Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber in 1922, has died earlier this week at the age of 95. The creator of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk…you know all of his characters by heart. Here are our remembrances of this complicated, crafty, cartoonist, and ultimate showman.
As a native New Yorker, born in The Heights and raised in The Bronx, I see everything through the lens of the advent of Hip-Hop. A whole culture predicated on the disenfranchisement of the citizens of New York City. The cultural phenomenon that preceded it: Stan Lee’s imagination and Marvel Comics. This man is partly responsible for my love of storytelling in form and function.
Hip-Hop was considered a fad, a flash in the pan, something invalid that would never last. People had that same feeling for comics. No one thought they’d become the worldwide cultures of the oppressed and marginalized. Or, that they could run strong for years, let alone decades.
The legacies of Hip-Hop and Stan Lee both highlight of the flaws in the status quo.
Before Lee, villains and heroes were perfect archetypes: villains bent on destruction, no aim but ‘to watch the world burn’. Heroes with…No problems whatsoever. Readers were used to the campy, unquestioning, and saccharine. Then, boom! Here comes Lee with Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Bill Everett looking like NWA on the cover of Straight Outta Compton! Bringing the realness of humanity to the medium of comic books!
That realness. The same envelope-pushing realness that Melle Mel and the Furious Five brought on The Message; the same energy embodied in Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, exposing the links between street-level crime and white-collar political corruption. That same rebellious streak that inspired graffiti writers to spray the trains shows up in Lee’s successful challenge of the censorship of the Comics Code Authority. The stories he wanted to tell were too real and the industry had him questioning his career.
Stan Lee almost quit comics when his stories weren’t being heard. His wife, Joan, convinced him to use narratives closer to his heart. That led him to create The Fantastic Four. Sue and her brother Johnny go to space with Reed (a scientist trying to get Sue’s digits) and his wingman Ben. They get struck by cosmic rays and become powered beings. All of the science fiction in Fantastic Four breaks down to Reed’s love for Sue and Sue’s love of their family. The extraordinary lengths they’ll go for one another. As a kid, seeing that made me want to find a partner like that – and my wife would definitely go into space with me.
Stan Lee’s stories were set in rich worlds and populated by flawed human (and mutant) characters. They changed the way narratives would be written. Hip-Hop changed the way narratives would be listened to. The stories manifested when the stories needed to be told. This is the lesson I try to demonstrate in my own writing. It is exemplified in artistic intersections like The Last Emperors’ gem Secret Wars Part 1 & Part 2, and in the image of Sam Wilson as Captain America, wrapped in the stars and stripes in homage to A$AP Rocky. Marvel Comics really shaped my life, I tell stories because he told stories. The cherry on top: Stan Lee was born in The Heights and raised in The Bronx.
Born in the greatest city on the planet, 1922 blessed the world with one of the most distinguished visionary minds of all times. Stanley Martin Lieber came into this world with a head of imagination and heart of gold, and has finally left us with a legacy of heroism and glory. Don’t get it twisted, I won’t be rattling off a bunch of Wikipedia facts and accomplishments. No, I think I’ll attack this one with the same courage, vulnerability, and innocence of my 12-year-old soul. Growing up as the big brother of 5 in a single mother household in 90’s didn’t give me much of a chance to be an actual ice-cream loving, tree-climbing, care-free kid. I mean, sure, I got the Ninja Turtles, Super Friends, and Power Rangers. But my innocence soon turned into self-awareness I wouldn’t overcome until discovering Stan Lee’s world. Lee’s creations stood as the escape needed by a young man too mature for his own good.
Moving left and right and attending nearly a dozen different elementary schools made it hard as hell to make real friends. That’s where the genius of Stan Lee and friends came in. I been Hulk-smashing since birth. I was web-slinging through the Manhattan skyline before I stepped on my first icky bug. I propelled myself off my bed flexing Iron Man flying skills before I understood what gravity meant. For millions (billions?) of kids, there are just so many things in life that have stemmed directly from the illustrative Ambassador of Everything Nerd.
He didn’t create Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash or any of the heroes I was a fan of, but I associated every one of these superheroes with the name Stan Lee. I thought — along with 90% of my friends — that every dope superhero was created by Stan Lee. Me and my boys weren’t golden or silver age comic book fans. We didn’t know Jay Garrick from Barry Allen any more than we knew that X-Men was a comic before it was a cartoon. All we knew was that Stan Lee was the absolute GAWD and that all these amazing heroes and sidekicks were his.
Of course, flash forward another decade and everybody’s become the ill comic book canon snob. Now there are monthly lessons explaining how DC started, and weekly knowledge droppin’ sessions about “the other guy” who Marvel owes their blessings to. Then we have our countless arguments of who’s the best, and imaginary simulations of who would win in different 1v1 battle scenarios.
We all have our own path that we take towards comic book love and lure, but one fact remains constant: Stan Lee is the comic book GOAT.
I was exposed to Stan Lee a bit late in life. For my childhood, I didn’t even know how Stan Lee’s work was influencing me. I didn’t grow up reading comics as my source of inspiration. The most comics I read were Archie and to be honest, I think that was just because I felt like I should read them. I was definitely missing out. That said, I am a TV watcher who is entertained by the telling of a story, the action playing out in front of me, losing myself in the silver screen.
“Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives – without it, they might go off the deep end” – Stan Lee
I grew up on Stan Lee’s characters in cartoons like X-Men, the live-action Hulk television show with Lou Ferrigno – “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” I was enamoured by Spider-Man growing up. I was never that big into school (I’m really not painting a good picture of myself here) but I was never behind. I was very good at math and science, but I wanted to perform more than anything. When I watched Spider-Man I felt like I was engaging in the performance of science. I believed in Peter Parker’s formula for webbing — all of the innovation and tenacity the villains had to drive them to experiment on themselves! The imagination of Stan Lee made me understand entertainment can be my expression AND we can blend real life with our dreams.
This was only exaggerated when his creations exploded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When I first saw Iron Man (one), I was introduced to a whole new world of cinematic storytelling. I was in love with action adventure, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Star Trek – this was a new action setting with character development and real-life villains beyond the basic. There was a whole invented world behind the MCU that I knew was more than just Iron Man. Thus began my even more intensified love of movies. I am literally obsessed with storylines that connect. So the MCU… WHAT a dream come true for this nerd who doesn’t read comics.
As an actor, and as an entertainer, Stan Lee’s work made a lane for me, for creators, actors, crew members like me who could relate to the characters. We all want to get lost in the stories and one day live on the screen ourselves to tell those stories too.
“Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin…The only things we don’t have have room for are hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.” – Stan Lee
Stan Lee was an activist on the page, his storylines were important, and reflected the nation and the world throughout time. He wasn’t perfect, but his ideas were about inclusion and creativity. He operated on a frequency with his ear to the streets. This allowed him to develop story lines he KNEW would ignite a change in perspective, or just simply shine a light on the issues of a people and a time. He created Black Panther at a time when there was a fight for uranium and the issues in the Congo over the control of it. He saw an opportunity to make commentary on the world he knew and give power to a character no one was listening to – Africa. This was the same year that the Black Panther Party was founded. He made Wakanda a place where Africa thrives, where later authors could let Afro-futurism could thrive. This is the MCU that has exploded into our culture’s confidence.
Excelsior! Stan Lee is the big bang, and he let the rest of the universe’s awesome magic make the worlds. Rest easy as the world keep evolving from your imagination above and beyond. THANK YOU STAN LEE!
Honestly, we have to give it up for the Gawd. I had no idea how much of an impact the death of Stan Lee would have on me until I started reflecting on how I no longer saw myself in his characters, but saw his characters in me. I’d start to do something selfish and think “Damn that’s an Iron Man ass move, let me not”. Or see a photographer roaming the streets of New York and scream “Forget that pretty skyline, BRING ME PICTURES OF SPIDER-MAN”.
I have to admit that my thought processes has morphed into famous MCU/Marvel comics lines. It’s infectious. I no longer have that “angel and devil” conscious on my shoulder. Instead I have Black Panther and Deadpool. Marvel forces me to choose between Lawful Good and Chaotic Neutral. And ain’t that impressive, when your passions are so personable they morph into deities?
Lee’s creations granted me the opportunity to learn empathy by looking at “normal” people as heroes with decisions that can affect their realities in different ways. I learned my greatest lessons from seeing the Fantastic Four do not so Fantastic things.
Love is a consistent act of transformation. Stan Lee’s love and efforts evolved Marvel into an empire. This legacy is an inspiration for those who can’t wait to see their ideas bloom. An inspiration to those whose tree is still nestled in the ground. B, you know how fly you gotta be to have a cameo in a universe you grew?
Thanks Stan for being my teacher when I felt like I didn’t have anyone to learn from.
Stan Lee has always been a mythic figure to me. My first introduction to Marvel comics came from a grocery store 3-pack (‘member those???) with an Iron Man issue featuring Whiplash. I was 6, and my grandmother had given me the first hit. I forgot the plot of the issue, but I do remember reading Stan’s Soapbox and seeing this caricature version of a man who looked like a shorter, skinny version of my Great Uncle.
Skip forward. Saturday, Oct 31, 1992. Two years later and I receive my first proper dose of Marvel via the X-Men cartoon. I was hooked from there. When my mom got me the Pizza Hut exclusive VHS releases of the first four episodes of the “X-Men Animated Series,” they featured a round table of Stan Lee and former X-scribes and editors Scott Lobdell, and Fabian Nicieza, and Bob Harras. My first real look at the Architect himself.
I remembered the voice from the “Pryde of the X-Men” cartoon one-shot and I recognized the face from the Soapbox, but to see Stan Lee for the first time and hear him speak so passionately about characters and stories, lit a fuse in me. From that point on, my friends and I spent our free time drawing characters, writing storylines, and embracing our imaginations. Many of us are still doing the same this day.
Stan Lee’s world-building, moral aesthetic, and creative foresight are unparalleled in his achievements to not just comic books, but to all narrative mediums. He was the cool Great uncle who would teach you about bourbons, Silver Surfer, and spades at the same cookout.
Stan was, is and always will be the Man.
Death is not the end, True Believers. Rest In Peace Stan Lee. Stan Lee Lives.
Cover image: Stan Lee by Richard Cartwright/ABC via Getty Images
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