Tag Archives: Stan Lee

The Man Has Died. Stan Lee (1922-2018)

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Last December, with the input of a few friends, I had written a post commemorating Stan “The Man” Lee’s 95th birthday. Today I’m writing a brief post to acknowledge The Man’s death and his impact on my life.

I was a Marvel kid in the 1970s, when I started collecting comic books. All of my comic collecting friends were at the time. Although, I grew to appreciate DC Comics later in life, I’m still a Marvel kid at heart. Marvel Comics were just so much more exciting than DC Comics. The artwork was better. The action was better. The characters were better.

The characters were better, in large part, because they were so much more relatable than DC’s. Marvel characters had real world, often mundane, problems. Spider-Man had to figure out how to defeat Doc Ock and protect Aunt May, all while keeping his identity secret and his homework done. OK, I wasn’t fighting super-villains, but I did have homework. That relatability was one of Stan’s greatest contributions to comic books. His characters were people.

I’m aware there have been criticisms against Stan for what appeared to be his desire to be thought of as the sole creator of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and a whole litany of other exciting super-heroes. But I think those criticisms are a little unfair. Later in his life, he would acknowledge the massive contributions of such creative giants as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in those extremely creative years in the early 1960s.

Stan Lee had a “gee whiz” kind of quality to his personality. He could seem a little hokey at times, but his optimism and exuberance were undeniable. It was that personality that made him the perfect cheerleader for Marvel Comics and for comic books in general. And that cheer-leading was an equally important facet to his contribution to the world of comic books, super-heroes, and, eventually, tent-pole super-hero movies. The Man not only changed comic books, he had a hand in changing Hollywood.

Throughout my youth, I would spent hours and hours reading, looking at, and studying comic books, most of them Marvel. Comic books inspired me to keep drawing, when other kids gave up and moved on to other things. I became an artist, a cartoonist. No, I never did get work drawing comic books, but no matter. It was comic books, Stan Lee’s comic books, that put me on the road to gaining this skill.

For that and the thousand of hours spent battling Dr. Doom with The Fantastic Four, or Ultron with The Avengers, or Magneto with The X-Men, I am eternally grateful to Stan “The Man” Lee.

Packing Peanuts!

No. Make that…

Excelsior!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s]¬†signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

Update 1-19-18: I recently watched the excellent documentary series Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, the first episode of which examines the beginning of Marvel Comics. After watching that episode, I feel I may have been a little unfair toward Stan by suggesting he wanted all the credit. He lauds praise on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and he’s more nuanced about the creation of the Marvel Universe. He also acknowledges his editor assigning him to create a super-hero group to compete with the Justice League of America.

It’s a very good series. I highly recommend it.

 

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Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for another  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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This cover changed the world…

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No, I don’t think the headline overstates it. If a frustrated young comic book writer hadn’t taken his wife’s advice back in the early 1960s, today’s world would be very different.

As Stan Lee tells it, he had become frustrated working on Western, Romance, and Monster comic books and was thinking about quitting. He confided in his wife, as husbands always should (right, Honey?), about his wanting to leave and she suggested before he quit he should write something he really wanted to write. He was going to quit anyway, why not give it a shot?

That’s how the world got the Fantastic Four, which lead to one of the greatest outpouring of creative content ever. Stan Lee, teamed up with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, began cranking out an entire universe of superheroes, the likes of which had never been seen before. It was a marvelous universe to behold.

And the Fantastic Four was the Big Bang.

So, let’s look at the cover, shall we? This is the second installment of my monthly look at comic book covers that I love. Or really like. Or have a certain fondness for. I mean, I don’t wanna marry them. I’m already married. That would be bigamy.

Anyway, the cover of this historic comic book was illustrated by Jack Kirby (who else?!). It’s not his most visually exciting effort, but he does what is necessary to introduce the reader to these new characters.

Kirby chose to keep Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue Storm (Invisible Girl) in their civilian clothes, I think, in order to play up Marvel’s angle that their superheroes were real people with everyday real world problems. It was that angle that made Marvel’s characters so much more interesting and identifiable than DC’s characters at the time. DC got better. Competition does that.

There is a monster on the cover (two if you count The Thing), so Lee didn’t completely abandon the monster themes. And one of Kirby’s strengths was his monster creations. Even in my younger days of not really liking The King’s work, I did like his monsters. They were awesome.

And then there’s the dialogue. Well, again, what the characters are saying is mainly meant to introduce them to the reader. Each of their names is mentioned either by themselves or one of the other teammates.

It was also a long time practice in comic book writing to end nearly every sentence with an exclamation point. Unless someone was asking a question, everyone was speaking very urgently. That overuse of the exclamation points did eventually subside.

I find a couple things curious about the cover. One is how the banner box with each of the FF’s hero names (fully exclamation marked, of course) makes it sound as though the members of this group had been in other magazines prior to being teamed up in this one. It’s just a minor awkwardness. I’ll live.

The other curiosity I have is just how did Mr. Fantastic end up in those ropes? Surely, the monster didn’t tie him up. Were he and Sue up to something a little kinky perhaps?

You know, with his stretching ability and her invisibility, things could have gotten very interesting…

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

 

 

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