Goodbye Stan Lee

Expected but still devastating: Rest In Peace Smiling Stan Lee: December 28, 1922 – November 12, 2018.

Stan Lee is among the rare pantheon of big-bang creators harnessing the sparks of his imagination to ignite a powerful universe…that short list of George Lucas and Jim Henson. (And fine Walt Disney’s in that rare club…but his stuff sucks.)

So as far as creators that unleashed a universe on us…one that continues to shape our pop culture Stan Lee is in a rare club automatically earning respect and reverence. That’s really his 2 minute legacy. Nobody is gonna create stuff like Marvel anymore: as one of our last Architects Stan Lee’s passing closes a powerful pop culture door: nobody currently working today or somebody upcoming will ever create a lasting legacy like that…icons and images and characters that’ll last 50, 75…100 years…that’s done. We’re down to niches not universes.

Beyond his 2 minute legacy and of course Spider-Man a key Stan Lee recognition and comic book contribution is community…Stan Lee didn’t invent comic cons of course…that came outta sci-fi but Stan Lee was a tireless bridge builder (yes partly that was marketing) but comics as a community exists in huge part because Stan Lee said it could and should be.

He gave No Prizes to readers who discovered (and fixed) problems in Marvel books; he mocked DC and built up a West Coast-East Coast beef with them; and another crazy radical contribution to comics rooted in community?

Spider-Man hung out with Iron Man…DC never had their characters meet…that’s why they live in different cities (Gotham is not Central City). Community! Stan Lee had the characters hang out and this forced readers to buy more Marvel comics but it also made the Marvel Universe cohesive…the way everybody today assumes all movie stars know each other. Stan Lee’s legacy is community as much as it is Spider-Man.

And you know what’s a weird but major contribution to comics? Cliffhangers…until Stan Lee comics were 1 issue problems like sit coms. (That was partly because distribution sucked from the 30s-50s. You may get Batman #17 but there was a possibility the next Batman issue you’d see could be Batman #20. Stan Lee helped improve distribution so you could read X-Men #1 and then go out and buy X-Men #2. He adapted his storytelling to that!! So longer arcs is another legacy.)

The one thing I can’t stand is the narrative that Stan Lee invented these comics in the 60s and “did nothing else after that.” That is a narrative made by idiots told to dummies. The Marvel movie cameos saved him from being corny or didn’t you used to be that guy…it’s no different than Seinfeld so you have a hit tv show what do you do next? The movie cameos kept him relevant and popular. (In some ways they made him more famous that his writing did.)

Lastly I want to comment about the whole muddled thing with credit and creation…did Stan Lee take credit away from Jack Kirby? Was Stan Lee “mean” to Steve Ditko? 2 things both important: I’ve been in studios where bands are recording…and sometimes it’s the drummer who comes up with a cool bass part….film sets are collaborative…it’s not always gonna be this clear cut division of labour…many creators know that while Spielberg is the director he doesn’t shoot every single scene and he allows actors to rewrite or even improvise certain lines and they don’t get a writing credit for that. That’s the nature of collaborative creativity: it’s not bad or good or fair or unfair. It just is.

The major problem with creation myths is…we look back at them from the future…Stan Lee and Kirby etc. had no clue what they were creating was gonna generate billions of dollars. How?! Who thinks like that in 1960. 2 guys sold Superman to DC for $138 in 1939…it was a lot of money back than…they thought they got a fair deal. So the truth is nobody knows fully; clearly what Lee did what Kirby did, what Ditko did.

We know this…it’s comics…Lee needed those guys and those guys needed Lee. There was no documents no paper trail…nothing that explicitly details who did what back in the 60s. Lee is always gonna have a complicated legacy because collaborative creativity and work is complicated. And that’s ok.

The point isn’t to figure out who did what…or even to assign credit. The point is simply to say thanks for the work…thanks for the time Stan Lee took to create and to share and to market his work to us.

We are all better for it.

For More Reading:
Sean Howe’s masterful Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle Between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker
Amazing Fantastic Incredible by Peter David and Stan Lee
King Kirby: A Play by Crystal Skillman & Fred Van Lente

Excelsior Stan The Man Lee. What a fantastic life: you made mine better; you made Our pop culture better.


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Also published on Medium.

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