A Marvel Of A Man: Stan Lee Dead At 95

Nov 12, 2018
Originally published on November 12, 2018 8:23 pm

American comic book writer, editor, publisher and former President of Marvel Comics Stan Lee died Monday at the age of 95.

Lee gave us over six decades of work like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man — superheroes we could identify with, characters that allowed us to suspend our disbelief because they reacted to bizarre situations like you or I might.

In a 1998 interview, Lee told me, "Before Marvel started, any superhero might be walking down the street and see a 12-foot-tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and eight arms breathing fire, and the character would have said something like, 'Oh! There's a monster from another world; I better catch him before he destroys the city.' Now, if one of our Marvel characters saw the same monster, I'd like to think Spider-Man would say, 'Who's the nut in the Halloween get-up? I wonder what he's advertising?' "

Robert Scott, owner of Comickaze, a San Diego comic-book store, says Lee put the human in superhuman.

"He would talk about prejudice, racism," Scott says. "I mean the X-Men, here was a group of people who were only trying to do good things and only trying to help and they were constantly ostracized by being mutants."

For Lee, having compelling, thought-provoking subject matter was crucial to his business.

"The person viewing the cartoon or reading the book should have something to think about, not just look at mindless pages of running around," Lee said.

Born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922, he took the pseudonym Stan Lee to save his real name for more literary pursuits. But those pursuits never came. Instead, Lee devoted more than six decades to the comics industry, co-creating Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man and Daredevil. In 1970, he successfully challenged the restrictive Comics Code Authority with a story about drug abuse in Spider-Man.

But Lee also injected a sense of self-doubt in his characters.

"That was the revolution that Stan Lee did," says David Goyer, who adapted the Marvel character Blade for the screen. "He was the first one to create, with Spider-Man, superheroes who doubted themselves, who were tormented, who were unhappy."

The increased complexity of Marvel's characters broadened their appeal to older audiences. Lee, always a savvy businessman, spearheaded the expansion of Marvel Comics from a division within a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.

Lee's larger vision was to create a shared Marvel universe in which characters from one series would cross over into another. He cited one example at a 2008 fan convention: "There was one I loved, I think it was the Fantastic Four, and they were at a ballgame at Yankee Stadium and there were a lot of press photographers there. So I told [comic book artist] Jack Kirby to draw Peter Parker in the background with a camera. And we made no mention of it, he was just in the panel, and we got about a million letters saying, 'We saw Peter Parker at the game. That's terrific.' And it made it seem like these were real characters who live in the same world and occasionally they get together. And that was something I got a big kick out of."

Lee built a sense of community between fans and creators. He engaged readers through his column, Stan's Soapbox, and often signed off his letters to fans with the catchphrase " 'Nuff said." And he became as recognizable as his superheroes through his many cameos on TV and in movies.

After entering the comics industry as a teenager and helping the medium to mature and expand, Lee's impact on comics was recognized with numerous awards including the American National Medal of Arts in 2008.

By giving us superheroes that proved all too human, Lee has ensured himself a permanent place in pop culture.

'Nuff said.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A man who helped create modern comics, Stan Lee, died today. He was 95 years old. He leaves behind such memorable characters as the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and Black Panther.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER")

SHAPIRO: From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando has this appreciation.

BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: Stan Lee gave us superheroes we could identify with, characters who allowed us to suspend our disbelief because they reacted as you or I might or like Tony Stark.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR")

ROBERT DOWNEY JR: (As Tony Stark) OK, anybody on our side hiding any shocking and fantastic abilities they'd like to disclose? I'm open to suggestions.

ACCOMANDO: Here's Stan Lee in a 1998 interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STAN LEE: Before Marvel started, any superhero might be walking down the street and see a 12-foot-tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and a tail and eight arms breathing fire. And the character would have said something like, oh, there's a monster from another world. I'd better catch him before he destroys the city. Now, if one of our Marvel characters saw the same monster, I would like to think Spider-Man would say, who's the nut in the Halloween get-up? I wonder what he's advertising.

ACCOMANDO: Robert Scott runs the San Diego store Comickaze Comics, Books & More and grew up with Lee's creations.

ROBERT SCOTT: He would talk about prejudice, racism. I mean, the X-Men - here was a group of people who were only trying to do good things. They were only trying to help. And they were constantly ostracized by being mutants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE: But, you see; I think that's important. The person viewing the cartoon or reading the book should have something to think about, not just look at mindless pages of running around.

ACCOMANDO: Born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922, he took the pseudonym Stan Lee because he wanted to save his real name for more literary pursuits. But those works never came. Instead Lee devoted more than seven decades to the comics industry. During that time, Lee partnered with Jack Kirby to create the "Fantastic Four," the "X-Men" and "The Incredible Hulk."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE AVENGERS")

MARK RUFFALO: (As Bruce Banner) That's my secret, Captain. I'm always angry.

ACCOMANDO: He also worked with Steve Ditko to give us "Spider-Man" and "Doctor Strange."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Doctor Strange) It is Doctor Strange - not Master Strange, not Mr. Strange - Doctor Strange. And when I became a doctor, I swore an oath to do no harm, and I have just killed a man. I'm not doing that again.

ACCOMANDO: Lee successfully challenged the restrictive Comics Code Authority and helped usher in the first black superhero in mainstream American comics with "Black Panther." Many of Lee's creations found their way into the movies. David Goyer was the first to bring a Marvel black superhero to the screen with "Blade." He appreciates the revolution Lee brought to comics in the 1960s and '70s.

DAVID GOYER: He was the first one to create with "Spider-Man" superheroes who doubted themselves, who were tormented, who were unhappy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN")

TOBEY MAGUIRE: (As Peter Parker) Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words. With great power comes great responsibility.

ACCOMANDO: Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker in the 2002 film "Spider-Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN")

MAGUIRE: (As Peter Parker) Who am I? I'm Spider-Man.

ACCOMANDO: Lee was a savvy businessman. He transformed Marvel Comics into Marvel Entertainment, a massive multimedia corporation that produces books, TV shows, video games, digital comics and movies. He built a sense of community between fans and creators. He engaged readers through his column "Stan's Soapbox" and often signed off on his letters to fans with the catchphrase 'nuff said or...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE: Excelsior.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

ACCOMANDO: Lee became as recognizable as his superheroes with his many cameos on TV and in movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2")

LEE: (As character) Hey, wait. Where are you going? Hey, you were supposed to be my lift home. How will I get out of here? Hey, oh, gee, I've got so many more stories to tell.

ACCOMANDO: And they'll continue to be told through Stan Lee's characters - 'nuff said. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPIDER-MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Spider-Man, Spider-Man does whatever a spider can, spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies. Look out. Here comes the Spider-Man. Is he strong? Listen, bud. He's got radioactive blood. Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead. Hey, there. There goes the Spider-Man. In the chill of the night at the scene of a crime, like a streak of light, he arrives just in time. Spider-Man, Spider-Man... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.