Bob Kane and Bill finger created Batman. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter created Wonder Woman.
The “Holy Trinity” of Detective Comics —known to mortals as DC— came from three creative teams.
Over at Marvel, the whole superhero ensemble came almost entirely from one man and his collaborators. Aside from Captain America (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), pretty much all of the iconic heroes that have transformed from page to screen (back to page and screen again and over and over) came from one imagination.
On November 12th of last year, we lost a true icon. Molded by whoever resides upstairs to be truly one of a kind, Stanley Lieber aka Stan Lee passed away at age 95.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe prepares to open its 21st movie on Thursday with Captain Marvel (on top of a whopping 33 other Marvel movies produced by other studios not, including animated films and TV), it will be the first time the MCU celebrates an opening night without the man behind all these faces that have come to define 21st century cinema.
Captain Marvel (though not the present incarnation) was created by Stan Lee. Along with editors, inkers, illustrators and partners like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan’s brother Larry, Joe Simon, Don Heck, Ernie Hart, Arnold Drake, Roy Thomas and many, many, many more, Lee and his cohorts at Marvel changed fiction and entertainment forever.
With Kirby, he first hit the team-ups, creating the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. These two also birthed Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Black Panther and Thor. Stan’s brother, Larry, assisted with the creations of Iron Man, Thor and also Ant-Man with Kirby pitching in. He teamed up with Heck to introduce the spy team of Black Widow and Hawkeye. With Hart and Kirby came the Wasp, the true first Avenger. When he wanted a new Avenger, he would brainstorm and, with Thomas, introduced Vision.
Which brings us to the ultimate team-up: the Avengers, built in its ever-expanding glory with Kirby. And the Guardians of the Galaxy with Drake and Thomas. With Ditko he conjured up Doctor Strange. But it was another Lee-Ditko combo that really changed comic book history.
It came in 1962. Mr. Lee’s masterpiece. His legacy. His Ninth Symphony.
In the 1960s, things in the comic book world had gotten static. Lee wanted to break away from the cookie cutter stories and stereotypically heroic narratives that came with comic books.
Much to his editor’s chagrin —but his wife Joan’s full support— Lee and his friend Steve Ditko went for broke with a new superhero called……….Spider-Man.
And the rest, as they say no more truthfully than in this instance, is history.
One of my biggest regrets will always be that I never got to meet Stan Lee. Although his own written books weren’t the ones I grew up with, all the comics I did grow up with would not even be a twinkle in somebody’s eye if not for Lee and his revolutionary imagination.
The artists behind the comics I was fortunate enough to read growing up were all inspired from Lee and the original comic book writers of the last generation that bit the economic and public image bullet to pursue something many dismissed as ridiculous and “for little kids.”
Joe Quesada, Ed Brubaker, Mark Millar, Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Pak, Frank Miller, Warren Ellis, Jim Starlin, the dynamic married duo Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick, Alan Moore, Jason Aaron, Brian K. Vaughan, Rick Remender, Michael Avon Oeming and oh man so many others.
Without getting too personal, my life has been defined by mental illness. I suffer from it and it’s hard for me to really be passionate about anything I do with my time. As a kid it was watching sports and living and dying with what Pudge Rodriguez and Dirk Nowitzki were doing with their professional lives.
When I started to get really sick, I found a new hobby that took my mind off my reality troubles and, just as I presume Lee, Kane, Siegel and all the comic book authors intended, I was transported to another world.
For 22 pages at a time (or more for graphic novels like Loeb’s The Long Halloween or Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) my world felt good. The escape value in entertainment is real and why we love to read, go to the movies and even watching sports is a primary form of escapism.
My obsession with movies is completely born out of comic books. Because of comic books I started watching comic book movies like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Then Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Then going back and discovering Richard Donner’s Superman for the first time. Growing up on the 1990s Batman and Spider-Man animated series.
Also there’s that Galaxy Far, Far Away that George Lucas invented. Just like Stan Lee’s creations, nobody outside of some close friends —Ditko for Lee and Steven Spielberg for Lucas— believed in the project. At all.
Lee had to go out on his own limb to create Spider-Man. He literally risked his career. Lucas had to make multiple movies for Fox, gaining job stability so they would help him fund Star Wars.
It’s certainly a story of underdogs. And now Lee and Lucas’s babies are the heart —especially financially!— of Hollywood entertainment.
From the nerds — you’re welcome.
Of Lee’s 58 cameos (which make him the highest-grossing actor of all time), my favorite is this one right here from Spider-Man 3. (Though the Iron Man mistaken identity cameos are pretty great.) (And this.) (And obviously this.) (All of them.)
In his own words: “I guess one person can make a difference. Nuff said.”
All Stan Lee did was what he loved. He wrote fantasy. He created stories. Fake characters with real problems. Flawed, human heroes that anyone like myself could look up to and consider real role models.
All he did was what he loved and wanted to do. But he made a monumental difference that affected so many lives for the better. Including mine.
And I will always be grateful.
Thank you Stan Lee.