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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Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko (1927- 2018)

A short time ago, a comic book giant passed away. Not one of the MCU characters that got Thanos’s Death Snapture; this giant was a comic book artist. Not just any comic book artist. He was Steve Ditko.

Known to many as Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko was also part of the first decade of the creation of Marvel Comics. His main character contributions and sequential issue work are Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but during Marvel’s initial years, he also drew plenty of issues featuring Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, along with issues of The Avengers, and all sorts of double feature issues.

Comic book creations and pop culture relevance is by now well ingrained in the minds of moviegoers and audiences worldwide. people now understand that many superheroes began as characters seen in published comic books. Newsprint paper, four-color separation and halftone color patterns were props behind the stage. Distributors and retail stores were their curtains and the hands and eyes of those who bought these issues were the audiences. Comic book fame spun off into animated and live-action TV shows, video games, movies and merchandise. The most profitable characters were the superheroes.

Among this web of inter-related media was the thread of the creator. Someone had to come up with the story Someone had to come up with the character design – the color and shape of the costume and character faces. Someone had to come up with their signature moves.

There has been much discussion in the past as to what degree of involvement Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in creating Spider-Man. How much of Spidey was adapted from Jack Kirby’s initial design? How much of Spidey was in Lee’s brief written synopsis? What was Ditko’s actual contribution in regard to the amount of content – character designs, costumes designs, characterizations, signature moves, etc. ? It’s a discussion that may never be resolved.

For a character who is arguably the world’s favorite Marvel Comic character, his origin is still unclear even though he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Back in 1961, Marvel Comics Publishing Group was such a loose and flowing House of Ideas, that any iteration which lead to the creation of the Spider-Man look we all know and was only loosely documented. Some of it was Kirby. Most of it was Ditko and approved by Lee. But there’s no doubt, the look that Ditko presented is a handmade costume, big eyes, a webbing motif on the red portions of the costume, and mechanical web shooters. Ditko had a penchant for quirky action poses and Spider-Man’s signature poses no doubt came from Ditko. None of Kirby’s characters moved like that. All of Ditko’s characters moved kind of quirky and not quite natural. His landscapes ranged from urbanely gritty to fantastical. The distinctive realms he drew for the Dr. Strange stories have been compared to Salvador Dali paintings. The characters’ look for both hero and villain were all Ditko. Even the “surfer dude hand sign” which is used by both Spidey and Dr. Strange is a signature Ditko design.

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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

The Avengers Assemble to Celebrate Fifty Years Of Teaming Up

 

perez avengers

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were bornto fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, thenfor now, the Avengers Assemble!”– Monthly prologue inserted in every issue of The Avengers

Most fans know the story behind Marvel Comics’ famous group of superheroes, the Avengers. In the early ’60s Marvel’s rival DC Comics had a huge hit with their own superhero team the Justice League of America (JLA). In a desire to compete with JLA’s strong sales, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman directed editor Stan Lee to put out their own brand of superhero comics like The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men. Thus, the creation of what general readers know as The Marvel Comic Book Universe was in progress. The popular storylines readers love about Marvel hadn’t been written yet, but the Marvel characters were just created and began their journey of adventures while inhabiting a shared Marvel universe. As successful as these comic books were, the company didn’t have an equivalent to the JLA. In other words, a comic book that featured their most popular heroes teaming up against a huge threat.

avengers issue 1To remedy this, Stan worked with his long-time collaborator, co-plotter and penciller Jack Kirby to create the Avengers. When Marvel published the first issue of The Avengers Marvel found its equivalent to JLA. Right before the Avengers were created, Marvel had popular heroes like the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man and so it was feasible to do a team-up book since these core members would make a good fit as a team. The comic book was a huge hit with readers because of a formula it followed. The main characters, like the Fantastic Four, didn’t see eye-to-eye with each other. In fact, they fought each other, starting with the very first issue when the Hulk was attacked by the other founding members (it was all part of a ruse engineered by Thor’s wicked step brother Loki). But in the end, the heroes would put aside their differences to battle a force that each of them couldn’t handle alone. What’s more is that these heroes had character flaws, as all heroes from the original Silver Age roster of the Marvel Universe. This contrasted dramatically from the members of the JLA- who were viewed by readers as perfect personalities with no character flaws. Plus, it didn’t hurt that fans loved the famous battle cry “Avengers Assemble!” made by the team.

Enter Captain America

Still, as successful as the book was, Lee and Goodman knew something was missing. There wasn’t anyone who had the ability of keeping the team together; there was no strong leader. They needed someone who had a long-established history to be part of the team. Enter Captain America; co-created in the 1940’s by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby. Cap’s greatest run at that point, was in the 40’s, when he was popular as a patriotic superhero. But after WWII, sales dwindled for his comic books and he only appeared in comic books occasionally during the 1950s. His return to the Marvel Universe in issue 4 of The Avengers is not just a pivotal moment in Avengers history but in comic book history as well. This was because he is a pop icon who symbolized what was best about America and his heroics dated back to World War II.

