Stanley Martin Lieber, otherwise known to the world as Stan Lee, passed away Nov. 12 at the age of 95.
In the 1960s, he helped grow Marvel Comics into one of the two major comic book publishers (alongside DC Comics), having a hand in the creation of such characters as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four and The X-Men. Lee wrote for “Captain America” in the 1940s and helped resurrect the character in the ’60s as a member of The Avengers.
His work in the genre helped spur a turn toward more-thoughtful, message-driven comic book storytelling based on the humanity of his characters. Spider-Man was plagued by the same problems as other teens. The X-Men were a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement. Iron Man became an alcoholic. And so on.
In his later years, Lee became an icon of the comic book industry and an ambassador of the medium like no other, always greeting fans with an enthusiastic smile and delighting crowds with the recitation of his catchphrase, “Excelsior!,” a Latin word that translates to “ever upward.”
While he stepped back from a creative role at Marvel, he remained connected to the company as Chairman Emeritus, while also working on new superhero projects on his own. In this capacity, he made countless appearances at comic book conventions and served as executive producer for many movies and TV shows based on Marvel Comics properties.
“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, in a statement posted on the Disney website. Disney bought Marvel Comics in 2009.
In the past two decades, Lee’s frequent appearances in Marvel films helped expand his legend further. His cameos became a staple of the genre as audiences began to keep an eye on where he would show up next.
In 2005’s Fantastic Four, Lee appeared as mailman Willie Lumpkin, the first time he played a character he created. And his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe became so popular that they spawned a fan theory that he was actually a supernatural observer for a celestial race known as The Watchers, an idea that finally took root in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
But his ubiquitousness was not limited to Marvel movies, including notable guest spots in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, “The Simpsons,” “Heroes,” “The Big Bang Theory” and, most recently, voicing himself in Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, his first cameo for a project based on rival DC. He also reportedly recorded a voiceover cameo for Disney’s upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet.
His cameos became such a calling card of his that there’s now a separate Wikipedia page dedicated to tracking all of them.
From 2006 to 2007, Lee hosted the Sci-Fi Channel reality competition show “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?,” in which contestants would dress up as superheroes of their own creation and perform tasks to be judged by Lee.
In 2012 Lee’s life story was the subject of the documentary With Great Power … The Stan Lee Story, re-released on DVD last year by Well Go USA.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee twice for various projects about 10 years ago, and he was never shy about his love of comic books, superheroes and the storytelling potential they represented. He even joked about setting up a “Stan Lee for Hire” billboard in Hollywood in hopes of getting more offers for cameos.
Lee’s most recent Marvel cameo came in Sony’s Venom, and he reportedly already shot a cameo for the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4. We don’t yet know to what capacity, if any, Lee would have appeared in the 2019 MCU films Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home, or even Fox’s latest “X-Men” chapter, Dark Phoenix, though those films will almost certainly be dedicated to his memory.
In the meantime, as long as we are graced with the thousands of comic books, characters and stories that represent Stan Lee’s enduring legacy, there can never be “’Nuff said.”