Comics

Comics Giant Stan Lee Dead at 95

Marvel's former chief left behind a massive cultural legacy preaching tolerance and personal responsibility.

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Stan Lee
ABA/Newscom

Stan Lee, a man who helped create some of Marvel's most popular and iconic superheroes, died today. He was 95.

Stan Lee was to Generation X kids (and even some older readers) what Walt Disney was to baby boomers. Though the foundation of Marvel's superhero stories and Lee's involvement with them took off in the 1950s and '60s before some GenXers were born, the industry saw a massive boom from the 1960s to the 1980s, as Lee moved up from writer and editor to publisher.

My own introduction to Lee was hearing his voice in the narration to the Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the early 1980s. That cartoon pushed me into comic books, and I was devoted Marvel reader for decades after that. (Funny side story here: I was initially drawn to the comics by the representation of Iceman in the cartoon, who stirred some very early recognitions of my sexuality. Iceman himself came out of the closet as gay in 2015.)

Lee, like Disney, openly embraced being the public face of Marvel, not just some behind-the-scenes business leader. As Marvel's superhero comics spread into other media, such as television and film, he became known for his amusing cameos.

Under Lee, Marvel's superheroes became more than awe-inspiring ubermen to be idolized. They became more like real people who young readers could relate to. The Fantastic Four were a family, with all the conflicts and storytelling those relationships entailed. Spider-Man was famously a coming-of-age comic for teens about the responsibilities of powers and adulthood.

Those Spider-Man stories are often credited with the line "With great power comes great responsibility." The saying probably predates the hero's 1962 origins by more than a century, but Lee's comics did lean heavily on the idea of personal responsibility to separate heroes from villains. And Marvel's heroes had a complicated relationship with government authority, with officials increasingly worrying that these powerful individuals could not be controlled and therefore were a threat.

We saw this play out in Spider-Man as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson constantly decried the young hero's "vigilante" actions. In the X-Men, whose heroes were born with their powers, the relationship between the heroes and the government became outright hostile (a dynamic that continues, off and on, to this day). Even the Avengers, as all-American as they were, often found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In the 1970s and beyond, the comics offered young readers stories where heroes operate outside the confines of government institutions to do good.

Marvel comics these days (now owned by Disney, in an interesting cultural development) gets some criticism for trying to appeal to younger demographics through obvious diversity inclusions—having Iceman come out as gay, having women (temporarily) play the role of Thor or Iron Man, and the like. But that's actually not a new thing. With Lee as a publisher, readers saw a black man (James Rhodes) take over as Iron Man for some time, and a black woman take on the mantle of Captain Marvel. X-Men villain Mystique was clearly coded as being in a romantic relationship with another woman, though the Comics Code prevented the book from actually saying so. The X-Men were an obvious metaphor about race relations, being treated with suspicion by the populace on the basis of birth qualities that they could not change. Later, in the 1980s and '90s, this morphed into a metaphor for anti-gay fears. In one comic in the 1980s, Professor Xavier was beaten nearly to death by a group of people who discovered he was secretly a mutant. Years later, a science-fictionized version of AIDS popped up that affected only mutants. Marvel's comics were always attuned to cultural developments of the time. (Not always for the better—as the war on drugs heated up in the '80s, they were there to help it along.)

The popularity of Marvel's comics under Lee made a movie empire an eventual certainty, even if his core audience had to grow into adulthood and special effects technology needed to improve dramatically (helped out by the very same people who read his comics as children). His heroes are the stars now of annual summer blockbusters, his role in culture as entrenched as Disney's was. Comic sales themselves are down from where they were in Lee's heydays, but the culture of the superhero is not going anywhere soon. Lee's role in making Marvel's comics into a cultural touchstone for multiple generations has made it a certainty.

From earlier this year: Brian Doherty explored the Objectivist attitudes of comics artist Steve Ditko. Ditko, who died in June, helped Lee create such characters as Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

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54 responses to “Comics Giant Stan Lee Dead at 95

  1. tolerance and personal responsibility.

    So alt-right.

