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Dhaka Tribune

In memoriam: Stan Lee

Stan Lee died at the age of 95, his daughter JC Lee said on Monday. She did not mention the circumstances of Lee’s death but the celebrity news website TMZ said an ambulance was called to his Hollywood Hills home early Monday, and that he died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. As a writer and editor, Lee was key to the ascension of Marvel into a comic book titan in the 1960s when, in collaboration with artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he created superheroes who would enthrall generations of young readers

Update : 13 Nov 2018, 10:23 PM

The world of today would have been a very different place without Stan Lee in it. And during his 95 years on Earth, the impact he left on the world has been nothing less than seismic. His iconic creations and their passionate fandom transcended trivial issues like age, race, creed, religion and nationality. Did you know, for instance, that Japan had its own Spider-Man live-action TV series in the late ‘70s? It was by no means truly faithful to its roots, but it definitely shows what kind of legacy Stan Lee left behind.

When publisher Martin Goodman first hired Stanley Lieber, his wife’s teenage cousin, as a office assistant at Timely Publications in 1939, he had no idea what he was setting in motion, and how it would end up reshaping the entertainment industry as we know it. Lieber had a flair for writing, and it did not take him very long to make his debut in comics as a writer. It was then that he adopted the nom de plume Stan Lee, which eventually became his legal name. Within a couple of years, the ambitious Lee became the interim editor of the company’s comics divisions, and several decades later, as Timely Publications metamorphosed into Atlas Comics and then finally into Marvel Comics, its publisher.

Working with other great names in the comic book industry, such as Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee co-created a host of characters within a unified universe where all their lives are intertwined, and oversaw the creation of many others who would join them in their fantastic adventures. Perhaps the greatest aspect of all these characters was that their virtues were counterbalanced with shades of imperfection and failures, making them seem astoundingly human instead of cardboard cutouts of the superhero archetype. They were not invulnerable, nor were their morals drawn in stark black and white. It’s interesting to note how deeply the rising complexity of these characters mirrors the growing maturity of Marvel’s global reader base.

Indeed, it is not difficult to see and relate to the plights of the X-Men, mutants fighting to save a world that fears and hates them. Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, is plagued with troubles of his own that very much mirror the ones we face in our everyday lives, including the likes of collapsing relationships and financial woes. Tony Stark, the man behind Iron Man’s mask, has been shown to suffer from the effects of alcoholism, which was interestingly mirrored by the personal struggles of actor Robert Downey Jr (who portrays him in the Marvel films) with drug addiction. Even the violent anti-hero vigilante Punisher’s lethal modus operandi is not something that can be simply dismissed as needlessly brutal once the reasons behind his motives are explored further.

Instead of choosing to remain a faceless editor, Lee ended up becoming the public persona of Marvel Comics. Long before he started appearing at comic book conventions, he actively moderated and replied to fan mail in Marvel’s comic books, and even penned a long-time monthly column called Stan’s Soapbox, which not only gave fans glimpses into what was to come from Marvel, but also made them think about real-life issues plaguing humanity, such as racism, discrimination and bigotry. Just as his characters were human, so were his stories, often hitting remarkably close to home. “A story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul,” he wrote once. “None of us lives in a vacuum – none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us – events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives.”

Lee was an inspiration for many of the big names in the comic book industry, who have unequivocally credited him for shaping their childhoods and careers alike. But his talents did not stop at being a great storyteller, editor or art director. It was his bold and avant-garde leadership that transformed Marvel from a comic book company – a small niche of the entertainment industry – into a phenomenon that dominates every aspect of pop culture. Bolstered on by the magnificent Marvel Cinematic Universe and accompanying TV series, Marvel’s characters have now truly become household names. Comic books and the people who live by them are no longer the geeky outcasts shunned by the cool cats of society, and it was Stan Lee and his astute decisions that brought about this revolutionary paradigm shift.

Stan Lee’s loss will be felt resoundingly, but he will not be forgotten. This was a man who dedicated his long life to creating entertainment that would make the lives of people a bit more bearable and a tad less dreary within a grim reality, and actually succeeded. We will all miss the cameos of the kindly old gentleman in the Marvel films, and it would feel like a punch in the gut to see “In loving memory of Stan Lee” in the credits of the next “Avengers” movie. But he will always live on in the hearts of every individual who ever picked up a comic book, played with Spider-Man action figures in their childhood, or sat down to enjoy a Marvel production.

Thank you for dreaming, and for helping others dream.

Abhijit Asad is a devout science fiction enthusiast, gamer and metalhead who likes machines more than he likes most people

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