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All of which should mean there’s never been a better time to be Stan Lee.
But watching him over the last year — seeing the way he has to hustle for paid autographs at a convention, watching him announce lackluster new projects, hearing friends and collaborators grudgingly admit his personal failings — it’s hard to avoid the impression that, in what should be his golden period, Lee is actually playing the role of a tragic figure, even a pathetic one.
But hard-core comics geeks greet news of his new projects with a certain degree of eye-rolling.
"Not only a comic book, but I can’t read the newspaper or a novel or anything,” he said. That world-shaking run revolutionized entertainment and the then-dying superhero-comics industry by introducing flawed, multidimensional, and relatably human heroes — many of whom have enjoyed cultural staying power beyond anything in contemporary fiction, to rival the most enduring icons of the movies (an industry they’ve since proceeded to almost entirely remake in their own image).
“You may not suspect this, but this little panda is a killer! I ask him what his and Dougas’s collaboration process is like. After all, it’s unwise to draw attention to the things for which you’re most hated, and since at least the late 1960s, Lee has been accused of stealing credit from two of comics’ most legendary creators, two men who had tremendous creative synergy with Lee before they concluded that he was an unforgivable bastard. You learn about how he screwed Kirby and Ditko, about how those two were the real creative forces behind Marvel.
Those two men were writer-artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. You get told Lee is nothing more than a flashy, empty suit.
And in revitalizing the comics business, Lee also reinvented its language: His rhythmic, vernacular approach to dialogue transformed superhero storytelling from a litany of bland declarations to a sensational symphony of jittery word-jazz — a language that spoke directly and fluidly to comics readers, enfolding them in a common ecstatic idiom that became the bedrock of what we think of now as “fan culture.” Perhaps most important for today’s Hollywood, he crafted the concept of an intricate, interlinked "shared universe," in which characters from individually important franchises interact with and affect one another to form an immersive fictional tapestry — a blueprint from which Marvel built its cinematic empire, driving nearly every other studio to feverishly do the same.
And which enabled comics to ascend from something like cultural bankruptcy to the coarse-sacred status they enjoy now, as American kitsch myth.