The Legacy of Stan Lee

Stan Lee died on November 12, 2018, at the age of ninety-five. The cause of his death is still unknown. Stan Lee is an icon in the world of comics, and for some, he is synonymous to Walt Disney because of what he brought to their childhoods and adult lives. Stan’s vision brought many characters to life within comic strips. His story plus the work of talented illustrators created the Marvel Universe.

Many are introduced to Stan’s work through his comics, and then read one after another, completely engrossed,  while wondering which villain will be defeated that day. I was introduced to Stan Lee through the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by my best friend years ago. I have not missed a film yet. One of my favorite parts of a Marvel film is Stan Lee’s cameos. His cameos are featured in all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and also in the X-Men films, the Fantastic-Four series, The Spider-Man trilogy, and The Amazing Spider-man films. Stan Lee has also appeared in animated features like Spider-man, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Big Hero 6.

“My mother used to say that when I was having lunch or dinner at home, that if I didn’t have a book to read I’d be reading the label on the ketchup bottle. In fact, one of the gifts I got one Christmas, my mother bought me a little metal stand that you could put a book on so that while you were eating you could be reading the book.”

Stan Lee grew up with a love for reading and writing. He told The New York Times in an interview that he loved Charles Dickens and Émile Zola. Whenever he had an extra fifty cents he would go buy one of their books and many others. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx at the of age sixteen in 1939.

That same year, Stan Lee began work at Timely Comics as an assistant. By the 1960s, Timely Comics would become Marvel Comics. He had a variety of duties such as filling inkwells, proofreading and erasing pencil marks from finished pages. He began working on comic strips under the pseudonym “Stan Lee.” His real name was Stanley Lieber, but due to the low status of comic books at the time, he states that he “felt someday [he’d] be writing the Great American Novel and [he] didn’t want to use [his] real name on these silly little comics.” He would later go on to legally change his name to Stan Lee in the 1970s. Lee made his comic debut with “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in Captain America Comics #3. His first superhero co-creation was the Destroyer from the Mystic Comics. In 1941, Lee was promoted to the interim editor while still in his teens.  He would become Editor-in-Chief, and then in 1972, he became Publisher.

During 1942, he entered the U.S. Army as a member of the Signal Corps, repairing telegraph poles and communication equipment. He then went to the Training Film Division where he wrote manuals, training films, slogans, and occasionally created cartoons. He returned from service in 1945. Stan Lee’s military classification was “playwright”, a title only nine men in the U.S Army had, according to Stan. On December 5, 1947, Stan Lee married Joan Clayton Boocock, who passed away in 2017 at the age of ninety-five. In 1950, their daughter Joan Celia Lee was born. Their daughter, Jan Lee, died at three days old in 1953. Stan Lee is survived by his daughter Joan.

In response to DC Comics’ release of the Justice League in the 1950s, Stan’s publisher had Stan create a new superhero team. His wife Joan gave him the advice to write the story the way he wanted to. In 1961, the Fantastic Four was introduced to the world.

“I didn’t want to do superheroes just like Superman or Batman, I wanted something a little more original where I played up the personality of the characters more, where there was surprises. I came up with the Fantastic Four.”

After that, Stan Lee along with the artist, Jack Kirby, created the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man. With the artist, Bill Everett, Daredevil was created. With the artist, Steve Ditko, he created Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and many more. Bringing together many of these characters to form The Avengers caused the revival of a hero from the 1940s, which is Captain America.  

“If you’re writing about people you have to make the people come to life.”

Stan Lee describes in his interview with The New York Times that during the early years, he wrote all the scripts for the various comics himself and that over time he was writing almost every comic book they released. Because of time constraints, they developed a new method so Kirby and the other illustrators would not be left with anything to do. Stan would explain the story he wanted to tell and the illustrators would then go ahead and illustrate the comic the way they wanted to. Stan would then fill in the dialogue after. Often, Kirby would put in details that Stan hadn’t even thought of. This method became widely known as the “Marvel Method”. A big part of the success of the comics was the great team of artists they had. Stan tried to get the best people he could even though they couldn’t afford to pay as well as other publishing groups. Stan Lee wanted the job to be as interesting as it could be, and he also wanted their work to have something to say and be enjoyable even though they were “just” comics.

“What I tried to do was take these characters that were obviously bigger than life and fictitious and make them seem real. They’ve got these powers, they do wonderful things. But what are the things that worry them? What are the things that frustrate them? I tried to write a well- rounded character with every character I did, rather then somebody who is extra strong and can beat up the bad guys.”

In 1980, Lee moved to Los Angeles to develop Marvel properties. In 1990, he was named Chairman Emeritus after working for Marvel in an official capacity for nearly sixty years. In 2001, POW! Entertainment was created. However, Stan Lee received little income from the Marvel films and television shows at the time.  Finally, in 2005, he won a fight in court with Marvel Enterprises costing them ten million dollars. Recent Marvel films and television shows have often credited Stan Lee’s former collaborators, and Stan himself has received an executive producer credit. In 2008, Stan Lee was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest American honor given for the achievement in the arts.

Stan Lee lives on through the countless stories he has told within the speech bubbles of a comic strip. His creations have made a lasting impact on individuals around the world since the 1940s, when he was just a text filler for Captain America, to the 1960s when the Fantastic Four was released, to the present day when watching a Marvel film or television show. The messages he has for the world are timeless; they influenced my grandparents’ and parents’ generation, as well as mine. I am confident that they will stay relevant to my children's’ generation as well. Stan Lee might not have written that Great American Novel, but his comic book stories have become a version of that in the hearts of Marvel fans around the world.