Last week, I caught the History Channel’s comic book retrospective, Superheroes Decoded. I have a vast knowledge of the history of the comic book industry, but with specials like that, I always learn a thing or two about the medium. Of course, one of the people featured in the show was none other than the living legend himself, Stan Lee!

Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
“Who’d have thought I’d build an empire off of some dude swinging around New York City in his underoos?” Photo Credit: Frank Trapper/Getty Images
Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
Wear THIS and proudly practice your mighty Marvel marching step!

Sure, Lee has created dozens of some of the most memorable Marvel characters to date, like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and the X-Men, but something dawned on me during Superheroes Decoded. As vital as Stan Lee is to the comic book industry itself, he doesn’t get enough credit for making Marvel Comics stand out as a brand compared to their distinguished competition.

Back in the day, comic fans didn’t really know who the talents were behind some of their favorite comic books. DC Comics, the big dog in the yard at the time, didn’t give credit to the writers, artists, or inkers who worked on the stories. Just take a look.

Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
The title page to Flash #123, one of the most important comic book issues ever made. Who worked on it? No clue!
Photo Credit: DC Comics
Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
“Maybe a clue from the Riddler will help us figure out who worked on this story!” Photo Credit: DC Comics
Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
Photo Credit: DC Comics

That’d be like going to a movie and not knowing who the director or stars were. Lee, who was also the editor and art director for Marvel, changed that by giving writers and the art talent their due.

Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
No clue who is in the cocoon, but we know who wrote and drew the story! Photo Credit: Marvel
“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” brought to you by the earth’s mightiest creative team!” Photo Credit: Marvel
Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
They even put Kirby’s name on the cover! Photo Credit: Marvel

Even Lee and original Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko cameoed in a backup story in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 1.

Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"

Another way Lee connected Marvel with their fans was by printing the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin. This would give readers updates on other books made by Marvel as well as promote the talent within Marvel. DC didn’t have anything like that at the time.

Stan Lee and How He Made Marvel Stand Out from the "(D)istinguished (C)ompetition"
Marvel Bullpen Bulletin from Fantastic Four #45. Photo Credit: Marvel

Not only did Lee connect with fans directly through the comic, he also formed the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Essentially, the MMMS was a fan club for Marvel Comics and their characters. Like the Mickey Mouse Club before it, the MMMS had its own jingle!

One thing the comic book writer, artists, and historians in Superheroes Decoded all touched upon was how Lee made the fans feel like they were PART of Marvel Comics, not just readers. Not only were readers picking up the books, they were part of the Marvel family.

I really don’t think Lee gets enough credit for innovating the relationship between the comic talent and the readers. Lee definitely gave Marvel’s relationship with readers a family vibe rather than just a consumer and producer relationship.

Some say Spider-Man is Stan Lee’s most important creation. Others may argue the X-Men or The Fantastic Four. But for me, making fans feel welcome and valued is Stan’s biggest innovation.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. yet again the stan lee myth gets repeated how he saved the comics industry. I always thought jules Schwartz started the silver age by publishing the flash. also he started the avengers after he was told how well the justice league was doing. so we better forget these facts because they do not in the myth of stan lee.

  2. Stan Lee was a great marketer of himself and by marketing himself, he helped Marvel exist as a company.. but Stan Lee wasn’t a great inventor of ideas. A lot of his concepts were swiped from various other places and no one calls him on this. Stan Lee acts like creating a Spider-themed hero was some sort of out of the box idea, when instead.. it was pretty common (Spider-Widow, Spider Queen, Tarantula, the Spider, Web).. He took the idea of web swinging from Spider Queen.
    Fantastic Four was Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown. X-men was swiped either directly or unintentionally from Drake’s Doom Patrol (which Drake was convinced happened btw). And Lee’s take on most of his own creations? Not that popular.. He almost got X-Men cancelled.. The few that did do well were mostly because the artist was doing all the actual work and Stan Lee was just throwing his crappy dialogue in.

    So yes.. Stan Lee was an amazing Funky Flashman and pushed himself really well. He was great at telling everyone how amazing he was and selling himself. Marvel was a by-product of that.. not the intended recipient.

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