, irony, bravery, how to be heroic, fairness, and humility. He gave hope to the downtrodden and told us that good defeats evil, racism is vile, and we all have a role to play in the cause of justice.”

Christopher Allen wrote: “I can’t begin to calculate his impact on me as not just a lover of comics but of reading, of words, and how he affected how I saw the world and the people in it, how even heroes have problems, how everyone deserves respect, and how we are responsible for using our abilities to try to make the world a little better for others.”

Chuck Rozanski, President of Mile High Comics wrote about being “a scared 10 year-old kid hiding in his room from an abusive father in 1965 who found hope and strength through Stan’s awesome early Spider-Man stories…. I took great solace from [Peter Parker’s] struggles to find his place in a hostile world, while still maintaining his decency and never losing his moral compass.

“In many regards, Stan Lee became my surrogate father through the power of his remarkable prose, which still resonates with children (and adults) today. He instilled positive values in me that continue to guide my life, and for that I will be eternally grateful to him.”

Back when my friend Fred Hembeck used to have a daily blog, he always wrote about Stan on December 28, Lee’s birthday. In 2009, wrote: “The man is Fantastic, Amazing, and Incredible, with the Uncanny ability to keep us in Suspense, all the while Astonishing us–even if he is a bit Strange at times!” For an earlier birthday note, see HERE.

John Trumbull collated recollections by people Lee worked with, including Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and many others. Even in his nineties, Stan was the face of Marvel, as his IMDB page makes clear, with dozens of movie appearances, game voiceovers and the like.

Comic book writer Mark Evanier has an interesting perspective. “The trouble with having mixed feelings about someone is that there are those who just want to dwell on the negative ones.”

Also: “Those of you who feel like I do that our friend Jack Kirby was wronged by credits in the past, please remember that Marvel now credits Jack where for decades they did not.” Stan, for his part, was almost always generous in describing Kirby and Ditko’s role in the Marvel method.

I was sadly aware that his last year or so was difficult. “Lee’s wife and partner in nearly everything, Joan Lee, died on July 6, 2017, leaving a void that made her husband… vulnerable to hangers-on who began to surround him.”

The Vanity Fair article, and title, are correct: Stan Lee’s True Legacy Is a Complicated Cosmic Mystery. Ditto the subtitle: “Marvel’s greatest showman was always misunderstood—by those who inflated his importance, and those who dismissed him as a boastful egomaniac.”

Finally, this public service message from Stan. RIP, true believer.
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Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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