Pow! Zam! If it’s connected to comic superheroes in the last half-century, Stan Lee almost certainly had something to do with it.
Stanley Martin Lieber (1922-2018) was no superhero. He was litigious, scrappy, and inclined to take sole credit for the work of many hands. However, writes former Marvel Comics editor and writer Fingeroth (The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, 2008, etc.), Lee had an uncanny handle on pop culture and a sense of what comic-book fans wanted. “Was Stan Lee at the right place at the right time—or did he make his time and place the rights ones?” The answer one derives from the author’s longish, detail-packed account is, both. Another conclusion is that the comics business is no laughing matter. As Fingeroth writes, one editor in a comics mill when Lee’s career was just taking off routinely rejected freelance pieces but then had them redone by his favored circle, and some artists and writers who should be better known, such as the long-suffering Jack Kirby, were eclipsed by people like—well, Stan Lee. One result, Fingeroth suggests, was the comix revolution of the 1960s, when creators took more financial risks but kept more of the proceeds as well as the rights to their own creations: “No one owned Mr. Natural but his creator, Robert Crumb. Mister Miracle—who no one ever denied was created by Jack Kirby—was owned by DC Comics.” Lee read the zeitgeist correctly when he sensed that the superheroes who populated Marvel Comics were right for Hollywood, making the transition from televised cartoon series to A-list films. Fingeroth also credits Lee, in between lawsuits, for helping popularize the various comics conventions that have become staples of nerd culture. “From what you know of Stan Lee,” he remarked when asked if Lee still enjoyed attending the conferences in his later years, “do you think he’d rather die at home, alone, in his sleep, or being adored by five thousand people in a convention auditorium?"
Fans of comics culture will enjoy Fingeroth’s tribute to his legendary boss.