Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee. 1922-2018


Stan Lee.

This one’s tough.

Years ago, it felt like heroes didn’t exist simply to be deconstructed by wiseacres. Ugly contradictions never got in the way of printing the legend. So, yes, there are some weird business moments, and yes, he might not have been as responsible for Marvel’s creations as we thought, and yes, he got smeared with the #MeToo brush during the last year of his life. If it makes some people feel good to fixate on those things, that’s their right. But as a True Believer, Stan Lee’s importance for me is as symbolic as his Mighty Marvel creations. These characters aren’t real, and that’s probably true for Media Stan. But their existence in media allows us to cite, cherish, and talk about values, aspirations, and points of mourning with a sexy exactitude that doesn’t exist as poignantly in real life.

Stan the Man is that adult we can all set our sights on becoming. You could not fault his storytelling integrity. Issues of atonement, irony, and perseverance through life’s barriers were center stage, backing up, of course, the starring duo of power and responsibility. That was his Yin and Yang, and a properly post-Oppenheimer one, at that. It gave Marvel a dominant, unified, thematic conscience. For all of the ambiguity that the heroes would face, they nevertheless did so with one, overriding, consistent ethos. And it came from the friendliest guy in show business rather than some drab, Debbie Downer. He combined a literary sense of character and tragicomedy with, well, people with wacky powers and funny outfits, and he reveled in the combination rather than apologizing for it. But… and this is crucial… that revelry was never too tongue-in-cheek. He made fun out of these things, but never made fun of them. Whether he created them all or not, they were his babies, and he shared the family album like a proud poppa, with rhetoric that was intensely inclusive. This sense of inclusivity is crucial. By presenting superheroes as misunderstood outsiders rather than lofty gods, he allowed readers to identify with the creations on a new and wondrous level. They might be able to lift a skyscraper, but their baggage was as unmanageable as ours. DC allowed us to dream, but it was the personal touch embodied in Stan that allowed us to dream and commiserate. He made us part of a larger, shared experience, and I can think of few other media moguls who did something as bold. It connected to our aspirations and our pain, and in him, it felt as if we knew someone who understood both and loved us anyway. The Marvel world was one of characters seeking connections and family, and in his asides and rhetoric, Stan Lee extended that to us.  

This helped to shape Todd Loren, the eventual publisher of Revolutionary Comics, so much that, as a youth, he caught a ticket to New York from Detroit and marched right up to the Marvel offices, expecting to find a bunch of pals sharing the creative process in a bullpen, just as they were depicted in comics. Secretaries called security, I believe. But he never stopped truthful believing. When we launched the non-musical, non-sports equivalent of Rock & Roll Comics, our Contemporary Bio-Graphics imprint, Stan Lee was our first subject. 

When we announced it at the SDCC that year, Marvel’s mucketymucks went ape. They threatened this and that. Then, Stan walked by. He heard what we were doing and was exactly as thrilled and ebullient about it as you’d expect. He couldn’t wait to finally be the star of his own comic book! I don’t know what he was like backstage, but the Stan I met is exactly the archetype you’d hope would walk by. He was the cool uncle telling the parents to take a powder while never losing the gleam in his eye. Yeah, Stan, a comic of your own. That’s what heroes deserve.

That shut ‘em up.

And that’s my own Stan Lee memory. Couldn’t ask for a better one.

Excelsior to you, sir.

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