Yes, we all know the story of Stan Lee, the history behind one of the world’s most imaginative, most prolific creators of science fiction-based super-heroism! We know that he was born in New York City to Romanian-born, Jewish immigrants, and given the name Stanley Martin Lieber, a name he later simplified since he was saving his full name for the forthcoming, imagined, great American novel. We know that his Uncle, Robbie Solomon, helped him procure an inglorious assistant’s position for a new division of Martin Goodman’s publishing company, Timely Comics.
We know that from here, Stan became a full-fledged editor after the less than amicable departure of editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, a position he wouldn’t abdicate for quite some time, a position from which the Marvel Universe would be cleverly, irrevocably crafted.
And…the rest is history, so they say. Stan Lee eventually became the Editor and Chief of Marvel Comics and, at the behest of his wife, decided to create superhero comics he himself could enjoy (this seemed like a reasonable proposition, seeing as he considered leaving comic books behind). Was he able to create comic books that were mature, intelligent, thoughtful and driven by character and not superhero tropes and templates? Hell, yes!
The Fantastic Four was the truest test of a family put upon by extraordinary, exotically interstellar circumstances. Four friends (2 blood-related), launched into the cosmos in the name of science and exploration, only to be met with an intergalactic backhand in the form of destructive, transformative cosmic rays. Did these 4 individuals, now infused with wondrous powers, react joyfully to their newly acquired super-human attributes? Heck no; it terrified them! Sue Storm disappeared…AND SHE FREAKED OUT! Johnny burst into flames….and FREAKED OUT! Mr Fantastic extended his limbs…AND HE FREAKED OUT! And the Thing? The Thing nearly lost his mind, and would be a serious suicide risk for years to come. Well, he talked about it a lot, but accomplishing the deed was made difficult by a rocky, impenetrable hide.
Spider-Man was a comic book for the struggling teenager reflected by a meek Peter Parker desperately trying to find his niche and some form of inner peace. When he was bitten by that ridiculously radioactive spider, he finally had the means to create for himself that sought after sense of significant safety. Unfortunately, he was immersed within an especially venomous dose of teenage angst, and allowed a criminal to pass by unaccosted, a criminal who would later be responsible for the death of Peter’s Uncle, Ben Parker. Whoops. Peter learned a very valuable lesson that day. You see, if one has an ability, one must be mindful, responsible for and responsible with that ability; it’s a monumental gift tied to a burden of equal or greater mass.
The Uncanny X-Men continued with the themes reflected by struggling, alien youths attempting to tolerate a world of quick categorizations, ill-thought generalizations and outright, violent prejudice. They were confused teenagers beset by even more confusing powers, frightened of the world, of themselves, of their bodies, and by those who viewed their strange evolutions as complete and utter threats to humanity’s existence. The Uncanny X-Men wasn’t a story about superheroes with fantastic powers, it was a story about alienation, prejudice, and unchecked, socially viral hatred.
Iron Man told the story of Tony Stark, a self-obsessed womanizer whose crippling, aggrandizing ego finally got the better of him. Yes, he survived the ordeal with the creation of a technological marvel, but the man’s foibles still remained; let’s just say it was okay to drink while operating the Iron Man armor.
These are just a few samples of Stan’s creations, creations that continue to pervade popular culture in various forms of media. Yes, these creations have amazing powers, but it’s the character, the person wielding the powers that makes Stan’s works stand above the rest.
Thanks, Stan, for honestly expressing the foibles, failures, unflappable dignity and quiet, ubiquitous pain suffered by any and all of us aspiring to be heroic in a less than heroic world. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next 93 years.
Happy Birthday, Stan Lee!