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On November 12th 2018 Stan Lee died due to pneumonia at age 95. Husband to Joan Lee. Father to two children, Joan Celia Lee and Jan Lee. Stan was known as a man with much charisma that touched the hearts of many across the world. Stan Lee was known as a creative genius, writing comics until his passing. Most notably, Stan was the father, if you will, to the Marvel Comics we all know and come to love. His comic books transcended generations starting in 1961 when he created the memorable Fantastic Four and went on to create other superheroes such as: Spiderman and The Hulk.
While Stan Lee’s career began quite simply with ink and paper, it quickly evolved into greatness, as we marvel today at the superhero empire he built.
Stan was a man of great vision who expressed himself and the social times he lived in through his art. His first break arriving in 1941 was when he published a two-page comic with the superhero Captain America.
Captain America’s duty was to ensure the ideals of a free democracy, fighting against blinding hate and defending the ideas of freedom. Captain America would later go on to fight the Nazis in one of the many stories written. Stan’s comics subtly introduced the themes of World War II to children at the time, providing them a noble figure to cheer for and educating them on the importance of freedom.
In 1963, The X-Men was created. The vivid cartoon focused on the theme of men and women, boys and girls, being persecuted for having superpowers acquired through a genetic disorder in their DNA enabling them to do extraordinary things.
It focused on the theme of persecuting those who were different and did not fit in with the comforting conventional ideas of sameness. This group of genetically enhanced beings would come to learn how to harness the powers they possessed through their differences and protect those who abhorred them. Together they formed an unbeatable force known as the X-Men. Stan resonated the civil rights movement through this very comic educating children and even adults on the importance of unity through dissimilarity. He conveyed the idea, through the words of the character Professor Charles Xavier, that what makes humans beautiful is difference itself, a concept we still struggle with today.
In 1966 Stan and his partner Jack Kirby went even beyond the implicit civil rights themes of X-Men and created the now highly publicized Black Panther. Household names highlighting civil rights leaders in the 60s such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X now had a new member among their ranks expressed through Stan’s art known as King T’Challa or the Black Panther; the first superhero of African descent to be published. Through an era of ideological wars in which powerful nations scavenged poorer nations for their natural resources and control of their governments, there was the Black Panther, protecting the fictional African nation of Wakanda and its people from the greedy hands of the world’s superpowers.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that drugs were America’s number one enemy. Stan was asked to include a small anti-drug message in his comics, but small is a word that can never describe the likes of Stan Lee. Instead, he decided to write a story in which Spider-Man’s best friend, Harry, became addicted to prescription pills after a bad break-up. Spiderman would help fight his best friend’s addiction by revealing Harry’s addiction to the Green Goblin, Harry’s father. The story conveyed the message that sometimes some things are outside the grips of superheroes and appealing for help to save a loved one, leaving pride aside, is what truly defines a superhero. While the story encompassed a clear anti-drug message, censorship soon fell like an anvil, but just like The Hulk, that anvil was pushed aside and the comic was published anyway and became one of the most sold Spider-Man editions to this day.
Stan Lee’s comics were humanized. He gave teenage characters acne and superhero roles rather than just sidekick roles. He created superheroes like Spider-Man that not only had brawn but also brains. Stan also showed that even superheroes have problems, as Spider-Man struggles with family, school, and relationships, something every teenager can relate to.
Stan’s social justice-fighting nature can be seen through the many stories he has written in his comic books. It inspires everyone and proves that there are numerous ways to evoke change and express a message of betterment. For Stan, it was through his vivacious comic book superheroes, recognized now for over 60 years. Stan’s high caliber as a comic book writer has been known for decades but was officially recognized in 2008 as the recipient of The American National Medal of The Arts, the only comic book writer to be bestowed with the honor in American history.
If there is one word to eulogize Stan Lee it would be his catchphrase Excelsior which means forever upward. Stan’s comics represent the very nature of the word excelsior by pushing forever beyond the boundaries of social stigma. Although we say goodbye to Stan today his legacy remains excelsior.
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