With Great Power Comes Immortality: Marvel and the Legacy of Stan Lee

When I was in middle school, my dad told me about when Elvis died. My dad had finished his first year at law school and was working at a financial firm. One day after coming back from his lunch break, he saw that the receptionist, Carol, who was 17 years old at the time was crying.  When my dad asked Carol what was wrong, she replied, through tears, that Elvis had died. Elvis’s heyday musically was in the 1950s with his last #1 hit being released in 1969 when Carol was nine years old; my dad was confused on why Carol was so emotionally involved.. At the time I agreed with my dad. How could you mourn the passing of someone you had never met? After all, aren’t celebrities are just regular people society has chosen to be obsessed with?


Flashforward about eight years and I am sitting at my desk at my marketing internship job monitoring the company’s Twitter when I notice the topics that are trending: Stan Lee, #Excelsior, Rest In Peace, and Marvel. My heart sinks knowing the headline I’ll read as soon as I click on any of the trending hashtags. It’s a day I knew was coming but never wanted it to arrive. As a long time Marvel fan I always joked about what might happen to the future of Marvel when Stan Lee passed away. With every passing Marvel movie, the thought of one without Stan Lee was pushed further and further to the back of my mind. After all, Stan Lee has appeared in all 20 Marvel movies over the last 10 years of the MCU. However, reading all the celebrity tributes and fan messages on my way home, I couldn’t help but tear up. I was never fortunate enough to meet Stan Lee. I was only lucky enough to live in a world where his characters were embraced by comic book readers and the mainstream alike.


With thousands of articles, social media posts, and videos already covering what a great yet controversial figure Stan Lee was, as well as his legacy to the entertainment industry, I found myself wondering what I could contribute to the conversation. Stan Lee’s characters and stories were the original inspiration in my journey to become a journalist. I love to write articles analyzing how pop culture is a reflection of society and vice versa. Given that, it seems only fitting that I should write a personal, critical reflection on how Stan Lee and Marvel changed how society views geek culture.


When Stan Lee died it seemed that the entire world--from celebrities, companies, fans, and political leaders alike reacted to his passing. How could one man get such a reaction from such a diverse group of people? The short answer is that Stan Lee was the face of Marvel. Under Stan Lee’s influence, Marvel has seeped into our everyday life. As YouTuber Grace Randolph first pointed out, to understand how Stan Lee became the face of Marvel requires an an appreciation of  Stan Lee’s legacy and understanding of the entertainment business particularly the “executive celebrity” works. If Stan Lee and Marvel could be compared to any other famous figure and franchise, they would be compared to Walt Disney and Star Wars, respectively. Walt Disney and Stan Lee were both creative business visionaries whose creations changed the way society thought about animation and superheroes. To discuss a legacy as large as Stan Lee’s in the framework outlined this article will be a series of articles with links to the next article included in this one. The first part will talk about the similarities between Stan Lee and Walt Disney in regards to how Lee and Disney were both artists and businessmen. The combination of the art and business helped both legends become a brand as much as the worlds and characters they created. The second article will discuss the similarities between Star Wars and Marvel. Both franchises in similar ways helped bring geek culture into mainstream culture where it was cool to be a geek. The concluding article will discuss the value of an enthusiastic and adaptable figurehead like Stan Lee when it comes down to the legacy and future of a beloved franchise such as Marvel.