Comic leg­end Stan Lee takes Troy Bram­ston be­hind the fa­mous masks

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

In the an­nals of pop­u­lar cul­ture, few peo­ple loom larger than Stan Lee, the cre­ator of su­per­heroes such as Spi­der-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men that span comic books, tele­vi­sion and cin­ema screens. Lee, who turns 95 next month, has made an in­deli­ble im­print on the lives of mil­lions and be­come al­most as fa­mous as the com­pelling char­ac­ters he has in­vented.

But the ever-charm­ing Lee — with his slicked-back hair, mous­tache and dark glasses — strikes a mod­est tone when re­flect­ing on his long ca­reer.

“I’m just a guy who wrote a lot of those char­ac­ters,” he tells Re­view. “The char­ac­ters are the ones that are sup­posed to be recog­nis­able. That peo­ple recog­nise me too is rather thrilling and I’m very thank­ful for it.”

In the 1960s, Lee and col­lab­o­ra­tors such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita rein­vented the su­per­hero busi­ness and ush­ered in the sil­ver age of comics. Lee’s pur­ple prose was cou­pled with their vi­brant art­work to cre­ate a new style of hero.

The as­ton­ish­ing roll-call of char­ac­ters that Lee co-cre­ated tran­scends gen­er­a­tions: the Fan­tas­tic Four (1961), Spi­der-Man (1962), Hulk (1962), Thor (1962), Iron Man (1963), the X-Men (1963), Doc­tor Strange (1963), the Avengers (1963) and Dare­devil (1964).

This run­away suc­cess saw Marvel sell more comics than lead­ing pub­lisher DC for the first time. DC had pi­o­neered the golden age of heroes such as Su­per­man (1938), Bat­man (1939), the Flash (1940), Green Lantern (1940) and Won­der Woman (1941). In the 1960s, they were be­ing reimag­ined for a new gen­er­a­tion.

But Marvel — which had its own golden-age star, Cap­tain Amer­ica (1941) — took the genre in an en­tirely new di­rec­tion. The turn­ing point was the pub­li­ca­tion of The Fan­tas­tic Four in 1961. This team of su­per­heroes, mir­ror­ing DC’s Jus­tice League (1960), com­prised Mis­ter Fan­tas­tic (Reed Richards), the In­vis­i­ble Woman (Su­san Storm), the Hu­man Torch (Johnny Storm) and the Thing (Ben Grimm).

But they were not typ­i­cal heroes. They were flawed, each with their own wor­ries and self­doubt, and they ar­gued with each other. In short, they were re­lat­able.

“One of the se­crets to Marvel’s suc­cess was to make their per­sonal lives as in­ter­est­ing as their su­per­hero iden­tity,” Lee re­calls. “Ev­ery mem­ber of the Fan­tas­tic Four was just as in­ter­est­ing as a per­son as they were as a su­per­hero. And that had not been done in comics be­fore.”

Lee’s char­ac­ters were brave and coura­geous, and still fought for truth and jus­tice, but they were also grap­pling with com­plex emo­tions such as anx­i­ety, frus­tra­tion, anger, dis­ap­point­ment and even love. And they lived in cities where their read­ers lived, rather than in myth­i­cal Gotham or Me­trop­o­lis.

The sto­ry­lines were mod­ern. They re­flected the age of sci­ence and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment. They ad­dressed top­i­cal is­sues, re­flected Spi­ders Amaz­ing Fan­tasy;

Marvel’s The Stan Lee comic book exclusive, launched last month, main pic­ture; far left, from top, Spi­der-Man’s first ap­pear­ance, in the Fan­tas­tic Four meet the Hulk; and cells from the orig­i­nal Spi­der-Man comic

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