Samantha England, Staff Writer
It all began in the year 1939, when the man who would later change his name to Stan Lee was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics to fill inkwells for the artists, fetch their lunches, proofread their work, and remove the penciling from their finished works. Born Stanley Lieber, the comic master had the dream of becoming a writer since childhood, and his debut came in 1941 under the pseudonym “Stan Lee” in “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge,” the third issue in the “Captain America Comics” serial, as a text filler. He had been embarrassed, not wanting to associate his real name with the low social status that comic books had at the time. However, this didn’t stop him from chasing after his dream and his work only grew, co-creating characters such as the Destroyer from “Mystic Comics”, and Father Time in a later issue of “Captain America Comics.”
Later in 1941, when Joe Simon, editor for Timely, and his creative partner Jack Kirby left Timely, Lee was installed as the interim editor at the age of eighteen. Lee proved himself a natural to the work, and so Martin Goodman, owner of Timely Comics, kept him as editor-in-chief for the publishing company. The next year, however, Lee entered the United States Army as a member of the Signal Corps during World War II. The Signal Corps were men charged with replacing various communications equipment, including telegraph poles, but was later transferred to the Training Film Division where he wrote manuals and training films, and sometimes worked on cartooning. According to Lee, his military classification was “playwright,” and that only nine men in the U.S. Army had received the title. Lee returned to Timely Comics, though at the time was commonly known as Atlas Comics, at the end of his military service in 1945, taking back his former position with the publisher.
At the end of that decade, however, Lee found himself losing that passion he held for writing comics, and became dissatisfied with the work he had been putting out in various genres from romance to western to medieval adventure and even to horror. Filled with displease, he went so far as to even consider quitting the field of comic book writing. But late in the year 1950 would come what is now widely considered the “Marvel Revolution,” which revitalized Lee’s passion. Julius Schwartz, editor for DC Comics at this time, had brought new life into the superhero archetype. He brought in great success with an updated version of the superhero speedster the Flash and would later do the same with the prominent DC superhero team the Justice League of America. Lee’s wife, the British-American model and voice actress Joan Boocock, suggested that he write and experiment with stories he wanted to do, since he was planning on leaving after all and so had nothing to lose. Lee took this advice, and together with Jack Kirby at the request of Goodman, created the Fantastic Four.
Going from ideal to flawed, from perfect to naturalistic, Lee and Kirby brought a new kind of superhero to the comic book stage and it showed a massive and immediate success. The company now known as Marvel would find further success in the creation of the Hulk, Iron Man, X-Men, Doctor Strange, and all leading up to Marvel’s most successful character in Peter Parker the Amazing Spider-Man. With the creation of “The Avengers” superhero team, Lee and Kirby revitalized both new and old characters, which in turn further cemented the shared universe they and many others had created. The Marvel Revolution didn’t end there, however, as it spread beyond the pages of the comics to the readers. Lee encouraged communication between Marvel and its fans. It was his goal for fans to think of the creators of the comics they loved as friends. It was success to him when they would receive letters addressing the creators by their first name instead of “Dear Editor.” It was during this time he started using his most famous motto of “Excelsior!” on promotional copies of “Stan’s Soapbox,” his monthly column.
In the 1960’s, Lee perfected what was become coined as the “Marvel Method,” brainstorming an idea with the artist, preparing a brief synopsis, and letting the artist determine page count and the panel-to-panel storytelling. Afterwards, Lee would fill in the word balloons and captions, and oversee lettering and coloring. This method had been used by other comic studios before, but it was a method Lee perfected to great success and brought more of a collaboration between writer and artist in the comic book creation. This would last until 1972, after many more superhero creations and additions to the superhero archetype, when Lee would take over the company as Goodman’s successor and stopped writing monthly issues to fully adopt the role as publisher.
Stan Lee has done a lot for comics, from the encouragement to tackle social commentary, to the issues facing the representation of the LGBT community, and to indirectly influencing reformation of the Comics Code Authority to allow more content freedom for creators. However, one cannot write about Lee without mentioning the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Arguably his greatest legacy in film and the ultimate culmination of his work that was decades in the making, the MCU has broken box-office records, shattered expectations from “Iron Man” to “Avengers: Infinity War,” and redefined the potential of a massive film franchise with excellent adaptation work.
And so, Stan, you leave us at a time when many other unique stars of the brightest light are leaving us, among them David Bowie, Christopher Lee, Carrie Fisher, and so many others who help shaped our culture and defined what is means to be an individual with the drive to fulfill our dreams. Though our hearts are saddened with your passing, we can only say one thing: Excelsior!