The Internet is in mourning following the
unexpected passing of Stan Lee last week. By which I mean, fans were somehow blindsided by the sudden mortality of a 95 year old man. This has led to an outpouring of sadness from a section of fandom that never actually grew up when Stan Lee was actually relevant.
The one and only time Stan Lee did anything of value any value was over 50 years ago, and anything he had done of any sort of cultural significance or social importance is so far removed from modern day fans. Anything people associate with him now is nothing more than mythology of a man who spent the last 60 years of his life marketing an image. The Stan Lee that everyone knows and loves is nothing more than a corporate image, cultivated after decades of selling himself and taking credit for the work of others.
To bring this up to fans, is tantamount to sacrilege, apparently, as want to remember Stan with rose coloured glasses. However, these are the same fans who think a suitable replacement for Stan Lee cameos in Marvel films is Deadpool. A character that (a) Stan never created (b) is a walking dick and fart joke. I would argue that it is akin to suggesting you put up a pork based Christmas tree in Auschwitz in order to commemorate those who died during the holocaust. If you don’t know how that is an appropriately offensive parallel, then you probably didn’t know that Stan Lee was Jewish. Stan Lee wasn’t even his real name, he was born Stan Lieber.
Why Deadpool Replacing Proves You Are a Shitty Fan
There is a meme that is floating around social media right now to promote this Deadpool nonsense.
For starters, the fact that there are people who are ascribing real feelings to a fictional character is a sure fire sign that none of you have the emotional maturity to really understand the reality of anything. So I'm going to say that I won’t be the least bit concerned about how I’ve trampled on your feelings. Second of all, Deadpool is not the only “self-aware” character in the Marvel Universe. Out of the handful, I want to bring up She-Hulk. She is the first Marvel character to break the fourth wall. The fact that you don’t know this, or how poignant it would be to create a meme like this about her is a reason why you’re a shitty fan. She-Hulk would be a more relevant character beacuse.. WAIT FOR IT… Stan Lee created She-Hulk.
But you didn’t know that anymore than the fact that you didn’t know that Stan Lee wasn’t the great guy everyone on the internet has made him out to be. When you’re ready to stop grief-felating each other in an attempt to out mourn each other, let’s get real. Let’s talk about Stan honestly, and put into perspective that his accomplishments were not as legendary as they appear.
He Did Revive the Comic Book Industry (Just Not The Way You Think)
The thing about Stan Lee and the revival of the comic book industry is that it had nothing to do with what he wrote and everything to do with making money. In the late 40’s and early 50’s comic books became a popular scapegoat during a period of hysteria surrounding juvenile delinquency. Thanks to the falsified studies conducted by psychologist Frederick Wirtham, comic books became the same sort of boogeyman that modern “concerned parents” now ascribe to video games and rap music. On the heels of that the government took a break from their communist witch hunts to warn the industry that if they didn’t regulate themselves, they would be banned outright. That led to the creation of the Comic Authority Code which neutered the industry and quashed a lot of creativity. Superhero books weren’t all that popular at the time, having been overshadowed by romance, western, and war comics. The only super-heroes that were still in regular circulation at the time were Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, it was stupid shit like this:
At the time, Atlas Comics (the precursor to Marvel) attempted to revive their own superheroes (Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner) and it failed spectacularly. The company was making its money off of sci-fi, horror, and giant monster stories. That was until 1960 when DC Comics put out the Justice League of America, which paired up all their superheroes on one team. This was a huge success. So much so, that Marvel publisher Martin Goodman ordered Stan to create a superhero team book as well.
Stan Lee was in the right place at the right time, and we need to stop thinking that there is something special about this. It was luck, and there is nothing much to do with it.
Stan’s Ideas Were Iconic Thanks to the Hard Work of Artists.
It all started with the first issue of Fantastic Four, which came out in November of 1961. To the uninformed, Stan is given all the credit for this creation. That’s utter bullshit. Stan couldn’t have come up with this idea if it wasn’t for the work of others.
