Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee has just turned ninety this past Friday, and what a marvelous (near) century for the Comic World it has been! Starting in a time when the printed word and hand drawn image were the major forms of readily available entertainment, comic books were, to kids and adults alike, much the same as video games or movies are to us today: a fun, adventurous thrill ride into fantasy land where, for just a little while, the real world is happily put on hold. Forget about work, bills, school and traffic – right now, Superheroes and Supervillians are fighting epic battles and the world needs saving! And Stan is the man that has brought us some of the biggest and the best when it comes to the World of Comics.
Beginning his career in comics as a teen in 1939 at Marvel Comics (then known as Timely Publications), New York born-and-bred Stanley Lieber, (pen name Stan Lee of course!), was the low kid on the totem pole, running errands and doing odd jobs at one of New York City’s newest and biggest names in the emerging Hot New Trend of Comic Book publishing. Smart, eager and already exhibiting a talent for writing, Stan Lee soon moved up in the ranks, and when a couple of Timely’s top guys, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, decided to defect to rival DC Comics, Lee was appointed interim editor at the ripe old age of 19. (Kirby would ultimately become one of Lee’s lifelong on-again-off-again collaborators throughout the many incarnations of Marvel Comics.)
Responsible for bringing the likes of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The X-Men, Thor, The Avengers and Magneto to larger-than-life proportions, Lee has thrived in his position as an integral part, if not the face, of Marvel Comics over the course of more than six decades. Early on, he pioneered new approaches to writing and working with trailblazing artists to introduce eager readers to more complex story lines about superheroes who were unlike past comic book characters: far from being impossibly perfect, Marvel Comic’s superheroes had their share of ups and downs, good days and bad, with many of the follies and foibles that made them, well, a bit more human and a lot more accessible to their audiences. Spider-Man, Lee has noted, being one of the few if only fully covered superheroes, could be anybody under that costume – not just your stereotypical white guy with a chiseled jaw. And Daredevil was the first blind superhero, a fact that was widely praised by readers when he was introduced in 1964, despite worries that fans would criticize Marvel’s good intentions. Daredevil also happens to be a lawyer – now where else would you ever hear of a lawyer superhero?
Inadvertently reforming the restrictive Comics Code Authority, which censored any content deemed unsuitable, Lee made it possible for comics to address the very real issues of alcoholism and drug addiction in the early 1970’s, as well as other important historical and political movements of the times. Indeed, 1966 saw the introduction of one the first black superheroes, Black Panther, right around the time that the Black Panther Party was founded in real life.
Marvel superheroes also lived and waged epic battles in the real-life city of New York, where they would occasionally run into each other, sometimes even guest starring in each others’ storylines. The Marvel Universe, as it is called, is closely based on the real world, where everyday citizens are affected by what the superheroes do around town as they battle against evil foes. Speaking of the real world, Lee also reached out to readers by developing a simple ‘letters to the editor’ section into a fun, info-filled, almost interactive forum titled “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins”. It gave a name and a face to the artists and writers at Marvel and readers responded enthusiastically to being kept in the know with contests and news of upcoming publications. Even after Lee stepped down as head of Marvel Comics, he still ran an offshoot of the Bullpen called “Stan’s Soapbox” for years, addressing current events and social issues.
As Marvel Comics has evolved alongside the real world, Lee has seen some of his and Marvel’s most popular characters come to life on the big screen in hugely successful blockbuster films. With the advent of computer generated imagery (CGI), it has become possible to recreate Marvel superheroes almost exactly as the artists originally drew them. Indeed, CGI might as well stand for Comicbook Generating Imagery! For younger generations that didn’t grow up with comic books as their primary source of easy entertainment, seeing these superheroes in a movie or video game provides the inspiration to go back and discover the original comics, thereby ensuring that the genre lives on.
Having brought to life some of the most easily recognized comic book heroes in the world, Stan Lee continues to entertain and inspire kids of all ages with his awesome creations. Spanning a century of innovation, technological advances and social change, Stan Lee’s vision of a Superhero Universe are timeless and never cease to amaze. Happy Birthday Stan Lee – let’s have some more!