Because of Stan Lee…
He broke the mold. He changed the world of superheroes forever. His impact on millions of kids from the 60’s until today is immeasurable.
He fought censorship and won.
In the 1950’s the Comic Book seal of approval was instituted to avoid sanctions from the U.S. Senate. The code dictated that sex and violence were verboten and that only respect for government and parental authority was acceptable. Comics couldn’t even use slang and colloquialisms, let alone deal with death, racism, sexism or any other form of bigotry or social issue. Comics books received the Seal of Approval only if they were suitable for the youngest readers — and never mind anyone older than six.
Then along came Spiderman.
Stan Lee petitioned the Comic Code Authority to deal with drugs, and (spoiler) the death of Gwen Stacy in a trilogy of books from May-July 1971. The religious nutjobs that ran the CMAA (Comics Magazine Association of America) said there would be no code on these books despite revisions made earlier. Stan ran them anyway, although promising not to run books without the code afterward. Although earlier attempts at thwarting the Comic Code Authority had been tried, notably by EC Comics, and met with disaster (EC went bankrupt and ceased publication) Stan Lee’s stance and belief in free expression prevailed and he ran those issues without the code — and the result was a radical shift in the way we read comics and their contents today.
It opened up a whole new world. The angst-ridden superheroes of Marvel were now able to have obnoxious personalities, have “feet of clay” as Lee often stated, and dealt with a “real world” where the superhero often dealt in shades of grey — not merely 50 shades — but all the myriad greys that existed. His mutants bickered and often shifted from one side to the other. Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, along with the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, and The Inhumans were flawed, powerful, and inexorable. He even brought the gods — Loki, Thor, and Odin — into the mix and created universes with wide breadth and depth at the same time.
Not bad for comic books, right? His writers, and artists had free hands and he himself became the face and spokesperson for the company along with his partner the late Steve Ditko.
Other comic companies followed suit and soon the Marvel Universe (in all its permutations) was joined by a DC Universe where Batman’s origins were revealed to be dark and his own personality warped by the murder of his parents, where Superman acknowledged the injustice in the world, and Wonder Woman showed that women were strong and not merely appendages to their male counterparts.
Lee’s superhero women always stood on their own. Even in the adult Marvel comics, like Conan the Barbarian’s black and white ones that came out in the 1970’s, the women, while scantily dressed, usually ended up saving the hero.
As a young girl, I appreciated a world where female superheroes had power and strength and could do anything — even if their clothes were too tight and revealing. Even in grad school, I was fascinated by how Marvel brought about change to an industry that had stultified under the code and the censorious attitudes of those “decent” people so willing to force their values on everyone.
I guess I was always a bit of an iconoclast, because I resented this.
I’m no celebrity or celebutant, whose film careers have been made because of the Stan Lee’s courage and creations. I am a simple writer, whose life was influenced by Stan the Man’s vision. He accepted and glorified the different, the unusual, the rebellious. He and his writers and artists understood everything wasn’t perfect, and that even the strongest among us have weaknesses.
He reveled in it with joie de vivre, and lived a long and celebrated life. I hope wherever he is right now, he is glorifying in the accolades, and that his daughter is consoled at how much he was loved and admired.
Excelsior, true believer!