Stan Lee—The Man, The Legend

We’ve been expecting this for some time now given his frail age, but today’s sad news that Stan Lee passed away still hurts. Why? Because Stan the Man is a comic book legend and his influence not just in comic books, but in our culture resonates so powerfully. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but appropriate given Lee’s penchant for promoting the Marvel Comics superheroes he co-created.

Most of us know his biography better than our own. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Stan Lee was introduced to the world of comic books when he began working for Timely Comics in 1939 and soon started writing for the company. Before long, he became an editor and worked on numerous titles and was quite prolific. During his tenure he came up with the pseudonym “Stan Lee” (a playful jib of his first name) because he wanted to use his real name when he got around to writing his Great American Novel. Although that never happened, what he created would have more of an impact in American pop culture than any old Great American Novel.

Eventually, Timely Comics morphed into Marvel Comics and in the early 1960s, Lee wanted to help boost sales for his company’s books. Seeing that the best-selling title in rival DC Comics was the superhero team book Justice League of America, he decided to create Marvel’s own superhero team. He teamed with his longtime collaborator, artist Jack Kirby, to create the Fantastic Four, thus the Marvel Age of Comics was born.

Comes the Marvel Age

From there, Lee and Kirby quickly grew the Marvel Universe and introduced such iconic characters and teams like the Hulk, the Avengers, Black Panther, Thor, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and the X-Men. Lee also worked with other artists, which resulted in his greatest creation and contribution to pop culture. That being Spider-Man, who he co-created with Steve Ditko.

What set his creations apart from traditional, square-jawed superheroes was that the Marvel heroes were flawed and relatable. This was best seen with Spider-Man, who broke the mold of a superhero, and was Lee’s favorite character. His alter ego, Peter Parker, was an insecure everyman type who like us had to grapple with real-life, ordinary problems like paying the rent or trying to get a date. It seemed like the more Spider-Man won a battle, the more Peter would lose a war in his personal life. Other superheroes and even the supervillains were just as conflicted and dimensional.

Lee’s books introduced novel concepts and explored themes of bigotry and social strife and issues as seen with The X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man. His works also ushered in more diverse characters such as Black Panther, the first black superhero, and Daredevil, a disabled superhero. Readers reacted positively to these innovative comic books and the result was that Marvel Comics exploded into the pop scene.

Lee’s bombastic personality and prolific writing helped promote the books. During his time as editor and editor-in-chief, Lee helped create the “Marvel Method” of creating comics that would become controversial when it came to designate whom was actually responsible for Marvel’s success. Being that he was writing so many titles and pressed for time, Lee would come up with a basic plot and pass it on to the artists. They in turn would flesh out the stories and when they were done, Lee would add the snazzy dialogue.

Over time, many artists were irked over the growing perception from the outside world that Lee was solely responsible for Marvel’s success. This would eventually cause Kirby and Ditko to leave Marvel. They went on to work on their own creations but looking at their post-Lee work it is easy to see how much of an impact Lee had in the Marvel works since the artists’ solo efforts lacked the pizzazz and sharpness that Lee’s dialogue added.

As the so-called Marvel Age of Comics began, the superheroes became a large part of popular culture when the heroes appeared in cartoons and were featured in merchandising. As this went on, Marvel’s biggest spokesperson and cheerleader continued to be Stan Lee himself. He always came off as energetic and jovial in interviews, appearances, and his column, which appeared in Marvel Comics. Often his posts were lettered with his memorable one-liners like “Face front, true believers!” “’Nuff said!”, and “Excelsior!”.

Marvel Mascot

Eventually, Lee stepped down from his day-to-day writing and editing duties at Marvel and took on the ambassadorial role for Marvel full time. During this period, the 1970s and 1980s, Lee worked to bring the Marvel heroes to live-action medium. The results were not great with many movie projects stalling out and TV efforts being sub-par, although The Incredible Hulk was well received. Regardless, his efforts paved the way for the later success of Marvel films years later.

Still, Lee would continue to write when time permitted and penned several comics for Marvel and even did a notable stint for DC Comics where he re-imagined heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.

