Recently, one of the comic book world’s most iconic real-life heroes, Stan Lee, passed away at the age of 95.
Nearly living up to a century, Stan Lee did what many hope to accomplish within one lifetime:
He provided joy and entertainment through the storylines he developed and the characters he created and co-created with other artists, such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, and so many more.
Though Stan Lee was known for his light-hearted nature, as seen from his numerous entertaining cameos within various MCU productions, he was, first and foremost, a visionary who believed that art could reflect and influence the times we live in.
Take, for instance, the debut issue of Captain America #1 in 1941, in which the red, white, and blue crusader is punching Hitler in the face. At the time, the Captain America comics stood as a strong symbol of American patriotism, especially during the wartime period of World War 2.
The comics encouraged American intervention rather than neutrality, as had been the case prior to the bombing at Pearl Harbor. The political themes in superhero comics did not stop there.
In one of his later creations, the X-Men comics, the series follows a group of mutant individuals, who learn how to use their superpowered abilities to protect the community in which they live in, despite the animosity and intolerance they faced from their society.
The “mutant” metaphor, which today stands as a universal symbol for anyone who has been considered marginalized by our society, i.e. racial discrimination, was a potent chronicle narrative of the political movement taking place in the 1960s, namely the Civil Right movement.
Stan Lee himself acknowledged this connection in an interview, quoting,
“Then it occurred to me that instead of them just being heroes that everybody admired, what if I made other people fear and suspect and actually hate them because they were different?
I loved that idea; it not only made them different, but it was a good metaphor for what was happening with the civil rights movement in the country at that time.”
Stan Lee was no stranger to prejudice in his lifetime, having witnessed it happening to those around him, as well as through his own experiences as a Jewish person (full name Stanley Martin Lieber).
During the beginning of the 20th century, many companies had strong anti-Semitic hiring practices. Comics remained one of the only fields where Jewish artists and writers had more creative liberty to express themselves. Stan Lee would create the foundations of a publishing company that would eventually become the multimedia industry it is today – Marvel.
Stan Lee, was a visionary of his time, both artistically and politically. Known for his humor and his down-to-earth human characters in his stories, Stan Lee fought against evil, both fictional and non-fiction. He expressed zero tolerance for anything less than super-heroism, once having written:
“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today.
But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun.
The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”
Often considered to be the Grandfather of Comics, Stan Lee revolutionized the way graphic art was viewed. Because of Stan Lee, comics are now seen as a mode of art that is accessible to the public. This means that anyone can go into a store or online and access stories that connect to their hearts and minds, while reflecting the world we live in today.