The legendary Jack Kirby (whose 100th birthday came and went over the last year with very little fanfare) should get the most credit for creating the Fantastic Four because the concept was recycled from the Challengers of the Unknown, a DC Comic that was created by Jack Kirby. The Challengers, by the way, once featured a story where one of their characters gained powers from cosmic rays in much the same way as the Fantastic Four. Given how Jack Kirby’s own work was heavily derivative (See his work on Thor, the Inhumans, the Eternals, the New Gods etc) it’s very easy to see Kirby’s work since his ideas were very limited.
Also, much like the DC Comics super-hero revivals, the Fantastic Four re-imagined an old Timely Comics character, the Human Torch, a character created by Carl Burgos in 1939. More about Burgos later.
The point I am getting at here is this: Stan Lee’s ideas were hardly original. Only put the effort into creating these characters because his boss told him to make the company more money. While this did lead to the creation of some iconic characters, lets not delude ourselves into thinking that Stan Lee was a wealth of original ideas. They were derivative, or copied from some other source. This wasn’t exclusive to the Fantastic Four either. Spider-Man, as Lee stated in his own autobiography, was “inspired” by a pulp novel character called the Spider. It’s been a long standing suspicion that, upon hearing about DC Comics upcoming Doom Patrol series, he rushed to create the X-Men which had very similar elements (A leader in a wheelchair, a team of misfits, their foes are called a Brotherhood of Evil). The Incredible Hulk was an atomic age Frankenstein. Ant-Man was created to compete with the Atom. I could go on.
That said, I would argue that his material would not have had the cultural impact they made had it not been for the hard work of artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, and everyone working in the Marvel Bullpen at the time.
Stan’s Claim to Fame Ruined Friendships
As I stated above, Stan Lee became a master of self promotion took a lot of the credit for his creations. He went out of his way to take creative control from the artists who co-created works with him. In the Jack Kirby biography King of Comics, Jack Kirby became so disenfranchised with Stan’s treatment of his work that he quit and went to work for DC Comics.
But it wasn’t just Jack Kirby. Steve Ditko had a falling out with Stan over creative control of Spider-Man. Stan Lee claimed to not know anything about it, but Steve had a lot to say regarding the matter in the documentary In Search of Steve Ditko. It appears pretty clear that Steve was blackballed to the point he just quit and since he was professional about it, Stan just whitewashed the rift, claiming that he hardly knew Steve on a personal level. When recalling the last time he spoke with Steve Ditko, Stan’s recollection has the air of that asshole at the high school reunion who dismisses the fact that they were a total bully in school.
He Fought Against Creator Rights
For someone who likes to take credit for creating things, Stan was huge on taking the creative rights of others. During his tenure with Marvel he fought to take away the rights from other creators and was a huge proponent of the work-for-hire business model that led to a lot of his contemporaries to die in obscurity, sometimes even in poverty. He sided with the publisher when Carl Burgos tried to sue for the rights of the Human Torch, and when Joe Simon tried to get the rights back for Captain America. His attitude toward creators rights led to the regular legal battles between Marvel and the various people who co-created the characters they made millions off of.
Okay, He Did Some Good Things…
All the shitty things aside, Stan did some good during his time on Earth.
He was greatly against racism, and once penned a poignant essay on the subject in 1968. I would argue that this was probably the last thing that Stan ever put to pen that was 100% genuine before he became “The Man” a corporate caricature that he became. He also went against the Comic Authority Code in 1971 to write a story about the dangers of drugs. At the time, the code did not allow any depictions of drugs. Period. He argued that since this story warned children of the dangers of drugs, it was a worth while story to tell. The Code still rejected it and he had it published anyway. It was a hit.
In his later years, he also began the Stan Lee Foundation in 2010.It focused on literacy, education, and the arts.
All noble goals.
The Point of All of This
Stan Lee may have been an icon of the industry, but he was not a flawless human being. He was a normal guy who did some shitty things on top of the good things he did. His work may have enriched your life, but let’s not forget that — just like the characters he created — Stan Lieber had flaws. He was not a perfect man and he was capable of doing some bad things. Mourn his loss, by all means, but just don’t make him out to be a saint because he wasn’t. Also, learn to deal with loss. If you’re getting this upset over a 95 year old man that you did not know, then I’d hate to see what kind of god awful mess you’d become when someone important to your life actually dies.