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WatchMojo's Tribute to Stan Lee

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
On November 12th, 2018, we lost one of the greats. Within the world of comic books, it could be argued that there was no single figure more important or influential than Stan Lee. Though he perhaps had equals in terms of creative contributions to the medium, Lee outshone them all by making himself a leader, champion and ambassador of not just Marvel, but the medium as a whole. Join us as we celebrate this vibrant, enthusiastic and creative life by revisiting the innumerable contributions he made to the world of comic books and pop culture, as well as the ways in he touched countless lives.
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A creator, a mentor, an inspiration and yes, a hero to many, this comic book icon leaves behind a legacy that will not soon fade or be forgotten. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re commemorating the great Stan Lee. Join us as we celebrate this vibrant, enthusiastic and creative life by revisiting the innumerable contributions he made to the world of comic books and pop culture, as well as the ways in he touched countless lives.

On November 12th, 2018, we lost one of the greats. Within the world of comic books, it could be argued that there was no single figure more important or influential than Stan Lee. Though he perhaps had equals in terms of creative contributions to the medium, Lee outshone them all by making himself a leader, champion and ambassador of not just Marvel, but the medium as a whole.

He was Stan “The Man”, Smilin’ Stan, the Generalissimo, the godfather of comic books. To older generations, he was a figure revered for his numerous creations and colossal role in the industry; for the youngest fans, Lee was this omnipresent, almost magical grandfather-like figure. Even those too young to appreciate or understand his importance to the medium recognized him and knew that they were in the presence of someone great. His infectious energy and unbridled enthusiasm transcended generations.

Though it’s hard to imagine considering the heights to which Stan Lee rose, his career in the began modestly. In 1939, at the tender age of just 16, Lee, then known as Stanley Martin Lieber, got an assistant job working at Timely Comics. As Lee himself put it, his tasks were simple and included things like proofreading, fetching lunch, erasing pencil from finished pages and keeping the inkwells full for the artists. Two years later, he would get his first credit in 1941’s Captain America Comics #3, writing a short story called “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge.” That same year, he began writing actual comics and was soon co-creating characters like Jack Frost and the Destroyer.

Lee learned under the guidance of two greats, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. When both left the company in 1941, Lee, just 19 years old at the time, was named interim editor. A charismatic, motivated and clearly talented young man, Lee soon saw “interim” dropped from the title. In the years to follow he would also serve in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army during WWII, and meet Joan Clayton Boocock. The two were married in 1947 until the time of Joan’s passing in 2017.

During Lee’s time as editor-in-chief, Timely would evolve into Atlas Comics and eventually, Marvel. Though superheroes had been popular when Lee first joined Timely Comics, the readership lost interest and, under Atlas Comics, the focus had shifted towards other genres. Hard as it is to imagine in hindsight, Stan Lee, unhappy in his work, was contemplating a change of careers. Thankfully, Joan came to the rescue! Publisher Martin Goodman suggested that the company push back into superhero territory as DC had done. At his wife’s insistence, Lee took this new comic as an opportunity to write the sort of story that he cared about; if it failed he could always leave as he’d intended. The result was Marvel’s first family: the Fantastic Four.

Co-created with Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four was different from their predecessors in that they were morally complex, flawed characters. That made them relatable, and readers quickly responded to this new breed of superhero. Lee had started something truly incredible, an entire new chapter in the history of comic books and, some would argue, the modern style and culture of comic books as we know them today. It was the “Marvel Revolution”; the themes were more relevant, the readership more engaged and the industry… well, it changed forever.

What followed was a period of highly condensed, game-changing creative output on the part of Stan Lee (usually as a team with Kirby). The Fantastic Four was a hit, and over the next few years, their world was soon filled with a wide range of colorful heroes, including the likes Thor, Daredevil, Hulk and Iron Man, among others. Undeniably the most notable Stan Lee and Jack Kirby co-creation of the period was Spider-Man, who debuted in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. Publisher Martin Goodman apparently had little faith in the character, only approving a trial issue because “Amazing Fantasy” was being canceled. Much to Goodman’s surprise, it proved to be a bestseller, and so an ongoing solo series was greenlit. Lee and Kirby had given birth to one of the comic’s most iconic heroes and pop culture staples.

Not long after Spidey’s debut, Lee and Kirby broke new ground once again with their superhero team, the X-Men. Wanting to skip over a power-related origin for each member, Lee labeled them “mutants”. Little did he know just how major of a role they would play in Marvel comics for decades to come. Not only did the school setting make the character relatable despite their powers, but this concept of mutants allowed Lee to address issues near and dear to his heart: prejudice and racism.

Part of what made Stan so special is that he went out of his way to connect with the readership. He wasn’t a faceless editor and, under his leadership, Marvel was not just some unreachable entity selling a product. He made readers feel like the writers, artists and editors were their friends and, in reading these adventures, their peers. He believed in creating a sense of community, and one of the ways he did this was through the Bullpen Bulletins.

Marvel Bullpen Bulletins debuted in 1965 and provided insight into the inner workings of Marvel comics, ranging from previews to spotlights on staffers, all done in a friendly, casual manner. The starring attraction of the Bullpen Bulletin was Stan’s Soapbox. Here he established a first-name basis with his readership and popularized such catchphrases as “true believer”, “make mine Marvel” and, of course, “Excelsior!”. He also used to voice his opinions and take a stand on important issues like racism. In a 1968 column, he stated: “Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today”. He also expressed that “a story without a message… is like a man without a soul.” They were powerful and bold statements for their time, and they still resonate today.

In 1972, Stan took over from Martin Goodman as Marvel’s publisher. Though he eventually became the company’s President, he stepped down and returned to the position of publisher, preferring to be more directly involved with the comics themselves. Even after he retired in the 1990s, he continued to support Marvel as the face of the company and an important voice of authority. Even well into his golden years, he never stopped connecting with fans both young and old, be it through public appearances, new creative endeavors or his dozens of memorable cameos.

It’s difficult to put into words just how huge of an impact Stan Lee has had on this world. Comics were long dismissed as trivial entertainment, but under his guidance, they became a serious medium through which important lessons and themes could be taught to readers of all ages. As anyone lucky enough to meet the man will tell you, he always had time for a fan; his ability to make every individual feel like an old friend was his superpower. As purveyors of pop culture, we here at WatchMojo can say that he’s had a huge influence on all of us. It’s hard to imagine future MCU films without a Stan Lee cameo, but through his many works and his enduring message of equality, this hero will live on forever.
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