Stan Lee and the Evolution Marvel: An Eager Figurehead for the Comic Book Industry

Stan Lee made himself an invaluable asset to the comic book industry by being an eager figurehead for the ever-evolving comic book industry. When it comes to niche areas, such as animation and comic books, it helps to have to have a fun, kind, relatable person as the head of the industry to assuage people’s fears of the unknown. Walt Disney and Stan Lee both became eager figureheads. From his very first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney was the face of the company in the public’s eye by personally introducing each of the seven dwarfs in the original theatrical trailer. By connecting with his audience, Walt Disney became a brand and used that brand to make his lifelong dream of creating an amusement park for all ages come true. Before the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney hosted his TV show The Wonderful World of Disney. Each episode began with Walt Disney talking about a different land of Disneyland, and the episode would be themed around the land. For example, when the Davy Crockett mini series aired Disney would talk about Frontierland before the episode began. As the face of the company, Walt Disney gave the public confidence and excitement about the opening of the park which was thought by many to be a financial disaster.

 

Stan Lee became the public face of his company through his soapboxes. Stan Lee wrote a monthly column that appeared in every Marvel book. The soapboxes were a report of what was happening at Marvel headquarters in New York. These made fans feel like Stan Lee was talking directly to them. During the red-carpet premiere of Thor in 2011, Stan Lee spoke about the idea behind the soapboxes as: “in writing the soapboxes I just talk to the readers, anything that came to mind. I wanted to make the books not seem cold, aloof, or something you buy and throw away. I wanted them to feel like buying a Marvel book was visiting an old friend.” By becoming the face of the medium early on, Stan Lee himself became a brand like Walt Disney. Stan Lee’s stamp of approval held value and allowed comic book movies to flourish later in 2008. Although the MCU was not even his idea, Stan Lee became incredibly valuable. If a movie was able to get Stan Lee involved and therefore get the creator’s approval,  it was a way to show the project respected the fan base and history of the creation. A lot of time creators become bitter if they are no longer in charge of their creation or significant changes are made.Stan Lee was always positive because he only wanted more and more people to discover comics. While Stan Lee might not have been 110% discerning, he was consistently 80-90% approving. Stan Lee’s eagerness of each comic book adaptation became valuable not only to Hollywood but to the medium and to the fans.

Recent years have been tumultuous for Lee including a bout with pneumonia, an allegation  of sexual misconduct, a $1 billion suit against his former company, multiple claims of elder abuse against him, and the death of his wife Joan. Yet Stan Lee’s life has always been tumultuous given the rises and falls of Marvel throughout its 79 years of its existence. Thus, perhaps the most inspiring and greatest legacy Stan Lee has to offer is his ability to adapt throughout the ever-changing comic book landscape. Stan Lee was there from the very beginning of the invention of comic books, their rise during WWII as propaganda tools to the decline in the 1950s with the Comics Code Authority. Stan Lee saw Marvel’s golden age in the 1960s to 1980s to Marvel’s bankruptcy scare in the late 1990s when Marvel had to sell some of its most popular characters, sell stockholder shares, and merge with another company to avoid bankruptcy. Stan Lee saw a cinematic universe, whose characters he had created more than 79 years ago, become a billion-dollar company. For a company that was in debt less than 20 years ago, Marvel has seen a remarkable change in fortune. In a superhero-like fashion, Marvel survived its darkest hour in the late 1990s, and from the jaws of defeat, pulled through with a multi-billion-dollar victory. Through all of Marvel’s history, Stan Lee was present. Stan Lee’s ability to adapt over the rise and fall of Marvel and comic books themselves is inspiring as much as the characters he helped create. Consequently, Stan Lee became a superhero himself.