With the sad passing of comicbook legend Stan Lee on Monday, I’d be remiss not to revisit some of his work in today’s Backlog. I was going to cover Rick Remender’s run on Fantastic Four and the end of Dan Slott’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man so it won’t be a massive jump from the original plan.
It’s kinda strange to think that such a legend’s death wouldn’t result in a complete change of direction. In another way, though, it’s not strange at all. It speaks to how memorable, and how important, Stan ‘The Man’ Lee’s creations – along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – have been. I’m not sure if the man himself expected them to be around this many decades after they were first conceived, or if he could’ve imagined how big they would become.
We could talk for days about all the characters Stan Lee created (and up until very recently was still creating). Beyond his work at Timely Comics, later to become the Marvel we know today, he worked at DC, on manga and on TV series in various capacities. For this, though, I’m going to go back to the creations for which we know him best and which will always be associated with his name.
In truth I’ve never been such a big fan of Fantastic Four or Cosmic Marvel stories in general. I blame this almost entirely on the fact that my first exposure to the team was that awful 90’s cartoon. (That, and I had difficulty getting to like Reed Richards, a man who’d call himself ‘Mr. Fantastic’, while labelling his fiancée ‘Invisible Girl’ and his best friend ‘The Thing’.) However, after being handed a subset of the Marvel Graphic Novel Collection, I ended up reading more of Stan Lee’s starting run on Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby. At the time I was mostly around for Kirby’s art, but as I got into it and phased back into the 60’s writing style, I finally found myself warming to the team.
What I found catching me off guard most often was just how many huge characters got their launch in those first 100 issues. Doctor Doom will always primarily be a Fantastic Four villain to me, but others like Silver Surfer and Galactus have spun off to become massive entities in their own right. Even Black Panther and the Inhumans first appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four. There’s just so much of Stan’s creative mind in those pages. More than I could really associate with any of his other creations.
The X-Men is arguably Stan Lee’s most important creation. It didn’t have the strongest launch, and compared to other Marvel titles didn’t really take off until the late 70’s. Even within itself, most people will probably think of Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run when they think of ‘Classic X-Men’. Instead, Stan Lee’s creation of X-Men is important because for a lot of young readers X-Men will have been their first exposure to any sort of civil rights movement.
Stan’s own run on X-Men was quite short, lasting only until the 19th issue, but by then between him and Kirby they created many of the most well-known X-Men, including Professor Xavier and Magneto. Over the years, the X-Men have been compared to many real world civil rights crises, with Xavier and Magneto often being compared to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X respectively. I’m not sure that Stan ever intended for that exact comparison. I know in the past I’ve read quotes that he never intended for them to represent any one group of maligned people, but that he’d made them teenagers so that they could represent any mistreated or outcast group. (And if you know otherwise, please let me know in the comments, because I’d like to know myself.) What I am sure of is that the X-Men were intended to send a message against bigotry. I hope that in future, the creative teams behind the comic keep that at the forefront, in his memory.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Unlike Fantastic Four, I’ve always loved Spider-Man. This might again be due to the quality of the cartoon series that I was exposed to in the 90’s, but really I can’t imagine a world in which I don’t enjoy Spider-Man. When I first started reading comics regularly, it was Spider-Man that I jumped into. Granted, it was Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, but that ultimately led to me going back to the Silver Age and reading right through every issue of Stan Lee’s run with Steve Ditko and John Romita.
Even now, having read through some excellent runs on the series, Stan Lee’s run has so many special moments worth revisiting. Usually the modern series are still at their best when they make homage to or take special effort to keep the spirit of those old stories. Just look at some of Dan Slott’s earlier work, where they directly borrowed older art when Peter finally joined Horizon. Or Tom Holland’s performance in Spider-Man : Homecoming, taken from “If This Be My Destiny…!”,when he’s trapped under a collapsed building.
There were just so many fantastic moments in those first 100 issues that even now, having read them multiple times, I still forget just how much happened. ‘If This Be My Destiny…!’ which I just mentioned, ‘Spider-Man No More!’ when Peter briefly decides to give up life as Spider-Man, ‘And Death Shall Come’ featuring the death of George Stacy and Marvel’s split with the Comics Code Authority for the publication of ‘Drug Issues’ are just a few bits of essential reading.
What are your favourite Stan Lee creations? Let us know in the comments!