If Stan Lee revolutionized the comic book world in the 1960s, which he did, he left as big a stamp — maybe bigger — on the even wider pop culture landscape of today through the Marvel Universe. From a cluttered office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan in the 1960s, he helped conjure a lineup of pulp-fiction heroes that have come to define much of popular culture in the early 21st century.
"Stan's best creation was always Stan," executive editor Tom Brevoort explains. "Stan . . . was somehow able to tap into his own larger-than-life, self-effacing, and self-aggrandizing at the same time personality."
Stan Lee was a writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter of Marvel and of himself. He played a critical role in what comics fans call the medium's silver age. In humanizing his heroes, giving them character flaws and insecurities that belied their supernatural strengths, Mr. Lee tried "to make them real flesh-and-blood characters with personality," he told The Washington Post in 1992.
"I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain, you're doing a good thing."
I cannot explain how much Stan Lee and Marvel have shaped my childhood. I fully believe that Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. His stories taught me that even superheroes like Spider-Man do not live in their fantasies 24 hours a day and suffer from similar problems to normal people, such as girl problems. Through the complexities in his stories, I was able to learn about the shades of grey in human nature.
"I used to think what I did was not very important," Lee told the Chicago Tribune in April 2014. "People are building bridges and engaging in medical research, and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily dismissed."
Disney's Marvel Studios, which created a cinematic universe based on Lee's creations, has had 20 straight No. 1 openings at the box office. The studio, which Disney acquired for $4 billion in 2009, has made nearly $18 billion over the past decade, making it one of the most successful brands in Hollywood history.
A rich collection of characters grew out of his nonstop plotting sessions with his artists, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and more. Today, it would be almost impossible to find a corner of the Marvel Universe that Stan didn't have a hand in.
Stan Lee's contributions to Marvel, a company he helped forge into a household name, will forever live on and we will continue to celebrate the imaginative characters he helped create and the fantastic universe he helped build. My thoughts and prayers go out to his daughter and brother at this time.
- Ike Perlmutter, Chairman of Marvel Entertainment
There are so many individuals who would not be the men and women that we've become, and where we are today without the influence that Stan Lee had on our lives. We envision him spreading his arms wide while describing the magic of superhero fiction, or giving a thumbs up while yelling his trademark non sequitur, Excelsior! He's pop culture's perpetually energetic 70-something grandpa, popping in for goofy cameos in movies about the Marvel Comics characters he co-created.
Lee may have personally made possible an expansive comics culture populated by idiosyncratic voices telling morally complex stories about relatable characters, layered over with much more darkness than had ever come before (achievements for which he still enjoys occasional bouts of adoration from the mainstream press and casual fans).
Stan Lee is the hero of my childhood, and I cannot imagine how future generations will be able to live without knowing of his legacy.