Comics 12 November 2018 | 19:52

Farewell to Stan Lee – the magus of the Marvel universe

12 November 2018 19:52

More than forty years ago, I wrote a letter to Stan Lee, who died today, congratulating him on his book ‘Origins of Marvel Comics’. To my amazement, a reply duly arrived in the Scottish village where my family lived in those days: a handwritten note and some beautiful comic-art stickers. Criminally, I have lost them, and I now wish more than ever that I had taken better care of this precious gift.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber in December 1922, Lee was the driving force behind Marvel Comics and the creative genius who – along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr, and many others – conjured up the universe of superheroes and villains that has now become the world’s most ambitious and successful movie franchise. He dared  to challenge the primacy of the DC stable (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) and inject character and nuance into a previously formulaic genre: Spiderman was a mixed-up teenager, the Hulk was the monstrous id of a scientist, the X-Men were dysfunctional mutants, Daredevil was a blind lawyer whose nocturnal vigilantism never quite compensated for deep personal unhappiness.

Lee stopped writing regular comic books in 1972 but remained the figurehead of his company for decades to come. After many false starts, he lived long enough to witness the successful translation of the myths and legends he had created to the silver screen – thanks to the magic of CGI and, latterly, the munificence of Disney. The cameo roles he played in the Marvel movies were part of the fabric that ensured their seamless continuity. His appearance in each film was more than a personal imprimatur. It reminded the viewers that they were watching hi-tech folklore with deep roots in post-war American culture.

In this respect, as in so many others, he was an impish genius, a magus of the imagination and an irreplaceable American hero.