Back when I was 11, I was a bit of a geek. I knew of Marvel Comics from one of my friends but nothing more than that. Suddenly, later that year, my friends started to egg me on to see a new movie called Iron Man. I eventually gave in and we went to see it. In the middle of the movie, Tony Stark mistakes a man for Hugh Hefner. At the time this completely blew over my head as I presumed it was some other famous person. However, after the movie my friends kept talking about this scene. Throwing around the word “cameo”. I didn’t really understand but then my friend explained to me that it was Stan Lee. A legendary name in this universe I had just been introduced to. Ten years later, as a bona fide Marvel geek, I am honoured to write a tribute to this forever great man.
Lee was born as Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 in New York City to his Romanian-born, Jewish immigrant parents, Celia and Jack Lieber. Stanley’s family struggled financially through the Great Depression. Despite the difficult circumstances, Stanley developed a love for the extraordinary by absorbing adventure novels, films, and William Shakespeare, who has always been included in Stanley’s list of favourite and most influential authors.
In 1939 with the help of family, Stanley got a job as an assistant at the new Timely Comic division of pulp magazine and the comic-book publisher Martin Goodman’s company. Starting off, Lee refilled inkwells, fetched food, did proofreading, and other menial tasks. His dream was to become a great novel writer. Pursuing these ambitions, Stanley made his writing debut with “Captain America: Foils the Traitor’s revenge”. This is the first time Stanley Lieber used the pseudonym Stan Lee. Later in life, Lee said this was because comic books had a low social status and he didn’t want his birth name associated with comics if he were to become a novel writer. However, he later legally changed his name to Stan Lee.
Two years later, Lee was no longer an assistant but a full writer in the company. After a year of internal power struggles, Lee was promoted to interim editor at 19. Showing his talent instantly, he remained as full editor-in-chief.
Over the next decade, the comic book industry collapsed as a moral panic led to the burning of comic books by churches and a federal investigation blaming comics for juvenile delinquency. It is claimed that Lee held the Timely, now known as Atlas Comics, together alone at his corner desk during this era. Lee once even held a meeting and advised his subordinates that they should seek work in other industries.
Then in 1961 everything changed. Lee saw the growing success of rival National Periodical Publications (the company that became DC Comics) and decided to rebrand, becoming Marvel Comics. Lee and Jack Kirby were tasked to come up with a superhero team. They delivered The Fantastic Four, which instantly rose to success, paving the way for the Marvel we know and love now.
Stan Lee’s superhero stories were very different to how most people perceived superheroes at the time. Companies like DC were writing god-like characters in fictional worlds, but Stan Lee changed that, writing his stories in the real world and giving the superheroes weaknesses and anxieties, treating their powers as more of a curse than a blessing. Lee co-created Spiderman, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, Ironman, Thor, and many other beloved characters. Lee took an industry that he personally considered to be of low social level and built it up into a billion-dollar industry it is today. Lee was the pioneer who made it all for Marvel.
From the 80s, Stan started making a huge push for the big screen for his comics in LA. Unexpectedly, Lee made his break in 1998 with Vampire Hunter Blade. Although this wasn’t his creation it paved the way for The Marvel Cinematic Universe we know today. Lee Started making cameos in the movies and became the pseudo Ambassador of Comics. Stan Lee was not just one of Marvel’s finest but also its face.
A quote from one of his own cameos is, “You know, I guess one person can make a difference. Nuff’ said”. Stan Lee, you are that one person. You will always be loved and missed. Every one of your cameos is a memorial to you and amazing accomplishments. Rest in peace Stan Lee.