In recent years, Lee’s status and standing with fans grew and grew as he embraced his role as a mascot for all things Marvel. These were best seen with his numerous cameos in Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the Spider-Man films, and the Captain America films. Many of these appearances were crowd-pleasing scene stealers.

By this time, Marvel and comic books grew out of their niche and became a prominent part of our culture. The phenomenal success of superhero films and the cultural presence of superheroes can be attributed to Lee’s efforts.

As we look back fondly on Stan Lee, it is best to keep in mind that while we mourn him, it’s best that we continue to celebrate what he has created. For truly his works will endure for generations to come.

Thanks, Stan. Rest easy now.

Excelsior!

José Soto

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All Good Things Come To A Marvelous End

Today, it was announced at Midtown Comics in New York City by Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort that the Marvel Universe will come to an end this May with the new Secret Wars mini-series.

secret warsIn Secret Wars, segments of different Marvel realities, including the Marvel Universe 616 or the main universe that has been in existence for 75 years will be combined into a new planet called Battleworld. The Marvel editors claimed that from now on this Battleworld will be the new Marvel Universe. Fans of the regular Marvel Comics know that for some time the Marvel superheroes have been dealing with the “Incursion” events, that is where parallel worlds/realities have been colliding with each other. Now it’s the turn of Marvel 616 and the one from the Ultimate comic books as the two realities will smash into one another. The remains of these universes will join other universe segments on Battleworld.

SW Map.jpg

This event can best be described as Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the famous DC Comics mini-series that sought to eliminate the confusing amount of alternate realities into one single universe. All fans know that the Crisis event was the springboard for DC to revamp their superheroes and titles, which included John Byrne’s updating of Superman, among others.

Guide-to-the-DC-New-52

We can only hope that Marvel has better luck in producing a more coherent universe than DC did. While the event was good on paper, there were many inconsistencies with many DC titles, which led to more mini-series events that tried to rectify this to no avail. Ultimately, DC was able to correct this and present a clean ending to their comics universe and start over completely with the Flashpoint mini-series and The New 52 reboot.

With the main Marvel Universe ending, this is undoubtedly a sad turn for fans of the Marvel comic books, but it’s a terrific way of starting over and clearing the plate. For some time, the Marvel Universe had become convoluted with too many characters and realities. Let’s look at the X-Men for example. There are so many different characters, many of which come from alternate futures and dimensions, that it’s daunting for non-regular readers to keep up with. How many storylines have there been in the X-Men comics where someone comes from the future? All these futures are different from one another! How can the future seen in “Days of Futures Past” be reconciled with a future seen in Wolverine: Old Man Logan? Simple, it’s impossible!

Then there is the mess Marvel made renew with Spider-Man in undoing his marriage to Mary Jane. Instead of just having the couple get a divorce, a convoluted story was made up (“One More Day”) where Spider-Man went completely out of character and made a deal with the Marvel equivalent of the Devil to save his aunt’s life. This led to a time-travel quirk where he never married Mary Jane and reality in the regular Marvel Universe was altered. The upcoming event “Renew Your Vows” is a good way to rectify this mistake as seen with the preview image of Spider-Man, Mary Jane and their daughter.

Speaking of Spider-Man, the recent Spider-Verse story illustrates how convoluted and crowded the Marvel multiverses have become with the many different versions of Spider-Man.

That is why the end of the Marvel Universe is a good way to streamline things and provide a jumping on point for new readers and lapsed fans who couldn’t keep up with the vast myriad of timelines. As with Spider-Man’s marriage, the clean slate allows for mistakes to be undone and to approach characters and stories with a new, fresh perspective. Then again, how long before alternate reality or future stories begin to come back? Let’s hope it will be a while.

For this year’s Free Comic Book Day event on May 3, Marvel will release free copies of Secret Wars #0 that will bring readers up to speed to the shattering event.

T. Rod Jones

Marvel Mythbuster

stan lee

Amidst all the celebration of Marvel Comics’ 75th anniversary is the notion that famed writer Stan lee singlehandedly created the entire lineup of the Marvel Universe. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

His biggest collaborator in the early days was Marvel Comic’s co-creator Jack Kirby. Kirby was not only the dynamic, genius penciler with fantastic layouts and renditions, he was more than a co-plotter on stories “written” by Stan Lee.

