Uncle Geekly was remiss with not publishing a write-up for the late, great Stan Lee a few months ago, but that may be because it’s difficult to boil such an uncanny comic book giant with a small write-up. Ergo, a 3 Lists of 3 may be in order.
But Stan Lee is only as human as the characters he helped bring to life, so one of the following lists may cite some issues fans had with his work or more specifically, the assigning of credit. Even with his faults, Stan “The Man” did more good than most comic book creators. The world lost a legend.
There’s a tale of Stan Lee’s—it may be a legend by now—that goes like this. Before the dawn of the Marvel Age (when the Fantastic Four first launched) Stan was frustrated with writing the same thing. He told his wife Joan he’d quit, so he could write the stories he wanted to write. Joan responded to Stan that if he wanted to quit, why not write the stories you want to write in comics? If you fail, you wanted to quit anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Stan did what his wife suggested, and the results were character-driven stories that showed superheroes as flawed people. The Fantastic Four fought like any family. Johnny Storm was a hot-head (I’m sure the pun was intended), Peter Parker struggled with most everything (money, school, and getting picked on), and Hulk has anger issues. What made these heroes great was that they had to overcome their shortcomings.
Some of the great comic book characters of the time dabbled with this concept, but Stan Lee made it a point that all his characters would have flaws. A character’s flaws and the conflicts that ensue are what makes a character interesting. Look no further than “This Man, This Monster” where The Thing must make the choice to be The Thing in order to save his friends and family.
Relatable characters existed in comics before the Marvel Age, but Stan Lee’s storytelling spark thrust them to the forefront.
Interacting with Fans
To call Stan Lee charismatic is an understatement. He acted as cheerleader for his characters as well as his fellow comic book creators, but he stood out equally with his interaction with fans. Stan Lee could give a master course in how to communicate with and respond to fanboys and fangirls.
If a fan caught an error on a page, they could write in and let Stan know. He’d write them a personal letter, complimenting their keen eye. The Marvel No Prize offered no monetary reward, but there are some folks who hold onto their letters today and treasure them. Stan also had his “Soapbox” where he’d tackle issues and concerns fans had with their favorite characters or in their personal lives. He comforted those whose family members went to Vietnam. And just two or three weeks before he passed, Stan posted a video about how fans shouldn’t worry about his health. His left hand is doing okay, but he’s worried about his other hand. That’s when he unveils a toy Hulk fist on his right hand.
He was a joy to the end.
An Epic Story
Stan Lee had a great sense of scope and grandeur. Comic book stories rarely went beyond a single issue, but Stan, along with his bullpen, stretched them to multiple issues. I’m not sure if Stan could envision the twelve issue plus story arcs that came decades after the Marvel Age, but he and Jack Kirby were trailblazers with the original story of Galactus.
Fantastic Four’s “Galactus Trilogy” spanned three issues and if it wasn’t for Stan revitalizing the industry, he wouldn’t have been given the latitude to make something that was “supposed” to be a single issue and give it more weight. The “Galactus Trilogy’s” success led to other comic book companies and other mediums to question preconceived notions for their art.
Controversies and Personality Flaws
It’s that time where I cover some of the less tenable things in Stan Lee’s past. There aren’t that many because he’s a legend for a reason, but he did manage to rub some people the wrong way, so I’ll include them here to show another side of Stan Lee.
Credit Where Credit is Due
I hinted at this one already, but Stan Lee often received credit for single-handedly or predominately creating the Marvel Universe. That’s false. Stan Lee had plenty of help. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin, Joe Simon, Bill Everett, and even Stan’s brother Larry Lieber did a lot to shape Marvel’s stable of superheroes.
Many fans blamed Stan Lee for taking too much credit and that may hold some truth, but Stan’s fame may have come from needing to be the company’s front man, it’s icon. With Stan Lee as the face of the franchise, Marvel moved a lot of product.
Still, there’s a debate for who had more creative control. When Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby switched the titles they worked on (Ditko with Hulk; Kirby with Fantastic Four), to shake things up, the adventures in which the effected characters embarked changed to resemble the artist’s vision. If Stan Lee was the only one responsible for the stories, that wouldn’t have happened.
A Shameless Self-Promoter
Have I said how charismatic Stan Lee was and how communicative he was with his fans? Well, he was, and some critics viewed his loquaciousness as shameless self-promotion or even arrogance.
There’s a good chance he was to some degree—aren’t we all at times?—but Stan Lee promoted everyone and everything. He could’ve named Hulk, The Hulk, but he had to be “The Incredible Hulk.” Spider-Man wasn’t just Spider-Man, he was “The Amazing Spider-Man.” So, Jack Kirby wasn’t just Jack Kirby, he was Jack “The King” Kirby because even Stan knew how influential Kirby was, even if some fans didn’t.
Here are some of my other favorite names Stan gave the Marvel Bullpen:
Gil “Sugar” Kane
“Gorgeous” George Perez
“Roisterous” Ralph Reese
“Nefarious” Neal Adams
Steve “The Angry Man” Ditko
“Jocular” John Byrne
“Arachnerd” Jim Salicrup
And yes, Jim Salicrup worked a lot on Spider-Man; I’d love a nickname like “Arachnerd.”
He Left Comics for Hollywood
To be honest, I don’t qualify this one as a personality flaw or a controversy. I had to include it because when Stan Lee moved to Hollywood in the 1980s to start Marvel’s cinematic wing, many fans questioned his love for the medium that made him famous.
That’s crap. By the 1980s, Stan Lee had been working on comics for around forty years, and most people retire at that point in their careers. Stan Lee didn’t retire. He began what he thought would make Marvel omnipresent: a movie empire. While he didn’t succeed as much as he wanted to then (mostly TV shows, cartoons, and made-for-TV movies), Stan Lee was right in accessing that cinema would eventually make Marvel one of the hottest brands on the planet.
I’ve used the term icon and giant to describe Stan Lee, but let’s throw in ambassador of comics to mix. Stan Lee promoted comic books his entire life. Even though it may not have been what he wanted to do with his career (he wanted to write novels), he made the art form his own. He empowered others to pursue it as a legitimate career path. He, along with others, put comic books on the map.
Thank goodness we have all those Stan Lee cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each one shows how loose, carefree, and fun Stan Lee was. He never took himself too seriously. There may be a lesson there.
His Stories and Some Quotes
Here are some of my favorite Stan Lee stories, in no particular order, that may be worth checking out:
“The Galactus Trilogy” Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #48-50
“This Man, This Monster” Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #51
“If This Be My Destiny” Amazing Spider-Man #31-33
“How Green Was My Goblin” Amazing Spider-Man #39-40
“Spider-Man No More” Amazing Spider-Man #50
“Captain America Joins…The Avengers” Avengers #4
The Incredible Hulk Vol. 1 #1-6
This one comes with a caveat; The Hulk didn’t take off as well as Marvel would’ve liked, but one can see Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at the drawing board with each issue, reworking the character so he could work.
“The Eternity Saga” Strange Tales #130-146
And some quotes:
“Forced idleness is a terrible thing.”
“The only advice anybody can give is if you want to be a writer, keep writing. And read all you can, read everything.”
“The pleasure of reading a story and wondering what will come next for the hero is a pleasure that has lasted for centuries and, I think, will always be with us.”
“Face front, true believers.”
“With great power comes great responsibility.”