Stan Lee turned 89 years young today, if you can believe it. The Marvel Comics impresario has been around for almost forever, through World War II and Vietnam and Iraq, from Captain America to the X-Men and beyond.
At an age when most are comfortably retired, Lee continues to stick around in the public eye. Just last year, he hosted a History Channel documentary series, “Stan Lee’s Superheroes.” He continues to show up in every Marvel movie, even though the rights are spread across a handful of studios. Exclusive intellectual property rights don’t hold a candle to being Stan the Man, the guy who started it all.
Co-creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were deeply involved in the character creation process of early Marvel Comics, of course, but it's safe to say that without Stan Lee's huckster spirit, Marvel would not have built its reputation for creativity and consumerism in its era, nor would the characters have become recognizable pop culture icons. The groundwork for Marvel’s superior casual popularity over DC was laid in those '60s comics, when Lee would shill and yoke for his characters with barely restrained enthusiasm and verve.
The humanity he ingrained in those characters -- Cap and Spidey and the Invisible Woman and Cyclops and Iron Man and so forth -- is partly why Marvel’s been so successful on the silver screen. All of the best Marvel movies retain a relateability that stretch their appeal past the typical superhero boom-bang-beat ‘em up style; the inner story that makes Steve Rogers more than just a dude in tights who fights Nazis. Looking for Lee in all of these films is a nice little reminder that the Marvel Universe owes so much to him, a debt that can never be repaid enough.
Here’s to another 89, Stan.
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