Wednesday, November 14, 2018
The Jarlsberg Diaries: Stan the Man
Stan Lee, the man who pretty much reinvented superheroes and comic books, died recently at age 95. That’s a good long run for anyone, and considering all the joy he brought into the world this doesn’t seem like a time for grief so much as remembrance and celebration.
Stan Lee was a prolific writer whose work was paired with that of a spectacular array of comics artists: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and too many others to name. Together they created Marvel comics, which were simultaneously more fun and more serious than the “kid stuff” comics which preceded them. Stan the Man was the driving force behind cultural phenomena like Spiderman, the Avengers, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, and dozens (if not hundreds) more.
Unlike previous superheroes, those written by Stan Lee had greater complexity, insecurities, and identifiable problems which superpowers alone couldn’t solve. Not that their superpowers weren’t spectacular and satisfyingly kinetic.
As a youth who could be charitably described as a waddlesome nerd some 55 years ago, I loved the Marvel titles and collected them religiously. My idea of Heaven at the time was to buy the latest issues at the drug store (comics were priced at about 12¢ then) and scurry off to my basement bedroom, frequently with a bag of BBQ chips to enhance the number of senses being stimulated at the same time.
I thought I was just having fun, but it turns out I was also learning a lot about concise, visual storytelling. This served me well in later years when I was writing and laying out picture books, as well as scripts for television and film (stories for another day). But did those comics do more for my career than four years of college? In all likelihood, the answer is yes. And here I am, more than half a century later, still telling stories with characters who live in little boxes and speak in word balloons.
I still have a lot of those old comics, lovingly stored in individual plastic envelopes. And it’s a good thing, because new Marvel comics really aren’t what they used to be. Oh, the films are alright if you’re in the mood for big, dumb, eye-popping CGI spectacle (and sometimes I am). But the comic books themselves have taken a hard left political turn and are now primarily vehicles for the wish fulfillment of their Social Justice Warrior writers and artists.
You have superheroes fighting Trump stand-ins, storming the battlements with (not against) Antifa types, and fighting things like income inequality and inflexible gender roles rather than city-devouring monsters, evil scientists, and planet-conquering aliens. Many of the classic superheroes created by Lee have been “updated” with minority figures in the name of diversity. And there’s nothing wrong with diversity, but when Stan Lee wanted a black superhero, he damn well created one who was black rather than simply transferring the costume of an existing hero to whatever ethnic stereotype was the flavor of the month.
And I don’t have a problem with Ice Man from the X-men coming out as gay, but do we really need page after page of him flirting with other guys instead of saving the world? Is Captain America a better hero for our times since Marvel declared that this super-patriot has actually been an undercover Nazi all along? And is The Mighty Thor quite as awesomely god-like now that he’s been given a vagina? A process which sounds like it would leave you mighty thor, as Daffy Duck might say.
Mind you, all of this SJW stuff is absolutely killing Marvel financially on the comics shelves. Unsurprisingly, no one wants to read this crap.
Stan Lee gave us heroes instead of whiners. And in so doing, became something of a hero himself.
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