If you haven’t heard of Marvel, then you must be living under a rock. The comic company turned movie studio has become a household name in pop culture, and it all started with a feisty writer whose greatest super power was his creativity.
Stan Lee was one of the major creative minds behind Marvel that propelled it to success. He joined the company, then called Timely Comics, in 1939 at the age of 16 before becoming an interim editor in the early 40’s. During this time, he also served domestically as a writer and illustrator in World War II.
Comic book history changed forever when, in 1961, Lee was tasked with creating a superhero team that could compete with DC Comics’ popular lineup the Justice League. With the help of longtime collaborator Jack Kirby, he created the Fantastic Four, the first in a seemingly never ending chain of now famous superheroes. Soon to follow were Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Spiderman.
Lee’s characters changed the way fans looked at comics. Unlike DC’s pure and perfect heroes, his stories followed individuals that were just as vulnerable as they were superpowered, adding a level of relatability never before seen in comic books. They became so much more than simple battles and action sequences, and Marvel Comics quickly found itself reaping the benefits of their popularity.
In 1972, Lee became publisher of Marvel, and his “Marvel Method” of comic book writing, which sped up the publishing process through high levels of collaboration between writers and artists, soon became the desired model for publishing companies. Lee also brought a higher level of intimacy between the comic creators and their audience, creating and maintaining (among other things) a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox,” in which he would comment on social issues as well as his comics. It was here that he first used his catchphrase “excelsior!” (Latin for “ever upward”), which soon became synonymous with him.
Marvel first made the transition to film in the late nineties, but they really gained speed in the early 2000’s with hits such as the “X-Men” movies and Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy. In 2008, Marvel Studios released “Iron Man,” the first in an unprecedented cinematic universe that now spans twenty movies and counting. Lee remained as much of a presence in the Marvel films as he did in the comics, making a cameo appearance in every one of the movies based on Marvel characters. This helped to retain his status as an easily recognizable icon for a whole new generation of fans.
Lee’s health had been deteriorating in the past year, especially following the death of his wife Joan, with whom he had been married to for 69 years, in February of 2017. He died on Monday, November 12, at the age of 95, after being rushed to Cedar Sinai Medical Center from his home in Hollywood Hills. His official cause of death has not been made public.
Stan Lee leaves behind a legacy unlike any other, through the characters he left behind and the lives he touched with them. Through his creativity and imagination, he allowed us to experience a world of heroes and battles of good and evil, where Norse gods fly through the air and red hooded teenagers swing from buildings, a world where anything is possible.
Thank you, Stan Lee, for sharing that world with us. You will be sorely missed.
Information for this article came from CNN, the Observer, and biography.com.