Even if one has never been a fan of superhero comics, names like Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Silver Surfer and -of course- Spiderman, certainly ring a bell. Many of the beloved superheroes from the late 1960s are the brainchild of comic book writer Stan Lee.
The American editor, publisher and creator was born in 1922 in Manhattan, New York, to parents of Romanian-Jewish descent. Stan Lee (full name: Stanley Martin Lieber) did not have the richest childhood, one might say. Nor did success knock on his door overnight, clearly, as in his early teenage years he held various jobs, including writing obituaries and sending out press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. After completing his high school studies at the age of 16, Lieber joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project (in 1939). Right after, he secured a job as an editorial assistant at Timely Comics where some years later, in 1942, he earned a promotion to editor.
During the decades of 1940 and 1950 Lee created many of his first comic-series, like Jack Frost and Black Marvel with his small artistic team, then named Atlas. On top of that, a milestone in his life was the fact that Lee was the first to establish superhero collectives. You know them and you love them. His creations include the Fantastic Four (co-created by Jack Kirby), the X-Men (co-created by Jack Kirby) and the Avengers. After creating the first superhero collective in the early 60s, the partners joined the comic book world for good and simultaneously renamed their group Marvel. In 1972 Lee became publisher and editorial director of the group. Since then, he has not only been one of the best known artists in his field, but has lived to see his works become big screen giants, video games and children's toys with him making guest appearances in both comic books and his heroes' films.
But what was so special about these heroes? In the 1960s he actively came to change the norms of superhero comics that had been in place for about 30 years. The invincible and self-righteous heroes with the highest sense of justice changed, according to the dictates of the times. Stan Lee's main concern and ideological basis in his works was the creation of human characters. This means that characters have passions and make mistakes. Even the heroes cry and are divided. A key example is the scene in the comic where Parker as Spider-Man cries and mutters the famous line, "With great power comes great responsibility".
Many of Stan Lee's characters, in fact, are victims and found themselves in the superhero's position against their will. The X-Men are mutants, Spider-Man was "born" because of being bitten by a radioactive spider, the Hulk is the result of exposure to dangerous rays, and the stories multiply and complicate.
Reading through the comics he has written, it is easy to notice the social message the artist is trying to get across, as well as the criticisms Lee makes through his historical (and beloved) creations. His heroes are victims of racism, marginalized and condemned for their differences. This could well be analysed as social allegory.
Until shortly before his death (in 2018) he was an active personality in the world of comics. Throughout his lengthy life, Stan Lee appeared on almost every modern-day platform or medium imaginable, including films, television, radio, video games, books, magazines, newspapers, digital media, and naturally, comic books. Decades ago, he was one of the most influential modern artists and continues being an inspiration even after his death.
-The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2018). Stan Lee | Biography, Comics, Characters, & Facts. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Stan-Lee.
-The Real Stan Lee. (2018). The Real Stan Lee. [online] Available at: https://therealstanlee.com/.
-Wikipedia Contributors (2018). Stan Lee. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Lee [Accessed 29 Nov. 2018]