I was a DC fan…but I loved Stan Lee

I was a DC fan…but I loved Stan Lee

In the 1960s, there was a lot of very serious social division in the United States.

However, as there often is, there were also more frivolous pop culture schisms: The Addams Family vs. The Munsters, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, Star Trek vs. Lost in Space…while fandom is, by its nature, inclusive, you were “supposed” to take sides. People weren’t expected to be agnostic about which ones they liked.

One of the clearest divides was DC vs. Marvel.

The “Silver Age of Comics” was begun in the mid-1950s by DC (with the introduction of what we would now call a “rebooted” version of the Golden Age superhero The Flash), but by the 1960s, Marvel was a worthy competitor.

The feel was very different between the two. DC had the legacy, and was old-fashioned (which could be seen as both a good and bad thing). They had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the reboots (the aforementioned The Flash, Green Lantern). They had the Justice League of America (itself a reboot of the Justice Society of America). Their heroes were, well, heroic. They didn’t all act the same, but the heroes were heroic and the villains were villainous.

Marvel was the counter-culture company of the pair, but interestingly, by being more like the readers. Clearly led by the writing of Stan Lee, new characters including Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Fantastic Four lived in the real world (Spider-Man was in fully contemporary New York; Superman was still in fictional parallel Metropolis). They had real emotions, and “day job” problems. Bruce Wayne was a millionaire philanthropist; Peter Parker was a high school student science geek.

While it may seem natural that people would prefer characters which were more like them, I used to jokingly (and somewhat derisively) say that I didn’t want my superheroes to have acne. One of the things I liked about superheroes was the lack of realism, the fantasy, the escapism. That extended to their personalities: I wanted the simplicity and aspiration of always being noble.

Sounds silly, right? Well, it was part of why I liked superheroes better than regular detective stories. I was never a fan of fictional violence, but it’s very different when Superman throws a giant space-whale than when Mike Hammer punches someone and they vomit.

People still could have read comics from both companies, right? I would guess just about everybody crossed over some, but one challenge was that the comics from a single company were interrelated…like what we now call an “extended universe”. What happened in Batman might affect what happened in Superman; Spider-Man interacted with The Avengers. It would have cost a lot of money and time to invest fully in both.

In my

Yikkee-YaG (YKYAG: You Know You’re a Geek…) #1

post, I said

“You know you’re a geek…when people say you don’t know how to dress appropriately***, but you would never wear a DC shirt to a Marvel movie.”

Still, I read some Marvel comics. I knew who Stan Lee was…I didn’t think I qualified as one of his “True Believers” (which felt to me in part like a Marvel vs. DC thing), but I knew what he meant by “Excelsior!” I recognized his intelligence, his creativity, and his enthusiasm for comics. I read some of his Stan’s Soapbox columns…text, not comics, which sometimes took on larger issues (like racism).

Over the years, I greatly enjoyed some of his visual media efforts. I watched “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?”, a reality competition show. I thought Stan Lee’s Superhumans, in which he and contortionist Daniel Browning Smith looked for and tested people with truly extraordinary abilities, was fascinating. I thrilled to every cameo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which, with its lighter tone, felt to me more like the 1960s DC universe than the dark DC movies led by Batman Begins and including The Dark Knight…the latter being a wonderful movie but definitely not the bright heroism of the 1960s. I said at the time I didn’t want a ten-year old to watch The Dark Knight because I didn’t want them to be afraid of Batman for the rest of their lives).

Stan Lee was one of the most influential American writers…and I don’t mean just comic book writers. Our pop cultural world would look very different if he hadn’t been in it. Movies, TV…even other comics (I don’t think the social commentary of the Green Arrow/Green Lantern crossover in the 1970s would have been what it was without Stan Lee’s trailblazing) followed the path that he blazed. He always respected the fans…and the non-fans. He lifted the younger generations of artists, he didn’t exclude them or hoard success…he shared it.

I’m not saying he was perfect or that his life was perfect…he wasn’t a 1960s DC superhero, he brought his challenges to the panels of the 1960s Marvel superheroes.

Thank you, Stan Lee, for all you have done for the world, and for geeks like me.

Excelsior forever!

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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