    1. What a stupid fucking thing to say. Don’t associate Stan with those racist, bigoted and misogynistic pieces of shit of the alt-right. He was actually a good person. The alt-right is just full of pieces of shit.

      1. +1, Tolerant comment

  2. “Those Spiderman stories are often credited with the line “With great power comes great responsibility.” The saying probably predates the hero’s 1962 origins by more than a century”

    Maybe a lot more.

    “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” /Luke 12:48 (KJV)

      1. Yeah, thats definately about wealth not pwrz.

    1. That’s not even close to being the same thing. If I buy you dinner, Eddie, and I in turn expect you to put out, I have given much onto you and require much in return. That is not equivalent to me granting you power and requiring great responsibility in return.

      1. I guess I’m flattered, but the metaphor was a steward entrusted with running his boss’s estate in the boss’s absence. Which certainly involves power more than it involves putting out.

    2. Is that the Luke from Star Wars? That was a long time ago.

      1. And far away!

  3. “Make mine Marvel” bears repeating. Loved the cameos over the last few decades too. Funny on The Simpsons. Long live Stan.

    1. Excelsior!

  4. “Marvel comics these days (now owned by Disney, in an interesting cultural development) gets some criticism for trying to appeal to younger demographics through obvious diversity inclusions?having Iceman come out as gay, having women (temporarily) play the role of Thor or Iron Man, and the like. But that’s actually not a new thing. With Lee as a publisher, readers saw a black man (Anthony Rhodes) take over as Iron Man for some time, and a black woman take on the mantle of Captain Marvel.”

    There’s a difference between a writer doing it as an authentic expression of diversity and Disney doing it against a backdrop of coercive “tolerance”. It’s the difference between being persuaded by Milton Friedman that free-market capitalism is a superior system and being lectured about the evils of communism by Joe McCarthy.

    If you tried to force feed me buffalo wings and beer, I’d quickly start to loathe them.

    1. P.S. When I go to the grocery, two pounds of raw wings are about $13.00. Two pounds of drumsticks are about $6.50.

      Huh?

      I suspect it’s about complementary goods–in terms of the commitment of time and effort. Yes, I’m talking about how easy and fast it is to make buffalo wings with an air fryer and air fryers selling like crazy.

      Is there a better explanation for why an inferior cut is suddenly priced higher per pound? I’m a cheap bastard, so I tried making buffalo drumsticks–not as good. All the most delicious things in life are made from inferior cuts.

      A pork chop is a superior cut, but so what? Ham hocks, bacon, and sausage is where it’s at.

      Filet mignon or chicken breast is fine, but wouldn’t you rather have beef ribs or buffalo wings?

      I’m just sayin’.

      1. I assume that the wings probably cost more due to higher demand. Buffalo wings have become extremely popular over the last few decades, while I’m guessing the demand for chicken legs has probably stayed fairly constant.

        1. Just over the past year, air fryers have become wildly popular. I’d bet money that the price of wings and the sales of air fryers are positively correlated. I know I wasn’t looking at wings in the grocery store until I got an air fryer.

          1. Chicken wings have been more expensive than chicken breasts for about 10 years now, just fyi.

      2. You’re paying too much for both.

    2. Ken, its like that ridiculous notion that Black Panther was the first black super hero.

      All those morons forgot about Blade (Eric Brooks), Hancock, Meteor man, Blankman, Steel, Spawn, Catwoman (technically a villain and has been done as white women too),

      1. its like that ridiculous notion that Black Panther was the first black super hero

        All those morons forgot about Blade (Eric Brooks), Hancock, Meteor man, Blankman, Steel, Spawn, Catwoman (technically a villain and has been done as white women too),

        I don’t know whether Black Panther was the very first black superhero, but he was created in 1966. I think the only one of the characters you just listed who preceded that is Catwoman, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t portrayed as black before Eartha Kitt played her in 1967.

        1. You are correct. Blade didn’t appear until he was introduced in ‘Tomb of Dracula’ in the early 70’s. Catwoman has always been portrayed as Caucasian.

