Written By: Debkumar Mitra
Illustration: Sagar Mondal
Born: New York, December 28, 1922
Died: Los Angeles, November 12, 2018
Known for: Co-writing comic book superheroes Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and X-Men
The man who claimed to have co-created Spider-Man with Jack Kirby is no more. ‘Stan the Man’ would not have liked his obituary to begin with this way. The man who created the superhero culture and gave comics the shine and the gloss of a Hollywood A movie, Marvel legend Stan Lee is dead. He left behind millions of Marvel Universe fans who grew up on Lee’s writing for Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk and many more. Marvel without Lee won’t be the same again.
His biggest contribution is to brand Marvel Comics as a turbocharged pop culture movement that in its heydays competed with rock music and Hollywood. A measure of that influence can still be seen in the number of superhero blockbusters that Hollywood produced in recent years. The powerful comics writer in Lee often had to give space to the relentless marketing man Stan who breathed Marvel into everything he could lay his hands on – figurines, key chains, t-shirts to TV serials and movies. His fans lapped up every little thing the Marvel headman released. He wrote the rules of the comics marketing game his way backing every move with comics the exuded emotion of the times. It would be well nigh impossible to replicate Stan’s comics trade heroics. Having climbed all peaks of comics universe, Lee was a loner in his late years. He told many that he felt betrayed by his own.
Like his co-creation Spider-Man, Lee believed “With great power comes great responsibility.” Lee at the helm of Marvel was successful in giving it an identity that became synonymous with pop culture. He mounted everything big like Roy Lichtenstein painting of comics panel and added the pathos, the melodrama and the struggle to the tribes of Superheroes and Super-villains. A crying Incredible Hulk or a repentant Spider-Man made these larger-than-life characters a kind of human-like touch that changed how readers of comics looked at these characters from cut-and-dry world of slam-dash-bang and kaput. Marvel characters spoke a different language, something that endeared them even to people who smirked at pop culture.
Despite achieving so much in comics, Stan Lee leaves behind a complex legacy. While it is no denying the fact that he was an excellent writer and editor of comic books, it is his marketing genius that overshadowed the other obvious talents. His biggest Superhero contribution Spider-Man was not entirely his. He claimed to have co-developed this with the fantastic comic book artist and Lee’s one time collaborator Steve Ditko. The original idea of a teenage hero with spider-like movement came from comics genius Jack Kirby, who created Captain America and the Fantastic four, but was rejected by Lee. Lee later created Spider-Man with Steve Ditko.
Marvel Comics editor-in-chief never fully acknowledged the fact till the time he could not actually deny it. And when he did acknowledge it he made it look like that the concept of Spidey came from him and Ditko merely gave it the looks. Generations of Ditko fans allege that Stan Lee booted out their hero and claimed the entire Marvel Universe as his. The allegation did not spoil Marvel and Lee’s party but the truth is Ditko, who got never got the Stan’s standing, was an outstanding comics talent who was given a raw deal by his one time colleague. It is a fact that it was Lee’s charisma and his iron-like grip on the comics publisher pushed the company into dizzying heights but on the way the seminal contribution made Kirby and Ditko were relegated to oblivion. Many say Lee was more interested in self-promotion and made it look like that he deserved the lion’s share, if not all, of the credit for creating the characters in the Marvel Universe.
The allegations will be there till the kingdom come but with the passing of Stanley Martin Leiber of Bronx the original Marvel era comes to a close. Along with Kirby, Stan Lee, editor, writer and creative and marketing force created the Marvel Universe that influenced the global pop culture to change it forever. Comics were always present at the culture table but Will Eisner and Stan Lee put it on the table.