NOTE FROM LB: For all practical purposes, today is TVWriter™ Stan Lee Remembrance Day. I don’t have my act together enough to write my own memories of Stan the Man or go into why I believe he’s one of the most important figures in world culture today, but, fortunately, many other people do. For example:
Growing up as a kid in the 1970s, Stan Lee’s name was in every Marvel comic book I pulled off the Spinner Rack. “Stan Lee Presents…” was at the forefront of every dynamic splash page that opened any Marvel publication. He was a larger-than-life presence, his image drawn into the actual comics, and at times, as a caricature illustrated atop the masthead of his popular “Stan’s Soapbox,” where he wrote about a wide variety of topics outside of comics. Regularly featured in the back pages, Stan’s Soapbox exposed us to his unique voice and personality, inviting us into his personal views on everything from bigotry to racial division. Simply put, he was the personality behind it all. Stan Lee was Marvel Comics. Period.
The comics Stan created with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were my favorites and they are the twin pillars that Marvel was built upon. Stan’s tenures on “Spider-Man” and “The Fantastic Four” are two of the greatest, most legendary and most influential in the history of the art form. No matter how big and cosmic the threat our heroes faced, the personal matters were what drove our interest in these characters. Ben Grimm’s torment over his personal appearance as the Thing, or Peter Parker’s concern over the health of his Aunt May, were the aspects of Stan’s characters that made them so relatable. This was what set Stan Lee and Marvel apart from everything else. The industry has been playing catch-up ever since.
Stan would often talk of Shakespeare and explain how comics represented a form of literature equally important to kids as classic plays and sonnets. How many of us found our vocabulary expanded as a result of Stan’s scripts and dialogue? In school, I got my highest marks in English, and I knew it was a direct result of Stan’s writing. How many others can say the same? I repeatedly investigated what a “Hoary Host” could be, or what exactly an “Insolent Mortal” consisted of. Don’t even get me started on the Ultimate Nullifier. Thank you for pushing the boundaries of my youthful learning, Stan. Those hard-fought battles with educators and libraries to carry the Marvel collections yielded countless dividends.
As a child obsessed with all things Marvel, I sat on the edge of my seat as the cartoons and live-action television series started to dominate the air waves. Saturday mornings were filled with Marvel superheroes: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Woman — even the Thing received his own animated show. On the live-action front, “Spider-Man” on CBS was a big deal if you were a 10-year-old. To my young eyes, it was an absolute thrill seeing my favorite character leap from page to screen. Then “The Incredible Hulk” launched on Friday nights, also on CBS. It was appointment television for everyone my age. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno were immortalized by that show. I see it on the convention circuit as men my age melt over Lou and pour out their affections over their childhood memories of the series.
This was all by Stan’s brilliant design. You see, having conquered the world of publishing, he was not content to simply tower over the comic book industry from his office high above Manhattan. He felt that Marvel’s characters would best be served on stage and screen, so he headed west to start that process. He even informed us of this fact via Stan’s Soapbox, including us, the readers, in his quest. Within a relatively short period of time, those fruits came to bear. “The Incredible Hulk” was the most successful of those early Hollywood attempts, and Stan would continue to work tirelessly to bring the Marvel universe to life in film throughout the following decades. No matter the benchmark, Stan was never satisfied. It’s what pushed him and it was absolutely infectious. There was always another mountain to scale, another territory to conquer. He was tireless in his efforts….