Yesterday afternoon, superhero fans everywhere received the grim news that Stan Lee, creator of many iconic superheroes, passed away at the age of 95.
Lee’s presence in the universe of Marvel comics was substantial. His career began in 1939 when he began working at Timely Comics which would, although without the help of a radioactive spider, become Marvel Comics. Working alongside many artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Lee was responsible for the creation and co-creation of countless superheroes that fans everywhere have grown to love. Such characters include Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Black Panther, Daredevil and countless more.
Unlike DC comics, whose superheroes were often routine and quite serious during the early ‘60s, Lee ushered in a new era for comic books with colorful and fallible characters that readers could easily relate to. Superheroes like Spider-Man taught audiences that a web-slinging and crime-fighting wisecracker was just as prone to bullying, difficulty talking to girls, serious debt and some pretty harsh bosses.
This new wave of flawed characters was later coined the “Marvel revolution.” Lee would consistently create characters who evolved with and touched upon issues of the time period. During the civil rights movement of the ‘60s came Black Panther, the first black superhero in mainstream comics. The X-Men were also created in the ‘60s. The diverse group of mutants constantly battled evil with their superpowers but still faced prejudice and racism for being different from the rest of society. It was obvious that Lee was an advocate for comics providing some sort of social commentary. This is even seen in later copies of Spider-Man that commented on popular topics of the time like the Vietnam War, student activism and substance abuse.
It was not long until Lee’s characters would be lifted off the page and brought to life on the big screen. Every Marvel fan paid particularly close attention to each new film as Lee was known to have an amusing cameo throughout them all. Many millennials probably grew up watching Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man” (2002) and later saw the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with “Iron Man” (2008). The MCU is, to put it simply, a vast one. Over the past 10 years, the MCU has introduced a diverse cast of heroes to Hollywood which has spanned over 20 films and 11 shows.
Lee’s work not only helped build a company from the ground up, but it’s become an important part of pop culture worldwide. It has spawned role models for audiences of all of backgrounds. His work has inspired many to contribute to and interpret his characters in their own way, from dressing up as characters at conventions to adding to an ever-growing collection of fan art.
The legendary Lee not only leaves behind a legacy, but a modern mythology that will be passed down for generations to come.
In “Spider-Man 3” (2007), Lee makes a memorable cameo in which his character briefly speaks to Maguire’s Peter Parker:
“You know, I guess one person can make a difference,” he said.