A 70 year writing career, an estimated net worth of over $50 million, 35 Marvel movie cameos, 121 total acting credits, 69 years of marriage to his wife Joan, and a #1 sense of humor are just some of the statistics that show how impressive Stan Lee was. While remarkable, though, I knew about other achievements long before I ever discovered those numbers, and Lee’s comics and cameos are why his death has me looking up details about his life.
Stan Lee delivering some more of his characteristic humor in Captain America: Civil War
Although I have seen most of the Marvel movies from recent years, I cannot claim to be a truly dedicated Stan Lee fan, having (to my knowledge) only read one comic book he coauthored. Nor can I rival the lengthy, well-researched bios that dot the Internet in the wake of his death, but I did want to give him a brief tribute. And that is this: his cameos always made me smile, and the narrative voice I did encounter in the one comic I read had a tongue-in-cheek humor that was charming and timeless.
Entertaining audiences is a special gift, and Lee’s ability to do so makes me think of Donald O’Connor performing “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which claims that everyone wants to laugh and that a comedian who makes an audience laugh is greater than a critically-acclaimed Shakespeare. Not to disparage Shakespeare, of course, but I do understand the sentiment and enjoy a good laugh like the next person. In his work, Lee seems to understand that his audiences wanted to have fun and also to be inspired to become superheroes, whether in great or small ways or simply in their imaginations. I expect Stan Lee will always hold a special place in the hearts of comic book enthusiasts and superhero-smitten audiences, just as he holds a place in every Marvel movie with his quirky personality and signature sunglasses.
Intrigued by the release of the new Black Panther film earlier this year, I decided to try out some of the Black Panther comics which have preceded it. I started with the only comic book I could find at my local library that had “book one” in the title, which turned out to be a 2016 rejuvenation of the series. The slender volume I picked up was Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
While I did not find A Nation Under Our Feet particularly coherent or artistically impressive, the comic does provide an intro into the Black Panther world for those who, like me, are curious about the latest superhero Marvel has transferred from comic book to silver screen. Perhaps the best part of the comic is the last half, which includes a map and history of Wakanda and concludes with a snippet from the very first 1966 comic Black Panther appeared in, where Black Panther features as a character the Fantastic Four encounter. (Or should I say face? Black Panther has changed a lot since his first debut 🙂 .)
In spite of cartoonish colors and somewhat cheesy dialogue, I found myself enjoying the older comic more than the new one. The authors (Stan Lee being a prominent one) have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and use their powers as narrators to talk directly to the audience. Further, although the artwork is not nearly as slick as in more recent Black Panther installments, I thought it was laid out well and kept the story easy to follow. Finally, while certain tidbits—such as asbestos being an innovative material—certainly date the comic, I actually found these aspects to be part of the appeal.