Thursday, July 24, 2003

Stan Lee

(Iconic genius and living embodiment of the American comic book)

NEILL says:

For our less culturally sophisticated readers, Stan "The Man" Lee is the writer, editor and publisher who in the 1960s, along with such notable artistic collaborators as Jack "King" Kirby and Steve "I can't remember if he had a nick-name" Ditko, created Marvel Comics and all its iconic characters. Spider-man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-men... these were all down to Stan . Now, that's a hell of an achievement, you may think, and you'd be right. I mean, that extremely truncated list alone represents several of the most succesful blockbuster movies of recent times. All this makes "The Man".. well, a case could be made that it pretty much makes him one of the most important cultural figures of the century. I wouldn't make it myself, but I'm pretty sure it could be made.

So, you may ask: why have I spent a lifetime maligning this inspirational figure? As indeed I have, I must confess. It's clearly a generational issue. By the time I was a kid, reading comics, those glory days of creativity and innovation of the 60's were long gone. Stan Lee was just this vaguely creepy old guy who sort of hung around the place but never really did anything. He hadn't actually written anything in years; my only exposure to the man's talents was a short-lived series he wrote called 'Ravage 2099' which was... well, I'm at a loss for words, really. It was about a binman or something, only he was a werewolf, only he was a superhero, and it was like, in the future, and... oh, fuck it, who cares? The important point is that it was absolute undiluted SHIT. Cost a quid to buy, took five minutes to read, yet the memory of it can still cause me irritation and discomfort several years later. Bad karma for Stan!

Still, lets forget about that. I have recently had the pleasure of reading through a pile of 'Essential Spider-Man' collections. These massive phone-book sized volumes reprint, on cheap-and-cheerful newsprint, all the classic Marvel comics of the 1960s that to buy in their original form would cost so much I'd have to think seriously about selling my mother into white slavery. And, to be frank, I doubt I'd even make enough for a McDonalds value meal, let alone a Very Fine copy of Amazing Fantasy 15. These comics reveal an emormously talented writer, one who combines an advanced analytical understanding of the demands and requirements of the form with a wild, ceaselessly inventive imagination. What impresses most is the formal inventiveness; the fourth wall is relentlessly beaten down in a series of running jokes and asides in the commentary that show a remarkable grasp of postmodernism for a 1960s throwaway comic book for children. (Interesting fact I never knew - Marvel Comics actually jumped onto the cultural zeitgeist with both feet and changed its name, for a couple of heady months in 1964, to Marvel Pop Art Productions!) And, of course, they work perfectly as straightforward hero-fights-villain adventure stories; suffused with an irrepresible sense of fun and a hilarious line in 60's hipster dialogue. Everyone calls each other 'Dad', it's great!

So, on the one hand, he is a fabulously skillful writer who has created a pantheon of modern-day myths and legends which have brought satisfaction and delight to entire generations and look set to do so long into the future. But, on the other hand, he's also a self-promoting egomaniac with delusions of grandeur, there have always been questions about the extent to which he took the credit for the creativity and inspiration of his artistic partners, and as anyone who has seen Mallrats can attest, he is a shit actor. All of which would be forgivable, if not for the fact that he wrote 'Ravage 2099'.


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