      2. Don’t forget Florida Man is sometimes black too.

    3. It also wasn’t an ‘expression of diversity’, but a natural development of the story and existing characters. James Rhodes was an established character as Tony Stark’s pilot, bodyguard and friend, so it was only natural that when circumstances required it he would step in as Iron Man. It wasn’t about ‘Well, I guess we need a black Iron Man now.’ You’ll notice that you didn’t hear fans complaining about Sam Wilson becoming Captain America, either, because that character was well-established as Steve Rogers’ friend and partner.

      The black female Captain Marvel also wasn’t a case of slapping a black woman into an established role. She was an original character with a very different origin, costume and power set, they just reused the name. And they even wrote that into the storyline when she was confronted by heroes who knew the original Captain Marvel and took offense to her using his name, until she proved herself as a worthy successor.

      1. Correct. She took the name because the regional, Kree warrior Mar-Vell had died of cancer a few years earlier, as depicted in Marvel Comic’s first ever graphic novel ‘The Death of Captain Marvel’.

    4. Can’t wait for the new illegal immigrant Captain America

      1. His power comes from Diversity.

        1. “Diversity is my greatest strength!”

    5. There’s a difference between a writer doing it as an authentic expression of diversity and Disney doing it against a backdrop of coercive “tolerance”.

      And there’s a signifcant difference between telling a good story and flinging shit against the wall to see what sticks. Most of the time you’re going to get tasteless nonsense but, eventually, you’re going to pick up and throw the peanut butter and then pick up and throw the chocolate.

      Case in point: ‘Clearly coded’ is an oxymoron. Iceman was gay and Mystique was a lesbian, you could totally tell from that time when they were romantically involved. Sure, she slept with pretty much every dude she came across (before and after Destiny) and is alleged to have birthed (or even sired) a couple of them, but if you read the tea leaves just right, she was totally a lesbian.

      Mystique was a pretty blank canvas and Scott’s projecting hard.

  5. F

  6. “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
    “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
    “I’m the best there is at what I do.”
    “Avengers assemble!”

    1. See ya bub. You influenced millions of people to fight bad people.

    2. ‘Nuff said.

    3. ‘Okay Axis, here we come!’

  7. NEEDZ MOAR EXCELSIOR!

  8. For all I slam Nick Gillespie he’s the only Reason-writer who can consistently pen a decent obituary. Nick wouldn’t have reduced Stan Lee to nothing but a tawdry purveyor of proto-woke homo-recruitment propaganda.

  9. What happened? Did he see the Venom movie?

  10. Damn, that sucks. I wonder if he was still way ahead of Mick Jaeger in number of chicks.

  11. Hate to shit on your tights-and- capes world but Lee stole the Fantastic Four from Kirby, among his other swipes from creators.

    In the biz since the 80s, everyone knew that Marvel screwed over anyone they dealt with.

    Luckily for Marvel, the world is filled with stunted, fat-assed fanboys who buy superhero merch instead of soap and healthy food.

    1. This.
      The guy made a career out of outright stealing from other artists.

      Anyway, capeshit sucks.
      Bande dessin?e, manga, manwa, chitrakatha and even Tijuana bibles have a hundred times the creativity of anything ground out by the US. And no, it’s not the Comic Codes fault. It’s a problem with North American culture in general.

    2. Can we maybe pick another today to shit on Stan Lee?

  12. “You better obey the law, welp, or I’ll BEAT YOU UP.”

    * fat kid in audience cheers and sweats *

  13. I really didn’t follow the hero comix; did anyone out Robin and Spiderman?

  14. Excelsior Mr. Lee. Excelsior.

  15. Optimist: Someone who files a billion dollar lawsuit at age 95.

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    1. Even Dr. Strange has gone to seed, selling spells on the Internet.

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      I’m in!

  17. Wiseman? Never heard of that one before, but anyway, R.I.P. Stan.

  18. F

  19. Iceman himself came out of the closet as gay in 2015….no way anyone, gay or hetero, is going to let an ice cold dong up their poop chute…just sayin…

    1. also FYI he’s a fictional character in a fictional universe doing fictional shit…he aint real…someone wrote a story…can we now return to real life

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