I’m actually a bit surprised to discover that there aren’t very good stills of most of Stan the Man’s cameos available with a little earnest Google Image Search. I wanted to use Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but all I could find was blurry pictures that looked to be taken on cell phones in movie theatres. So okay, that movie’s too new. But I couldn’t find a good one of the attempt to move the hammer in Thor, either, and this is the best of the Incredible Hulk ones. And several of the movies, I never saw images of at all as I poked around. It was almost enough to make me use the screenshot I have saved from his Simpsons appearance.
The autobiographical details are well known. Born Stanley Martin Leider in 1922. His cousin was married to the publisher of Timely Comics, so he got hired. In 1941, he started writing for Captain America Comics. He wasn’t even nineteen yet when he was hired as interim editor of Timely after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left, but he took the job and ran with it, staying in the position until he became publisher himself in the ’70s.
I’ll be honest; I’m one of the people who believes that one of the things Stan Lee did best was hiring good people, and another was taking at least partial credit for their innovations. I’m not his biggest fan, and I honestly believe that’s because he’s his own biggest fan. All that said, I also believe that the entertainment industry would not look the way it does now without him. I mean, I will say that at least he credited letterers and things in the comics, which was not industry standard, and that’s much better than DC’s “who is Bill Finger?” attitude. But I can’t say if he really deserves credit for the idea of a shared universe or if that’s something that Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or someone came up with that gets tossed around under Lee’s name.
What I think is unquestionably to Lee’s credit is creating a sense of community between the publisher and the fans. I’m not sure there would be a Comic Con without Lee’s chatty take on the letters column. He helped make fans feel a part of the process—and while goodness knows that’s had its failings over the years, as a comics fan myself, I still do appreciate it. I think there always would have been something of a community; Star Trek proves that fans will build their own if they have to. But I think Stan Lee was one of the first people in the industry to realize that there was a reason to cultivate the community.
And, yes, this week breaks the pattern I’ve been doing for a while of profiling couples in alternating weeks. Stan’s beloved wife of seventy years, Joan Boocock Lee, died this month. She wasn’t quite the icon he was, but she was long a part of his career, including—in one version of the story; Lee has apparently told several—inspiring the Fantastic Four by telling him to do at least one comic he’d be proud of before quitting the business. She provided several voices for the various ’90s animated Marvel shows, and she appeared with her husband in his X-Men: Apocalypse cameo. No matter where you fall on the “feelings about Stan Lee” spectrum, you can acknowledge that he must miss her terribly.