It was a moment that movie and comic-book fans alike long expected, but the reality of the situation still hurts all the same. Stan Lee, creator of beloved characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men, has passed away today at the age of 95.
Stan Lee is a name synonymous not just with Marvel Comics, but the comic-book industry as a whole.
Originally starting out as a assistant in 1939, Lee joined a comic-book industry vastly different from the one present today. Back then, Marvel was known as Timely Comics, and while it did feature well-known super-heroes like Captain America and the original Human Torch, it was a very different company. The Marvel we know today; the one that dominates the comic-book industry and has spawned the highest grossing film franchise of all time, is in many ways the child of Stan Lee’s long and amazing career.
While Lee considered quitting the industry after a stint in the army during World War II, at a suggestion from his wife, Joan, he instead began to experiment with writing stories that he liked. Turning away from his previous, more general works in the genres of horror, romance and comedy, Lee began writing super-hero fiction, and it was with the debut issue of Fantastic Four that Timely, having transitioned to be called Atlas, and then Marvel Comics, was changed forever.
Super-heroes had undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the 1950s, but Stan Lee added a unique twist that made these characters capable of enduring the decades. Prior to this point, many heroes had been bastions of truth and justice, concerned only with saving the world and living a righteous life. Lee’s heroes however, were so much more human. They saved the world, yes, but they also struggled with everyday problems like dating, jobs, family matters and even getting sick.
It was from here that Lee went on to create a whole slew of dynamic characters that are the most well-known amongst Marvel’s pantheon of heroes. 1962 saw Lee debut Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasty #15, and in the following years he continued his hot streak with characters like Thor, Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Daredevil, the Silver Surfer and of course, the Avengers.
By this time, Lee wrote and edited the majority of comics that Marvel put out, eventually giving up that position to become the company’s publisher in 1972. As part of his stint as editor and publisher of the company, Lee made sure everyone got the credit they deserved, highlighting not only the writers and artists on splash pages of his comics, but also the inkers and letterers too. In this time, Lee also made efforts to further develop communication with the fans, claiming that he wanted the readers to think of him and others at the company not as writers, artists and editors, but as ‘friends’.
To this end, he developed the ‘Marvel Method’ of comic-book writing, where he would brainstorm a comic-book with the artist, let them draw the magazine, and then come back in and add in the script at a later date. This allowed him to manage his huge workload and still dedicate time to his fans.
It was through these various practices that Lee essentially became the face of Marvel Comics, and although after 1996 he no longer ran Marvel, he retained a strong relationship with the company, the characters and the fan-base, as evidenced by his cameo appearances in multiple Marvel movies; one of the film series’ most iconic features outside of its shared universe.
It’s through these cameos that, despite his death, we will not have seen the last of Stan Lee, as he will revisit our screens at least a few more times over the coming years.
This familiarity will last a lot longer on the print side of Marvel. It is the nature of comic-books that no matter what changes, the characters will always revert to the status quo. At their core, they will always be the very same characters Lee created in the sixties. It’s thanks to this that while Lee may have passed on, his legacy will outlive us all.
Header image courtesy of Gage Skidmore.