His induction into the team changed the tone of The Avengers, too. The stories had more depth and introduced a fish-out-of-water element. What also became apparent is that Captain America was a natural leader and he helped usher in the next important change to the title.

Changing Lineup

Somewhat of a hallmark today for The Avengers is the title’s ever-changing lineup. Lee realized that it was difficult to have so many popular characters in The Avengers while they had their own adventures in their own titles. It was hard to keep up with the continuity and in the end might dilute their popularity. So it was decided to remove the popular characters except for Captain America. The question was who would replace the superstars? In The Avengers #16, photo3Captain America needed to bring in new recruits after the core members left the team. They ended up being Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. These choices were out of the ordinary because at that time, they were more known for being villains. Adding to that dilemma was that Hawkeye’s abrasive attitude served as a perfect foil to true-blue, all-American Captain America. Previously, he would give out orders and no one would question him, but now Hawkeye would do so, which added conflict. This element was a big hit with readers and made the book even more successful and reinforced the winning formula: likeable heroes who bicker, but in the end use teamwork to defeat a common foe. Continue reading

Top 10 Stan Lee Cameos In Marvel Movies

One of the highlights for any Marvel film are comic book creator Stan Lee’s often humorous cameos. Some are better and more memorable than others. These are his best appearances to date in Marvel superhero films.

10. Security Guard With His Partner, Hulk: One of the very few highlights in this film was seeing Stan Lee and Lou Ferigno together as security guards who pass by Bruce Banner. And he actually has lines to speak unlike earlier cameos (and screaming “Look out!” as debris falls in Spider-Man doesn’t cut it).

9. The Pickup Truck Driver, Thor: During a segment where New Mexico locals try to move Thor’s hammer, Stan tries using his pickup truck to loosen the mystic weapon out of the ground without any luck.

8. Man In The Park, The Avengers: In the film’s final moments there is a media montage with reporters interviewing New York citizens about the Avengers. Stan is park visitor who scoffs at the idea of the Avengers. In his too-short appearance he remarks, “superheroes in New York? Give me a break!”

7. Army Officer, Captain America: The First Avenger: Stan Lee plays an army officer at an awards ceremony for Steve Rogers. After Rogers is called to accept the award,  a diminutive official informs an announcer that Rogers won’t be attending. Stan mistakes this guy for being Rogers and comments, “I thought he’d be taller.”

6. Man Drinks Hulk Juice, The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood accidentally spills into a juice bottle in a bottling plant that is later drunk by Stan. He reacts immediately to the drink and mutters “wow.” According to reports in the film, the juice had quite a punch!

5. Stan Lee As Hef, Iron Man: Now is Stan supposed to be playing famous Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner or is he only mistaken for Hef because of his wardrobe and gorgeous entourage? The debate goes on with this funny scene where Tony Stark addresses him as Hef when Stark arrives at a function.

4. Willie Lumpkin, Fantastic Four: Stan Lee actually plays one of the characters that he helped create in the Fantastic Four. Only fans of the comic book will recognize Stan as the Fantastic Four’s lovable mailman Willie Lumpkin; in the cameo he delivers overdue bills to Reed Richards in the Baxter Building.

3. The Librarian, The Amazing Spider-Man: His most recent appearance is a very funny one. A heated battle between Spider-Man and the Lizard spills over into Peter Parker’s high school library. Stan Lee plays an oblivious librarian to the chaos behind him because he is listening to classical music on his headphones.

2. Stan Lee Tries To Crash A Wedding, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer: Reed Richards and Sue Storm are holding a posh, invitation-only wedding in Manhattan. Stan Lee is prevented from attending by an usher because he’s not on the guest list. It was his funniest appearance and a recreation from Fantastic Four Annual # 3 where he and Jack Kirby aren’t allowed into the characters’ wedding.

1. Stan Lee Meets Peter Parker, Spider-Man 3: Peter Parker in the middle of swooning over himself early in the film encounters Stan as they both admire a news blotter on New York’s buildings about Spider-Man. He looks at Peter and tells him “I guess one person can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.” This is Stan’s best line spoken in these films and sums up a poignant philosophy that is at the core of his stories. Also, unlike other cameos it’s prominent and memorable.

On that note, one thing keeps glaring out with these cameos. Co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko aren’t featured anywhere in these films. Of course, Kirby is no longer with us but they could at least feature a landmark named after him. Wouldn’t it have been cool if the Thing passed by the corner of Yancy Street and Kirby Avenue? Or if Peter Parker attended the Ditko Art Exhibit? Something the filmmakers can think about for future films.

Check out this video that features Stan Lee’s cameos:

José Soto