LONDON: As I write this piece, much has already been said and written the world over about Stan Lee, the man – or one of them – who gave us some of the most recognised and loved names in the pantheon of superheroes.
From Spiderman to the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four to the X-Men, from Daredevil and Iron Man to Thor and Black Panther, the list of characters he helped create form the very foundation of Marvel Comics. Most of his creations have by now been adapted to several other forms of media, with film in the shape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe being the latest iteration.
However, for all his creative impact on the world’s imagination, it was not his writing prowess that set him apart from his contemporaries in the comic business and those that preceded or succeeded him. While his characters and their origins remain as iconic as ever, many a comic book fan who picks up Lee’s work now may deem it slightly cheesy at the very least.
In any case, avid comic book readers will acknowledge that the medium has moved from where it was when Lee actively wrote and that many of his own characters’ most iconic story arcs were the work of writers that came afterwards.
An aspect that is often cited as key to making Lee’s creations the icons that they are today was his focus on exploring the human side of superhuman characters. Be they heroes or villains, Lee focused more on how they related to the world rather than their powers.
The same, in one way, can be said of Lee himself and the place he holds in the hearts and minds of comic fans worldwide. Creativity and a knack for coming up with characters may have been Lee’s superpower, but Stan ‘The Man’ was as, if not arguably more, important than his creations.
For a generation that has grown up in the age of social media, sharing a direct line of communication with public personalities is something that can be taken for granted. But even when the Internet was not yet a thing, when celebrities were separated from the average person by an intangible yet impenetrable field, Lee managed to maintain the impression that you were always in communication with him.
In the comics he wrote, Lee would speak to the reader directly. But even as he became Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief and later, more of a ceremonial figurehead, he would maintain a regular direct line with his readers through a column published in every Marvel comic book.
Given how popular many comic book franchises and characters are nowadays, one can also overlook how lonely of an interest comic books were just a couple of decades ago.
Derided in the mainstream and by our parents and teachers – especially our parents and teachers – as juvenile and inane schlock, they were once a very guilty pleasure. Sure, people at large would recognise comic book characters from animated series running on various satellite channels and the assortment of colouring books, lunchboxes, school bags and what have you they adorned.
But to admit to being a comic book fan was to condemn oneself socially among one’s peers as a ‘geek’ or worse, a ‘child’. In Pakistan, comic books were an even more niche interest given how hard they were to come by before the advent of chain bookstores and CBR files.
With this background in mind, it is easy to see the impact Lee had by creating the impression that he was talking to you, the reader. He would refer to Marvel fans (and by extension comic fans) as ‘true believers’, convincing them that it was the rest of the world and not them that were fools.
Like Lee himself, the ‘true believers’ knew the potential of a world of superpowers and mythic tales they invested in. And time would prove both of them right, as Marvel Studios churns blockbuster after blockbuster based on a world Lee helped create.
In recent times, there has been much debate on Lee’s legacy and how much of a role he had in creating characters that are often solely attributed to him.
There is no doubt that the artists he worked with – like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – had as much, if not a bigger hand in creating characters like the Hulk, Spiderman and others. But there also can be no doubt that without Lee working as a tireless ambassador, the medium as whole would not be what it is today.
When I remember Stan Lee, now and forever, I remember him as a friend who gave me a sense of permanency when all else in life did not. He may not have known me, but I knew him as countless others do in all corners of the world.
Excelsior and nuff said, am I right Stan? May you live forever in Earth 616.
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