Stan Lee: Today the Marvel legend would have been 100 years old


The comic legend Stan Lee (1922-2018) is inseparably linked to the Marvel publishing house, from whose publications the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe has emerged today – the most successful film series in cinema history in terms of pure box office results. Aside from acclaimed cameo appearances in Marvel films, however, Stan Lee hasn’t had much to do with the MCU. He accomplished his great achievements especially in the 1960s, when Lee created several of the most well-known superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Stan Lee would have been 100 years old this Wednesday.

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The Marvel Revolution of the 1960s

Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 in New York City. His comic pseudonym Stan Lee results from the division of his first name, in the 1970s he then officially changed his name.

He came to Marvel Comics, which was then still called Timely Comics, through family connections: his cousin Jean was the wife of the publisher’s owner. Early on, Lee worked there as a comic strip copywriter, but by the late 1950s – when the first big comic boom was slowing down – the thirtysomething was disillusioned and wanted to change his job. Legend has it that his wife Joan Boocock Lee (1922-2017) advised him to experiment with whatever stories and heroes he liked best, since he had nothing left to lose.

The Marvel heroes mentioned at the beginning, which we still know today, come from this time. Together with artist Jack Kirby (1917-1994), Lee first created the Fantastic Four consisting of Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Invisible Girl and Human Torch. Then it went on in quick succession with the Hulk, the Norse deity Thor modified for the Marvel Comics, Iron Man and the X-Men.

With draftsman Bill Everett (1917-1973), Lee then created the blind hero Daredevil and with Steve Ditko (1927-2018) Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, the most successful Marvel character ever.

The superheroes were already connected to the Avengers superhero team in the Marvel comics of the 1960s – and also shared a common universe. This little trick, which is still characteristic of the great Marvel Cinematic Universe today, should by no means be underestimated from a commercial point of view. Because the (mostly young) comic readers not only bought the volumes of their very personal favorite heroes, but also the Avengers stories together and comic books of other heroes in which their favorite hero just appeared. It was a gold mine for Marvel Comics under Stan Lee’s artistic direction.

Stan Lee’s more complex comic book heroes

Stan Lee seemed overflowing with ideas throughout his life. When asked by “The Guardian” how he could always come up with new ideas for superheroes and stories, he only replied succinctly: “That’s the easy part. The hardest part is getting enough people to draw all of this”.

Besides their super powers, Lee’s heroes always had a very human side. The lyricist and storyteller was always striving to make superhumans “real flesh-and-blood characters with personalities,” as he revealed to the Washington Post in 1992. “That’s what every story should have, but comics didn’t have that until then. They were all one-dimensional cardboard cutouts”.

For example, Peter Parker is not only the friendly neighborhood spider who fights bad guys in New York in a mask, but also a shy, nerdy teenager who is in love with a beautiful classmate at his high school, but does not dare to speak to her .

The X-Men were also something new in the comic world in their time. Because the people around them were afraid of the mutants. This outsider status was also a good symbol for social changes in the turbulent 1960s.

Stan Lee himself once explained the great fascination with superheroes like this: “As children we all love fairy tales about things that are larger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs, dragons and all kinds of other imaginary things. Then you become a little older and stopped reading fairy tales. But this love for things larger than life, magical and very imaginative, it never lets go”.

The Great Marvel Cinematic Universe and Stan Lee’s Cameo Appearances

In 1972, Stan Lee quit making monthly comics and became an editor at Marvel Publishing. In 1980 he moved to Los Angeles to adapt the Marvel heroes into films and TV series, but apart from the popular series “The Incredible Hulk” (1978-1982) with Lou Ferrigno (71) as the title character, these proved to be Attempts at first as frustrating.

The superhero film in its current form began with 2000’s “X-Men,” which grossed nearly $300 million at the box office and spawned numerous sequels. In 2002, the first part of the “Spider-Man” trilogy by director Sam Raimi (63) followed with Tobey Maguire (47) as the title character. In 2008, “Iron Man” was the very first MCU film – under the aegis of super producer Kevin Feige (49).

Stan Lee himself has had cameo appearances to acclaim in many of those works, up through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. In addition, the great master appeared regularly at comic conventions, let himself be celebrated as the comic personality in general – and also had a humorous guest appearance as himself in the successful sitcom “The Big Bang Theory”.


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