Adam Graham pays tribute to the late, great Stan Lee (1922-2018)
On a special edition of the Classy Comics Podcast we pay tribute to comic book legend Stan Lee in The Mighty Marvel Manor, straight ahead…
Well, it’s a different sort of episode of the Classy Comics Podcast as we pay tribute to Stan Lee who passed away at the age of ninety-five, and there’s so much that could be said about Stan Lee’s legacy. He forgot more about comics than most people knew, and I mean that quite literally. He actually wrote of Captain America being revived in the 1950s and forgot about that return when he wrote Cap’s Return in the 1960s, leaving that as an issue to be addressed by other comic writers. And I think there are a couple of areas to look at Stan Lee’s legacy.
The first one as a writer, and Stan Lee’s writing credits go back to the Golden Age of comics. He wrote some very interesting characters – he wrote The Destroyer who is one of my all-time favorite Golden Age character, and probably the first one that Stan Lee created; and he wrote so many different comics over the years from the 1940s through the 70s and into the modern era. But really he’s best remembered for his work during the Silver Age, and I think that if you want to look at where Stan Lee’s greatest writing contributions you’re going to be looking at The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. His work on Fantastic Four for…as writer for its first 117 Issues, and on The Amazing Spider-Man for almost…I think around 100 Issues. He let Roy Thomas take over for four Issues and then came back and he stayed on to about – I think Issue 113. So, he created so much mythology around those characters.
So many things that happened have been retold dozens of times, and also he helped create so many of the great villains of the Marvel Universe – Magneto and Dr. Octopus and Dr. Doom; and not only did he script Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, he also worked on Daredevil where, I think, the Stan Lee run, writing Daredevil is way underrated. Iron Man, Thor, Agents of Shield, Ant Man, X-Men, The Avengers, Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Captain America, and the Silver Surfer – and most of these he was writing continuously. He was writing so many of these titles and strips and stories every month.
Now he co-created these characters with artists, particularly Steve Dicko and Jack Kirby, and they certainly deserve their share of credit. And they were definitely part of the creative process with them using the Marvel Method by which Stan Lee would essentially say, “OK, here is a general idea of how this story will go”, and then they will go ahead and they will draw the story that Stan Lee told, and they’ll often make a lot of their own changes, and then it will be up to…then it was up to Stan Lee to write all of the dialogue. And there had been some controversy about the degree to which Stan Lee was responsible for all of these stories, and clearly these other creative gentlemen played a role. In fact, Stan Lee acknowledged this. One of my favorite Stan Lee-related panels in comics is from Amazing Spider-Man Annual Number One, and it shows Stan Lee at a typewriter, like overwhelmed with all of these characters. He’s got Dr. Strange behind him and Captain America at his ear, and he’s got Incredible Hulk under him, and there’s the Fantastic Four and Iron Man’s on his hand. It just kind of showing all the things he was doing, but the accompanying story just…which Lee wrote, pokes fun at him, explains all the work – that he comes up with an idea in the middle of night, goes to Steve Dicko and tells his story, and then Steve Dicko has to draw and create this entire Spider-Man story under these really intense deadlines.
And so he poked fun and acknowledged the contributions of these other creators, yet these stories would not be what they were without Stan Lee. He had just a sense of humor and style, and it’s some pretty clever ideas. And one thing when it comes to Jack Kirby and Steve Dicko is they both wrote other things, so we can compare what Stan Lee…what was written in these stories with what Kirby and Dicko wrote on their own, you get an idea of what Stan Lee’s contribution was. A lot of it was just this really personal element, this idea of these characters having inner lives and feelings and having relationships with one another, as well as just this sense of fun and excitement with what was in the stories. And there’s so much that Stan Lee brought to this and he contributed through the course of his illustrious career with Marvel.
However, when it comes to talking about his writing career, I think there’s a limit to that in understanding his impact, because Stan Lee stopped regularly writing comic books on an ongoing basis back in the 1970s, and since then he’s written some graphic novels, some one-offs, a story here and there. And he’s done a few things independently but I don’t think that fully explains the strength of his legacy as this promoter, executive and ambassador for Marvel Comics and the comic industry in general. The history of Stan Lee is just incredibly rich. He actually became the editor of Timely which was one of the predecessor companies to Marvel when he was eighteen, and he had that career interrupted when he got drafted into the military. And he did a lot of innovation.
