Whether you’re a comics fan or merely a filmgoer, prefer DC or Marvel, Stan Lee’s influence on the world of superheroes has shaped what we now know it to be. His approach to the superhero genre was innovative and new, and with his first major creation, The Fantastic Four, the brave defenders of our world were given complex lives rather than simply bad guys to punch in the face. His heroes were, largely, everyday people, they struggled with day to day life and still donned a suit at night to save the world.
Asked to breathe new life into Marvel Comics by Martin Goodman, alongside the likes of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created some of the most iconic superheroes we know to this day, the most successful being Spider-Man. Together, they revolutionised Marvel Comics in the 60s and 70s (of course coming to shape the likes of DC, Image, Dark Horse and so on), the writing was more natural and their superheroes became believable people with everyday problems.
Speaking of Spider-Man, and other of his costumed heroes, Stan Lee noted the magic this
could inspire. Under the costume, Spider-Man could be anyone, and thus every child could imagine themselves swinging web-to-web as they save New York from Doctor Octopus’ nefarious plans. Every child could believe that, if lucky enough, they might get bitten by a radioactive spider and grow up to be the superhero they admired – is there anything more magical? Furthering this was his creation The X-Men, a beautiful team of mutant misfits that acted as a metaphor for every minority and marginalised group. Stan Lee taught his readers, taught children, not only to imagine themselves as heroes and defenders, but to be accepting, to fight prejudice. Comics were not simply entertainment (is there such thing?), but a moral message whereby the superhero seeks to be the best person they can and inspire others to follow suit.
His legacy is one that will be felt throughout the comics, and as tributes pour out from the likes of Frank Miller, Tom King, Mike Mignola and more, it is clear he will continue to influence how every writer approaches their characters. Brad Meltzer (Green Arrow, Identity Crisis, etc) spoke of Stan Lee as someone who inspired not only his writing, but as someone who shaped his ‘belief system’ and ‘sense of responsibility’. In the Lee’s Soapbox section of his comics, he offered an editorial note to his readers, in one of which saying ‘a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul’. This message taught not only readers, but those who grew up to be writers to use their creativity for good and follow suit by integrating politics and art, as Stan Lee did.
Stan Lee, writer and revolutionary turned Chairman and Executive Producer of Marvel, continued to play a role in comics long after his official retirement. Be it through his involvement in the Marvel cinematic universe or his attendance at comic conventions long into his old age, Stan Lee gave his life to comics. The universe he created and the community he brought together will live on for long after his passing. So, whether you grew up dreaming of playing superhero, or simply recognise the man from his anticipated cameos in every Marvel (and one DC) film, Stan Lee has no doubt touched your life. His legacy will pervade throughout the world of comics, films and superheroes.