Mirror Mirror - 2018


Being “Different” is My Superpower

By Jennifer Allen

“America is made of different races and different religions, but we're all co-travelers on the spaceship Earth and must respect and help each other along the way." ~ Stan Lee

On November 12, 2018 many people in the world were suddenly sitting in silence. While the day was an observed celebration and remembrance of Veterans, it was also the day that we all learned that Stan Lee, one of the co-founders of Marvel Comics and co-creator of so many memorable comic book characters… had died at the age of 95.

Even to those who are not comic book fans, his name is fairly well known. For many years he was as well-known with the Marvel brand as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and many other characters. When you saw something from Marvel Comics, Stan “The Man" Lee was always involved in one form or another. He was the face of comic books, and he enjoyed every moment of it.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to see Mr. Lee at DragonCon in 2017. Before he came out we were told by the Emcee not to talk about his wife (they were married for an astonishing 69 years) since her passing had only been a few months earlier. Luckily everyone at the panel understood and was respectful with the questions ranging from what inspired him to start doing comic books to how much he enjoyed doing the movie cameos. We could tell when he was on stage that her passing was still on his mind, but he loved the fans almost as much as he loved her… and we all appreciated seeing him. Sadly we all didn't realize that this would be one of his very last convention appearances.

His cameo appearances in movies actually started as far back as 1989, but he'd been doing voiceover narration in the 1980's with Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. Over time, and as the Marvel movies began to gain popularity, it became a game of “Find Stan Lee" in each new release. He's not in every Marvel film, surprisingly. To date 15 films including the Fantastic Four and Blade films did not have a Stan Lee Moment. Due to his age, Disney was filming many of his cameos far in advance of the movie release, so the films coming out in 2019 will offer us all more moments from him to make us smile.

But let's back up and go over why Stan Lee was so special and became a Geek Icon. In the 1930's and 40's there were only a few comic book titles (or “funny books" as they were called back then) out there. You had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Shazam, and pre-Marvel Captain America. Stanley Lieber started out as an intern with Timely Comics in 1939 when he was only 17. Over the years at Timely he went from cleaning inkwells and sharpening pencils to writing filler pages. Finally in 1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left Timely as co-editors, and a 19 year-old Stanley (now using the pen name, “Stan Lee") was made a temporary editor to fill the void.

From 1942 to 1945, Lee would serve in the US Army's Signal Corps during World War II and then in the Training division where he wrote manuals and drew the occasional cartoon strip. Officially he was classified as a “playwright" while in the Service. Obviously he did so much more than that, but “inspirational artist" isn't something you'd say about an Army Man in those days.

By the early 1950's, superhero comics had hit a huge slump. They were originally written to inspire soldiers during the War, but now that all those soldiers were back home, heroes like Captain America and Superman had a much smaller audience. Stan was actually to the point of leaving his editor position at Timely (which eventually became Atlas comics and later he co-created Marvel). But because DC Comics was determined to revive superheroes, and Lee's boss, Martin Goodman, wanted to take advantage of what their competition DC was doing.

Goodman told Lee to create a new superhero team, and Lee's wife Joan told him to write these new characters the way he wanted. Soon after, the Fantastic Four was born and he (with co-creators such as Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Steve Ditko, and John Romita, Sr) brought the world such memorable characters as Hulk, Daredevil, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the X-Men.

So what did Stan Lee precisely do to make his comics so iconic? He was the first to include a “Dear Editor" page in each comic. He was the first to credit not only the writer and artist on the credit page, but also inker and letterer. He created “Stan's Soapbox" where he would write a short commentary about either the story in the book, or something going on in the current world climate.

Most importantly, Lee helped create superheroes that were flawed. They had problems just like us. Iron Man became an alcoholic. Spider-Man was evicted from his home. Many characters like members of the X-Men were so physically different that they couldn't ever go out in public. Others like The Hulk had powers that came at great cost. Marvel also had the first LBGTQ characters in comics. In the 1960's, Marvel heroes were there to personify how it feels to be “different" in a society that cannot accept it.

But Lee himself was in his own way just as flawed as his creations. Artists such as Kirby & Ditko left Marvel, and sold the rights to the characters they helped create upon their exits. Lee proceeded to claim he was the sole creator for many years, and the artists who helped birth these icons never received due compensation or acknowledgement. By the 1970's, Marvel was licensing out properties to TV which gave us shows like The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno. Sadly acknowledgment has only been reinstated for these artists within the last few years. Steve Ditko before his passing in early 2018 said he received absolutely no income from the Spider-Man films. Jack Kirby was forced to sign over any creative rights he had for Captain America just so he could remain an artist at Marvel. Lee (and the movie studios) eventually relented and have given proper acknowledgment to the co-creators.

Flawed or not, Stan Lee grew from a funny book intern to one of the most influential icons in recent memory. He gave us hope in a world where hatred makes us fearful of simply being who we are. We live in a world where being “different' should be celebrated instead of ostracized. Lee told us to celebrate our diversity, and to never be ashamed of that one little thing that gives us our own superpower.

Good bye, Mr. Lee and thank you. Excelsior...

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Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer & Graphic Artist.