Like so many others, I was saddened yesterday to hear about the passing of Marvel Comics impressario Stan Lee.
I spent the formative years of my youth reading stories about superheroes he created. My first publication was in the letters page of Amazing Spider-Man (naturally, I suggested a team-up with the Fantastic Four), and as an adult, I have written thousands of words about movies based on Marvel Comics characters. It is possible that over the course of my lifetime, his creations and co-creations have occupied more of my mental energy than any other pop-culture phenemona. Yes, his legacy is complicated, but he was a legend, and he'll be missed.
Over at The Washington Post, I've got a piece on the way Lee's particular brand of sprawling, shared-world storytelling changed comics, and eventually movies, forever. Here's how it starts:
Next time you go to the movies and see a post-credits scene teasing a sequel that is still years away, or a winking reference to some obscure bit of franchise lore, or a cameo appearance by the star of another superhero franchise, think of Stan Lee.
Lee, who died on Monday at age 95, was the driving force behind Marvel Comics. A singular pop-culture visionary, he helped create many of Marvel's most popular characters, including Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Black Panther and the Fantastic Four. Just as important, however, was how he changed the way these stories were told. As Marvel's self-promoting maestro, he popularized the serialized, shared-world superhero storytelling that has all but consumed the movie business over the past decade. Without Lee, Hollywood as we know it might not exist.