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A Marvel Of A Man: Stan Lee Dead At 95

Photo caption: Stan Lee attends an event during Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif., on July 19, ...

Photo by Michael Buckner Getty Images for Samsung

Stan Lee attends an event during Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif., on July 19, 2013.

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Stan Lee died Monday at the age of 95. He helped create modern comics and leaves behind more than 75 years of work including the co-creation of such memorable characters as The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and Black Panther.

Lee gave us superheroes we could identify with, characters who allowed us to suspend our disbelief because they reacted to bizarre situations like you or I might. Or like Spider-Man or Deadpool might with a wisecrack.

I interviewed Lee at Comic-Con in 1998 when the first “Blade” movie was about to be released.

“Before Marvel started, any super hero might be walking down the street and see a twelve-foot tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and eight arms breathing fire, and the character would have said something like. ‘Oh! There’s a monster from another world, I better catch him before he destroys the city,’” Lee said. “Now if one of our Marvel characters saw the same monster, I’d like to think Spider-Man would say, ‘Who’s the nut in the Halloween get up I wonder what he’s advertising.’”

Robert Scott runs the San Diego store Comickaze: Comics Books, and More and grew up with Lee’s creations.

“He would talk about prejudice, racism, I mean the X-Men, here was a group of people who were only trying to do good things and only trying to help and they were constantly ostracized by being mutants,” Scott said.

And that’s exactly what Lee intended: “I think that’s important, the person viewing the cartoon or reading the book should have something to think about not just look at mindless pages of running around.”

Born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922, he took the pseudonym Stan Lee to save his real name for more literary pursuits. But those pursuits never came. Instead, Lee devoted more than six decades to the comics industry, co-creating Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man and Daredevil. In 1970, he successfully challenged the restrictive Comics Code Authority with a story about drug abuse in Spider-Man.

He also helped usher in the first black superhero in mainstream American comics with "Black Panther." Many of Lee’s creations found their way into the movies. David Goyer was the first to bring a Marvel black superhero to the screen with “Blade” in 1998. He appreciates the revolution Lee brought to comics in the 60s and 70s.

“He was the first one to create with Spider-Man, superheroes who doubted themselves, who were tormented, who were unhappy,” Goyer said when I interviewed him in 1998.

The increased complexity of Marvel's characters broadened their appeal to older audiences. Lee, always a savvy businessman, spearheaded the expansion of Marvel Comics from a division within a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.

Lee's larger vision was to create a shared Marvel universe in which characters from one series would cross over into another. He cited one example at Comic-Con in 2008: "There was one I loved, I think it was the Fantastic Four, and they were at a ballgame at Yankee Stadium and there were a lot of press photographers there. So I told [comic book artist] Jack Kirby to draw Peter Parker in the background with a camera. And we made no mention of it, he was just in the panel, and we got about a million letters saying, 'We saw Peter Parker at the game. That's terrific.' And it made it seem like these were real characters who live in the same world and occasionally they get together. And that was something I got a big kick out of."

Lee built a sense of community between fans and creators. He engaged readers through his column, Stan's Soapbox, and often signed off his letters to fans with the catchphrase "'Nuff said" or "Excelsior!" And he became as recognizable as his superheroes through his many cameos on TV and in movies.

After entering the comics industry as a teenager and helping the medium to mature and expand, Lee's impact on comics was recognized with numerous awards including the American National Medal of Arts in 2008.

This is from his cameo in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”: “Hey wait where are you going? Hey you were supposed to be my lift home. How will I get outta here, aw gee, I have so many more stories to tell.”

And he will continue to tell them through the characters he created.

‘Nuff said.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/

Lee gave us over six decades' worth of superheroes we could identify with, characters like Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, who reacted to superpowered crises in believably flawed, human ways.

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