Stan allowed his artists to plan out the full issue after just speaking with them for a few minutes or having a one kirbysentence plot. It was up to Jack to find the action, the comedy, the tragedy, the pacing and the tone as he was also creating the art. So, by saying that Jack was a co-plotter is not giving Jack enough credit. Together Stan and Jack created the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and all the supporting characters and villains that appeared in those books during Marvel’s origin years- the early 1960s. Stan also had other collaborators too, such as Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, and he had a similar working relationship with Ditko.

As the Marvel universe began to take shape during the ’60s, which was known as the Silver Age of comic books, other artistic collaborators followed– Gene Colan, John Buscema, Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Jim Steranko, all embellished upon the house of characters that Jack, Stan, and Steve built. So for accuracy’s sake remember as we celebrate Marvel Comics’ 75th anniversary, although he was a critical part in the formation of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee did not create the Marvel Universe all by himself.

 Steven L. Walterson

Reasons Why The Marvel Superheroes Are Still Successful

marvel 75

The 20th century needed a new group of heroes that reflected then-modern sensibilities. During the Golden Age of comic books, superheroes belonging to DC Comics (then named National Periodical Publications) such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman fulfilled this need with their wild superhuman exploits that captured the imagination. By the post-war era in America, DC’s superheroes were pretty much the standard: the Establishment.

By attempting to have the most likeable characters, DC’s superheroes had no character or emotional flaws, and the stories gravitated towards plot-driven, farcical adventures rather than character-driven stories.

In the wake of DC’s success, other comic book companies were founded and tried to emulate DC. Out of the many companies, only Timely Comics had staying power and here we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of that company that will later become Marvel Comics.

The Flawed, Science Heroes: Comics changed forever with the start of the so-called Marvel Age. The birth of the Marvel Universe took place in the early 1960s. This was a period that people were in awe with all of the wonders of science and space exploration. The Space Race and the Cold War were on the minds of the people. The Zeitgeist was the fear of the imminent Red Invasion and the Promise of Science- where will it take us?

perez marvelThe core of the first generation of Marvel superheroes were essentially Science Heroes. With the exception of Dr. Strange, the rest of the Marvel Universe was largely a world of weird science and science fiction. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Giant-Man, the Wasp and the Hulk were Radioactive Heroes. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. The astronauts from Reed Richard’s group were exposed to cosmic rays during their maiden voyage into outer space. In an unfortunate accident, Dr. Bruce Banner was hit with the full blast of Gamma Rays. Tony Stark built an electronic-laden armor with tons gadgets and abilities. Captain America was a patriotic hero that survived World War II by being frozen due to his exposure of Vita-Rays; part of the catalyst that transformed Steve Rogers from a skinny kid to an athletically proportioned hero. Giant Man and the Wasp benefitted from Hank Pym’s size magnification and reduction experiments, along with side studies in insect communication and gene splicing.

Great concepts- ahead of its time- but what made the Marvel Universe different, however, was not only the science aspect, but rather the fact that these Marvel heroes were emotionally flawed, imperfect, and fallible. Tragedy strikes as often as victories. Moral dilemmas were as large as the threat.

Spider-Man wins the battle with the big bad villain, but he can’t get enough money for his rent and he blew a date with either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson. Captain America is back in the modern world, but he feels lost like a fish out of water. marvel heroesThe X-Men have astounding abilities, but they are persecuted and feared by society, who view mutants as aberrations, and treat them as outcasts. The Fantastic Four’s Thing has great power, but he also has this great fear that his blind girlfriend Alicia won’t accept him if she ever regained her sight and found him ugly. But the Thing- AKA Ben Grimm, is very human despite his rough exterior, with a heart that endeared him to readers. Dr. Strange was a callous, money-loving jerk; a celebrity physician until a terrible traffic accident ended his career. This gave him pause to reflect and improve on his past behavior as he was now invested to learn the mystic arts to save the world from an ancient evil. And the list goes on and on with the great flaws that these characters have, but that is what made these characters appealing. That in particular was something that comic book readers became very attuned to, and why they identified with them. Continue reading