Lee, born Stanley Lieber, got into comics straight out of high school, when his uncle got him a job working for his cousin's husband's company, Timely Comics. It was the sort of menial work you'd expect a kid to given, getting people's lunch, erasing pencil marks, whatever needed doing. Except for a stint in the Army Signal Corps, Lee stayed at Timely, aka Atlas, aka Marvel, growing up, starting a family, and getting tired of it all. Legend has it he told his wife he wanted to quit, to write something else, something better, to experiment. His wife told him that, if he's going to quit anyway, why not start experimenting now, with the comics you're already writing? Its funny that, with all the debates about who deserves credit for what, nobody mentions Joan Lee's advice, without which Lee would never have re-invented comics--because re-invent comics is exactly what he proceeded to do.
I know there is a long history of complaints about Lee's artistic collaborators being unfairly treated by Marvel, and I don't mean to dredge that all up again, but as long fanboys center their discussions on glorifying Kirby or Ditko, they overlook what Lee contributed altogether. Before Lee if a good guy got superpowers, he became a superhero. If a bad got superpowers, he became a supervillain. That's all there was to it. It was a black and white world, without characterization or complexity. But when Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm got superpowers, it became as much a burden as a blessing. When teen Peter Parker got them, he saw a pathway to fame and fortune. They, and the hundreds of other characters Lee would write, reacted and behaved just like real people would. It was an important step in the maturity of the medium.
One that would take a couple of decades to really reach fruition. We look at works like Watchmen and writers like Alan Moore when we want to talk about how comics have grown, but works like Moore's are a part of the larger legacy of Stan Lee. One of the things that work against the recognition of Lee's influence, ironically, is its own pervasiveness. Today every character has problems, has a real life to balance with their heroics. If his contributions seem ordinary, commonplace, its because everyone is copying them and have been copying them for almost fifty years. Before Lee comics were written for children. Because of Lee comics were able to grow and mature and hold onto their readership. So step back and recognize the man for what he is and for what he's done. Because without Lee the chances are neither of us would be reading comics now!
Originally Pubished at: David Bird's Blog
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