On Monday, Stan Lee passed away at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. The comic book writer, publisher, and latter-day actor was 95.
In passing, Lee leaves behind a colossal legacy of creation. Working alongside some of the most talented artists ever to pick up a pen, Lee transformed comic books from lightweight newsstand throwaways into an artistic and literary powerhouse. Before Lee, comics were a children’s medium. Batman and Superman were best pals, and Lex Luther had zero net victories. Stan Lee was bored of the whole thing.
Then, Lee’s wife and future business partner, Joan, suggested that Lee write a story he was interested in writing. With help from the imminently talented Jack Kirby, Lee turned out Fantastic Four, a squabbling, undisciplined quartet living in a world that hated and feared them. The comics reflected the darker aspect of human nature and celebrated victory (or defeat) in the face of real adversity. Stan Lee continued to break the mold time and again throughout his career. He channeled the Civil Rights struggle through his mutant world. He shepherded Marvel Comics to its position as the world’s foremost purveyor of modern myths. And along the way, he created a diverse list of characters unrivaled in comic book history. Also, he posed for the coolest picture in human history.
It’s hard to argue any modern creator who leaves a more indelible impact on pop culture than Stan Lee. Even more than his impressive resume of characters (and the enormous box office numbers they’ve chalked up), Lee’s true legacy is that of a humanist. His characters may have a superhuman advantage, but they’re mired in the same problems that plague the average human. Stan Lee’s characters were people before they were superheroes.
Following Joan’s death in July 2017, Stan Lee’s life descended into chaos. He was erroneously accused of sexual assault. There were rumors that he was the victim of elder abuse. Lee’s personal life descended into tumult.
Though his presence as Marvel’s living legend will be missed, it’s comforting to know that Stan Lee can finally rest. Stan Lee is survived by his daughter, Joanie, and his younger brother Larry Lieber.