It used to be that names of creators were rarely displayed in comics, that you didn’t know who wrote or who drew so many of the comics that went out there, particularly for DC. In fact, if you picked up a Showcase Presents book that has comics from the 1950s and 60s, you’ll generally see a note in there from DC Comics saying that…at that time it was generally not industry practice to show who wrote and drew the comics. Well, Stan Lee at Marvel he really changed that. You got to see exactly who was writing these things. It was done sporadically at Timely and Atlas during the Golden Age, and kind of like the Atomic Age – Middle Period in comics in the 1950s; but really during the Silver Age you got to see who was drawing all these things, who was writing them, and you got to see Gene Colan and Jack Kirby and Steve Dicko given credit in the pages of Marvel comics.
And he changed the way that comics worked and how we related to creators; and I think he may have really been a pioneer in defining the relationship between creators and readers in general within science fiction as a whole, because he really…he reached out to fans, he wrote Stan’s Soap Box. He not only published letters in the pages of Marvel comics but he had conversations with readers; and he established this culture where the readers got to be part of the whole process, where if you spotted an error in a Marvel comics you would receive a No-Prize which would be something – be a book or something that would be mailed to you. But it was really innovative and changing the way that fans related to comics and writers, and just an incredibly revolutionary thing as he went out there and just became an ambassador for Marvel and the comics industry in general.
And he also worked really hard at getting superhero TV shows greenlit was such a big part of all of the Marvel TV series and the early Marvel cartoons that got on the air, and he just promoted so many of these properties – Incredible Hulk was a big one. Some though had less success – the Spider-Man Live Action series; and he just worked hard to build the Marvel brand in that way. And he connected with fans still. There are segments that he did, like on the Fantastic Four and Iron Man cartoons which may have been a bit cheesy but you just had to love his enthusiasm for what he was doing. It was just a great joy in it.
Actually, growing up I did not encounter Stan Lee much until I was, I think it was seventeen I saw the series finale of the Spider-Man: The Animated Series. At the end of the series when Spider-Man had won, and he’d been traveling at the…under the power of Madam Web, and Madame Web decides to take Spider-Man to another Universe where Spider-Man is just a comic character. And she introduces Spider-Man to Stan Lee, and Spidey takes Stan Lee web slinging and Stan Lee’s voice appears in the cartoon and it’s such a wonderful moment. And it was funny too, really cute because Madame Web was played by Stan Lee’s wife, and of course that enthusiasm really take off and goes into live action in the Twenty-First Century, in particular with all the Marvel movies that Stan Lee appeared in.
Now, to be clear, Stan Lee made his first cameo in the Trial of the Incredible Hulk back in the late 80s, early 90s but it’s in the Marvel movies and Marvel-related movies where he really gets to have fun. And he managed just to perform all of these really memorable cameos – the one in Amazing Spider-Man where he’s this school librarian listening to his music and totally oblivious as Spider-Man and the Lizard have this fight behind him; the one in Guardians of the Galaxy II. It’s somewhat ironic, I guess, because he had ambitions at being an actor that didn’t really pan out when he was younger, but he ended up with this massive IMDB profile with all of these cameos that he did. And it just reflected this great sense of fun and excitement that he exuded about everything he did.
And he continued to remain very supportive of what the management at Marvel did, even when some of us really didn’t like what was going on at Marvel. But as I thought about that I realized the reason is that he chose to be a team player and to be supportive of those who were in power. He didn’t want to, I think, become this sort of grumpy old guy who says, “Hey! I know how to do everything better! What do you think you’re doing tampering with what I did?” And that’s probably a really wise way to live life.
So, in short, I definitely will miss Stan Lee. Just such a great legacy and when we talk about the Classy Comics Podcast I think it’s safe to say that he’s written some of the classiest comics ever written, and hopefully we’ll take a look at more of his material in a upcoming episode of the podcast. Well for now if you do have a comment, email it to me firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me on Twitter @classycomicsguy, but from Boise, Idaho Excelsior! This is Adam Graham signing off.
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