On November 12, 2018 we lost the legendary Stan Lee. As the creative leader of Marvel Comics, Lee gave us two decades of some of the most well loved fictional characters in popular culture. During his run as the primary creative leader, Lee changed the way we interacted with and thought about super heroes forever.
When Lee made his comic book debut with the throw away story "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in 1941, he used the pseudonym "Stan Lee" which was a play on his first name "Stanley" and went on to become so respected that he made it his legal name. Lee felt that he should not use his birth name because it would have been embarrassing to associate himself with such a low-brow art form. He wanted to save his real name for his future novels. But his work struck a chord with the Timely Comics editorial director Joe Simon and his collaborator Jack Kirby, so they had the 19-year-old Lee join the staff.
Lee entered the US Army in 1942 as a member of the Signal Corps. Later on he was transferred to the Training Film Division where he put his passion for creating to use by writing manuals, scripts for training films, army slogans, and even cartooning. On top of that, Lee was still working for Timely Comics and would receive letters every Friday detailing the stories he needed to write and send back to them by Monday. Lee never missed a deadline, even breaking into a closed mailbox to make sure he got his stories to Simon and Kirby in on time.
During that latter half of the 1950s, DC Comics returned to superhero stories, publishing an updated version of the Flash and creating the Justice League. The success of those stories prompted the publisher Martin Goodman to ask Lee and Kirby to create their own band of superheroes. However, Lee was quite unhappy with his writing career at that point and so Joan Boocock, his wife, suggested that he take a risk with these new characters and write them the way he truly wanted to. He had nothing to lose since he was considering a career switch. This advice proved to be the future of classic superheroes like the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the rest of The Avengers.
Lee gave his superheroes flaws, volcanic emotions, and complex motivations. He made them super humans instead of gods. The humanity he instilled in his characters gave room for Lee and his collaborators to infuse their comics with situations and social ideology that reflected the real world.
As Peter Sanderson, the comics historian wrote in 1960, "Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond."
We've come a long way since the 40s and comics are a well respected form of storytelling. Still there will always be naysayers. Just last month Martin Scorsese said that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was "not cinema." Yet, the Avengers: Infinity War and its followup Avengers: Endgame prompted some of the strongest collective emotions from viewers in recent memory. In no small part thanks to the Boocock's advice and Lee's masterful execution, superheroes have become a way for people to feel closer to their identities, have impactful cinematic experiences, and so much more. Rest in power, Stan Lee.