Stan Lee, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Moebius, John Buscema, Jim Steranko and many more talented folks, co-created characters and stories beloved the world over. The comics Stan is arguably best known for were contemporaneously considered disposable entertainment. Stan, Jack, Steve and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen didn’t know they were creating an eventual multi-billion dollar empire. They were trying to feed their families, but it wasn’t necessarily an accident that they made a lasting impression on culture. No, the reason they did was because Stan, Jack and company had a helluva work ethic and produced the best product they could. Their creativity birthed Iron Man, Hulk, Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man, Nick Fury, the Avengers and more into the world. Stan, Jack and company didn’t hook readers in with the action but kept readers by creating characters their readership cared about.
Back in 2016, my friends and I saw Stan talk about his legacy at his last New York Comic Con. The man was 93 years old and had more energy than some people in the crowd! The thing that struck me most about it was how open Stan was about his time in the industry and how accomplished those that followed him were. Stan along with X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, Thor writer and artist Walt Simonson and Kevin Smith hosted the whole thing. It was wild seeing Stan Lee tell Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson how much better they were at making comics than he was while the two of them gushed over the comics Stan, Jack and company produced. It put Stan’s place in this medium we love in perspective.
Stan was a lot of things in comics; a writer, an editor, a collaborator, an ambassador, a hero, a villain and everything in between. His legacy is a complicated one. People far smarter than me will parse Stan’s legacy in relation to his collaborators and their creations. His contribution to American comics can’t be understated. Yes, there are lessons we can all learn from Stan’s failures as a collaborator, but we can enjoy the successes too.