Friday, December 28, 2007

Stan Lee's Birthday

Stan “the Man” Lee is 85 today. Yup, the grand poobah of the modern funny book has reached five and eighty years. Paradoxically it seems to me like he should be older, yet, at the same time he's much too youthful to be that age.

As child I worshiped Stan, I really did, he was the greatest guy in the universe. He made all these fantastic characters and was behind the scenes controlling the fate of the entire Marvel Universe. You see, when I grew up, every Marvel comic I read, said “Stan Lee Presents” right there on the splash page. OK, maybe he didn’t write it, or even edit it but certainly he KNEW, what was happening ‘cause his name was right there. And then, I heard his voice on TV. That’s right! It was like Moses and the Burning Bush, with a higher power's voice broadcast from on high. “This is Stan Lee…”
“What’s that Stan? You want me to buy more comics? OK, I submit to your will”
Well, all he was really doing was introducing Spiderman and Hulk cartoons, but he had such a wonderful voice, full of power and majesty. His very breath seemed to confirm all the crazy kid ideas I had about him. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age with the Internet and Youtube, but the sound of Stan’s voice had a strong affect on me. It was almost as if one of his comic book creations had come alive. He wasn’t just a name on the page anymore, he was the living, risen God… ahem… comic creator, and like God he was everywhere. Everywhere in this case being New York, controlling Marvel comics, and Hollywood, controlling the TV shows.

This all happened without me reading one comic written by Stan, with the possible exception of a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15.

The majority of comics that Stan had penned were out of reach for a kid in the early 80s. The prices were already sky high on the collectors market and there were no reprints. Well OK, sure, there was Marvel Tales… but that had funny “old looking” art so that couldn’t possibly be the comic masterpieces I was imagining in my head.

As I got a little older, I realized Stan wasn’t really involved in comics that much any more and so I found the “Stan Lee Presents” thing kind of charming, then confusing, and finally silly. Eventually, to my shock, there began to be all kinds of accusations that Stan was merely the co-creator of all these superheroes and that he had stolen all the credit away from the artists that he had worked with over the years, most notably Jack Kirby.

When Stan’s backlog of comics finally began to be published in collections I could afford. I was shocked again. They didn’t meet up with my expectations. Where were the fantasy masterpieces I had built up in my mind? The stilted dialog, the over exposition (so endemic to silver and bronze age comics), and simple storylines threw me for a loop. The constant footnotes in the comics I had read prepared me for the gospel… and what I received were amusing, dated, little adventure stories. I wasn’t crushed though, because somewhere inside me I new this was true, but until I actually got my hands on Stan’s stories, I kept the IDEA of his Silver Age masterpieces alive.

I guess what I’m tying to say is that the Stan Lee I knew was a crafted fiction, created by Marvel, Stan himself and me. He was as illusionary as any character he had shaped. It seems crazy, but how could have I ever honestly considered myself a huge fan of his when I had read next to nothing he produced.

It was soon after that, that I abandoned comics for nearly a decade which was fine because it was the 1990s and by then Stan’s funny dated, little stories didn’t look so bad when compared to the crap the was on the shelves at the time.

This post might sound like I’m complaining about Stan on his 85th birthday, but I’m really not. I’m just working through the warped perception I had of him, of which I am partially to blame. As an adult, I have become much more interested in the real story behind comics, including the people. How were stories made, how were deals struck and how much pain was suffered. The pain that many of the creators went through as the industry chewed them up and spat them out are some of the tales that engage me now, (I’m still haunted by Bill Everett’s end days). Stan is the real success story in all this. I guess that’s the most important thing to take away from my blathering. He’s the beacon of dreams, the scion of success in the comics industry, and why many folks still want to “make comics.” Plus, he’s entertaining to listen to and polite. Courtesy is contagious, is a lesson that Dan Didio could sure learn from Stan as we are all getting rather tired of Mr. Didio's deliberate jabs at females.

What I appreciate now about Stan Lee is the man rather than “the Man” who presents. That’s what I liked best about Who Wants to be a Superhero, just listening to Stan speak was fun and his teaching the world at large what it really means to be a superhero was a good reminder. A lesson the big 2 sadly need to relearn. So Happy Birthday Stan! Thanks for the fun adventures that paved the way for all the comics that I read, even if that way wasn’t actually paved with gold… or silver for that matter.



Arkonbey said...

According to Mark Evanier (aka Madcap Mark), "You're nobody in the comic book business until Stan has assigned you an alliterative adjective."

For all the controversy about creative rights and such, I think Stan Lee is arguably the 'face' of modern comics (a bit like BB King is to the blues). Nobody but us geeks know of Siegel and Shuster,BoB Kane, Ditko or whoever it was that was in charge of DC in the 60's. But, Stan?

Dean Wormer said...

Stan's cameos have been just about the best thing in some recent films based on Marvel properties.

The Incredible Hulk I'm looking at you.

Swinebread said...

arkonbey - your right, he is the face of comics. Maybe I just wasn't a big enough geek when I was a kid to see it... or maybe i was just a kid. :D

dean - Stan and Lou were the only good things about the Hulk.

Arkonbey said...

Dean: truth!

Personally, I refuse to look at The Incredible Hulk.

Don Snabulus said...

Hey, don't piss off Bill Bixby! You woul...ah never mind.

Stan Lee did a good job on the Superhero reality show I thought.