Wednesday, December 29, 2010

STAN LEE WEEK: My favorite Stan Lee comics

It was a little tricky having STAN LEE WEEK run across the Christmas holidays, but I wanted to make sure I would be able to crossover with his birthday (which was yesterday's post). There was so much going on during Christmas week, and even this week leading up to the New Year's Day. Often that's a time I use to catch up on end-of-the-year tasks, and also a time when I catch up with certain friends and acquaintances. So I wasn't able to cover all the topics I wanted to, or stay on a tighter schedule for posting, but, I guess we can all come back here next time for SON OF STAN LEE WEEK!

But I have one last post today to wrap up this series. I'd like to share with you some of my favorite Stan Lee-written comics. After all, his role of writer and co-creator of some of my favorite heroes and comics books is really the core of his legacy, in my opinion.

AMAZING FANTASY #15, the first appearance and origin of Spider-Man. By far my favorite superhero, and this is actually my favorite single comic book of all time. AMAZING FANTASY featured several short stories, dealing with sci-fi or mystery/horror stories, ending in Twilight Zone-type twist endings. Well, for the final issue, #15, published in June 1962 , Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created a new, off-beat brand of superhero: a teenager with zero popularity amongst his friends, given superpowers by a radioactive spider. A stupid, arrogant act on Peter Parker's part leads to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben, and henceforth decides to use his newfound powers to fight crime. What a hang-up! Immediately appealed to my young Catholic guilt when I read it for the first time (as a reprint in the mid-70s)! The peculiar art, fascinating costume and atmospheric nature of the storytelling by Steve Ditko had the strongest appeal on me. Stan's deftly clever and melodramatic scripting was the perfect icing on the cake.


Stan and Steve produced 38 issues together of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, (plus two Annuals) and ranks as my all-time favorite run of superhero comics. The early soap opera life of Peter Parker was a tumultous tornado of emotional turmoil: Constantly caring for his Aunt May, who was terrified of Spider-Man (whom he actually made a widow by not acting to save his Uncle when he could have),  not being able to commit to Betty Brant because of the specter of Spider-Man coming between them, his destructive relationship with his boss, and Spider-Man's constant foe, publisher J. Jonah Jameson, and on and on.

Stan was relentless in getting the maximum emotional angst out of all the situations Peter Parker found himself in. And Ditko's artistry and storytelling made me a life-long fan of his work, even after he had left Marvel. So much of what I love about good old-fashioned American superhero comics is found in the 1000 or so pages of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

My other favorite Stan Lee written superhero comic book series has to be the first 100 issues he created with artist Jack Kirby. Debuting in 1961, THE FANTASTIC FOUR was to be Marvel's answer to the then popular JUSTICE LEAGUE published by DC Comics.

Right from the beginning, the Fantastic Four were different. They had no secret identities they kept from the public, and didn't even get costumes until the 3rd issue! They were also banded together as a family, not just a group of people joining together to form a team. Reed Richards and his girlfriend (later wife) Susan Storm were joined by her younger brother Johnny Storm and Reed's friend Ben Grimm on a private flight to space. Bombarded by cosmic rays, they returned to earth with fantastic superpowers, which they soon used in a lifetime of adventures thwarting giant monsters and evil masterminds.

 What was so gripping to me about the Fantastic Four was their very nature as a family. And being a family meant they could actually fight amongst themselves, even as they're trying to go about their duties as superheroes! Ben Grimm, now The Thing, would sometimes go off his rocker with anger at being turned into a monster. Or he and Johhny Storm, the Human Torch, would try to one-up each other with wicked pranks, never mind that the Torch was a teenager and Ben was pushing 40!

Again, Stan's whirlwind writing had to give each member a distinct personality as well as move the story along with a mix of science fiction, adventure and family melodrama. The other half of the creative team was of course Jack Kirby, by far the most imaginative, dynamic and inventive storyteller and creative dynamo Stan has ever worked with, in my opinion. In Kirby, Stan found a creator who pushed the boundries every time with new imaginative ideas, a plethora of amazing villians & guest stars, and enough explosive drama in his penciled drawings to inspire a round table of writers.

For me, the entire 100 issue run of FANTASTIC FOUR by Lee and Kirby is the pinnacle of 1960s Marvel Comics dynamic superhero action. Kirby left after issue 101, and Lee stopped writing the book at issue 114, but what a great run they had.

Another one of my favorite runs of Stan Lee's writing is THE SILVER SURFER, the 18 issue series done in collaboration with artist John Buscema. Originally created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee a few years previously in the pages of the FANTASTIC FOUR, the Silver Surfer was given his own title in 1968.

Granted cosmic powers from the Fantastic Four's supreme adversary Galactus, under Stan's hand,  the Surfer was often portrayed as a sort of extraterrestrial philosopher, commenting on the inhumanity he often saw displayed upon the planet he was exiled to, Earth.

With the expressive, classical and lush artwork of John Buscema, Stan was able to really expand on the Surfer's role as an almost Christ-like figure of piety and innocence. The Surfer would often find himself attacked for no reason other than being a stranger, or he might get befriended by someone only to have them turn on him once their trap was set. And always, the Silver Surfer would travel our world and lament the bigotry, the wars, the crime, the inhuman suffering he would witness.

I read these stories as reprints in the early 1980s, but the emotional content was just as relevant. It was really fascinating to see someone write a character like that, even though it was in the context of a cosmic powered superhero, fighting fantastic monsters and
supervillians. While just as melodramatic as his earlier comic book writing, the Surfer really gave Stan a platform to write more poetic, flowery dialogue, speaking to concerns the author and a good percentage of his readership shared. The Surfers quasi-Biblical metaphors, his Zen-like reflections, his commentary on man's cruelty to his fellow man did something to raise the content on a superhero title. 

These are only a few of my favorite Stan Lee comics, but they're definitely the top of my list. I can surely fill a lot more blog posts reminiscing about more comics, but we'll close off the STAN LEE WEEK with this entry.

Thanks for reading along, and thanks to those of you who've been commenting to me hear or elsewhere how much you've enjoyed these posts about Stan Lee, and how much his work has affected me as a reader and creator.

Until next time......... 

1 comment:

A.L. Baroza said...

"To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?": great story title, or the GREATEST story title?