Today, I want to look back at one of my personal heroes - the legend that is Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee. He needs no introduction to any true comic book fan but, for anyone who was wondering, he is the guy who keeps appearing in all the Marvel films. Without him, it's pretty safe to say that we wouldn't have any of the Avengers films, possibly even the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Stan Lee, along with Steve Ditko, created many of the Marvel superheroes that we know and love today. In the 1960s, Marvel became the primary comic book company thanks to this pairing. Between them they created the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man and my personal favourite, Spider-Man, among many others. It could be argued that thanks to these two men the world has some of its favourite fictional characters. But where did Stan Lee come from?
Stan the Man was born in New York City on the 28th of December 1922 to Celia and Jack Lieber. At the age of 17, Stan became an assistant at Timely Comics, which would later evolve into Marvel Comics. At first, his jobs were not too exciting, filling the inkwells for artists, proofreading or erasing the pencil lines from the finished artwork. But it was writing that was his true passion and 2 years after joining the company, he was allowed to write his first piece. "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" was his first published story in Captain America Comics #3. This was also the first time he used the alias Stan Lee. It was clear from this early story that Stan had a talent for writing as this was the first time Cap used his trademark shield throwing technique. Though it was just a filler piece, it became the foundations to the wonderful career he went on to have.
In response to the success of DC Comics' new version of The Flash, Timely's publisher assigned Stan the task of rejuvenating the brand. He asked him to create a new superhero team. At the time, he was considering a change of career and his wife Joan offered him some advice. She told him to experiment with stories he preferred rather than pander to others and Stan decided to go with this advice. This led to the creation of flawed superheroes. Rather than godlike characters such as Superman, he decided to create superheroes with relatable problems. His first creation was the Fantastic Four, a real family who bickered and had disagreements with each other. The book was a huge success and as a result, many other characters came from this, each with their own flaws.
The X-Men were a team of mutants who were hated by society (a metaphor for real life racism). Each one of their powers was dealt with differently. Rather than flaunt their powers, the X-Men would hide their abilities from the world, saving the world in secret. Daredevil was a blind man with enhanced senses. He was also a more "street-level" hero, rather than dealing with interplanetary threats like Galactus, he would deal with the likes of the Kingpin who had an army of henchmen to command. Then we have his most famous creation, Spider-Man. Spidey was unlike any other superhero because he was a teenager who had to deal with real teenage problems. Peter Parker was an unpopular, intelligent young man who is imbued with fantastic powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. At first, he seeks to use his powers for personal gain, but he is swiftly reminded of his responsibility when tragedy strikes. After this, Peter struggles to balance school, work and women around being a superhero.
The fact that all of Stan's creations were so relatable to the audience allowed them to connect to the characters much easier. The problems that the heroes had to deal with made them more human. This continues to be the case today. Iron Man, arguably the face of the MCU, is really just a man when it boils down to it. He has no special abilities, he just used his brain to create a suit of armour that was initially made to save his life. He even suffered with alcoholism, which is briefly touched upon in Iron Man 2. These small details may seem like nothing, but they are actually part of the reason these superheroes are so successful today.
Without Stan Lee, we might not have Spider-Man, Iron Man et al which, by extension, means we might not have the MCU. Stan Lee has truly changed the world with his creations, and his legacy lives on with the work of Marvel Studios and also with the Marvel Comics. The longevity of the characters is testament to Stan Lee's creativity. He inspired generations of writers to live their dreams and create new superheroes. Ask any Marvel writer who their inspiration is and they will probably say Stan Lee. The world is a better place because of him!