Stan Lee: In Remembrance of the First Avenger
The day that I, and countless others, have been dreading has arrived. Stan Lee, legendary comic book writer, has passed away at the age of 95. He was a hero to many, not only because he created so many iconic heroes, but because he opened our imaginations and gave us someone to look up to, someone to aspire to be, and someone to admire. No, I'm not talking about Iron Man or Captain America. I'm talking about Stan the Man himself. He was a good, decent, kind, loving soul who had more heart than most and the world already seems a bit darker without him.
Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, was born in 1922 in Manhattan, New York City, New York to Romanian parents Celia and Jack. Jack was trained as a dress cutter but was only able to work occasionally after The Great Depression. Stan, his little brother Larry, and their parents moved around a few times, finally settling in an apartment in The Bronx. Stan and his brother had to share the only bedroom while their parents slept on a foldout couch.
Even from an early age, Stan loved to write. He dreamed of one day writing "The Great American Novel". Because of his passion, he took part-time jobs such as writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. He also had a job with Jack May pharmacy, delivering sandwiches to offices in the Rockefeller Center. Later in his teens, he became a glorified receptionist for a trouser manufacturer, became an usher at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway, and sold subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. There's not much the man didn't do. Despite all of his jobs and duties, Stan graduated from high school early at the age of 16. It was 1939. Soon after, he joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project. What is that, you wonder? Well, it was a part of the New Deal program instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt which basically provided funding to theatre and live artistic performances.
That same year, with the help of good ol' Uncle Robbie, Stan became an assistant at Timely Comics, a division of Martin Goodman's company Timely, which was a pulp magazine and comic-book publishing company. Stan once recalled having to keep inkwells refilled for artists because, in those days, artists had to dip their pens in the ink in order to write and draw. Stan was also a proofreader and division-wide assistant.
In 1941, Stan shortened his last name to Lee, taking on the pseudonym Stan Lee as he wrote his very first comic titled Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge. The reason why he used a pen name was because, at the time, he was embarrassed to be writing comics. You have to understand, in those days, comics signified low social status. Only the poor kids read them. Over time he realized that what he was providing was entertainment and an escape from the harshness of the world. He realized that writing comics was a wonderful thing and helped a lot of people. Later in the year (1941), Stan graduated from writing filler stories to real full-length comics. His first co-creation was The Destroyer.
When Jack Kirby left the Goodman company, Stan was just under 19 years old and promoted to interim editor. He remained as the company's editor-in-chief as well as art director.
Stan entered the US Army in early 1942, serving as a member of the Signal Corps. He and his unit repaired telegraph poles and other communications equipment. Later, he was transferred to the Training Film Division where he wrote manuals, training films, slogans, and also dabbled in the occasional cartooning. He was one of only nine men in the entire army to hold the title playwright.
Vincent Fargo filled in until Stan returned home in 1945. Stan married Joan Boocock in 1947 and, in 1949, they bought a house in Woodmere on Long Island. Their daughter Joan Celia "JC" Lee was born in 1950. They tried for another child but, sadly, she passed away three days after delivery in 1953.
A few years later, Timely Comics had evolved into Atlas Comics. Stan began writing stories in a variety of genres including romance, westerns, comedy, and even horror. He and colleague Dan DeCarlo produced the comic strip My Friend Irma for the newspaper, which was based on the radio comedy starring Marie Wilson. Stan considered quitting by the time the 50s were coming to a close after having become dissatisfied with his career. Fate, however, had other plans as Goodman's Atlas Comics evolved into Marvel Comics.
DC Comics had revived the superhero genre, updating characters such as The Flash and also creating the Justice League of America. Goodman assigned Stan the task of inventing a superhero team of their own that could rival DC. His wife Joan suggested he had nothing to lose and urged him to try it out. Stan decided that, instead of making superheroes these flawless, larger than life personalities, he'd give them a sort of flawed humanity. He wanted his heroes to be imperfect people to show that you can be a hero even with your faults. He wanted them to be human, not god-like. Stan teamed up with Jack Kirby, creating the Fantastic Four which was loosely based on DC's team Challengers of the Unknown. The Fantastic Four gained immediate popularity, causing Stan and Jack to continue their work, creating such characters as Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man. Stan pretty soon had a team comprised of himself, Jack, Bill Everett, and Steve Ditko. They made sure their characters lived in a shared universe, eventually assembling the team known as The Avengers, also reviving characters from the 40s such as Namor the Submariner and Captain America.
Stan didn't just revolutionize the superhero genre, he engaged the readers and built a kind of community with the fans. Stan was the one who introduced the "splash page", which named the writer, penciller, inker, and letterer. Stan started a newsletter which was printed in the back of the comics that updated readers on what was going on with the Marvel staff and gave them teases for upcoming storylines. Pretty soon, fans wrote in, replacing the formal "Dear Editor" with "Dear Stan and Jack".
Throughout the 60s, Stan scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel's series and started a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox". He even began signing New York's State motto (and his own personal motto) "Excelsior" under his name. Because Stan started having so many new ideas, he developed what's now known as "The Marvel Method". Basically, he'd write out a synopsis of what he wanted to happen then let the artists do their work and improv a bit. After the artist turned in the pages, Stan would write in the word balloons and captions and make sure the lettering and coloring were all up to par.
In 1969, the first black superhero was created in Captain America issue 117. Who, you ask? None other than Cap's good buddy Falcon. In 1971, Stan reformed the Comics Code unintentionally. He had been asked by the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to come up with a story warning kids about the dangers of drugs. Stan conceived a three-issue plot in The Amazing Spider-Man in which Peter's best friend becomes addicted to prescription drugs. The Comics Code refused to give Marvel their seal of approval but Marvel published the comics anyway. With Goodman's cooperation and the government's request backing them up, the CCA loosened their code a bit. The comics sold well and Marvel was praised for their socially conscientiousness. Stan began using comics to battle racism and discrimination. In 1972, Stan stopped writing monthly comics in order to become Marvel's publisher.
For the next 46 years, Stan Lee would be the face of Marvel, making appearances at comic cons, lecturing at colleges, and participating in panel discussions. Stan moved to California in 1981 to begin developing Marvel's TV and movie properties. He's made fervent cameo appearances in both television shows and films and never stopped loving his fans.
The Stan Lee Foundation was founded in 2010 to focus on literacy, education, and the arts.
In 2017, Stan's wife Joan died of a stroke at the age of 95. After her passing, Stan became the victim of elder abuse, his business manager apparently isolating Lee from his friends and associates in order to get at his wealth. In 2018, the manager was given a restraining order to stay away from Stan, his daughter, and his associates for three years' time.
On November 12, 2018, Stan died at the age of 95. Stan never stopped loving his fans and, according to friend Roy Thomas, was talking about doing more cameos just two days before his death. Roy said he seemed ready to go, but also wanted to do more for his fans. The man had a heart that cannot be matched.
In conclusion, Stan had a good life and provided a service to us. Even if you aren't a comic fan, chances are you have a friend who is and maybe one day your kid may be. It's important they know where it all started. As we go into 2019, anticipating Captain Marvel, Avengers 4, and Spider-Man: Far From Home, we can thank Stan for all of his hard work and infinite imagination. It will be sad to eventually see a Marvel film without a Stan Lee cameo, but we can smile knowing that he will still be a part of our lives.
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© 2018 Nathan Jasper