“Mayhap the day will come when men think of truth – of right – of love for all their fellows. I pray it will come soon! For not till then will humanity fulfil its promise – nay, not till then – will man and god – be one” (Thor 173 February 1970)
Happy Birthday Stan!
Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame is ninety years old today, which only goes to prove that comics and staying young at heart give you a long life. And maybe a good core of moral values helps too.
It has been several generations since kids took much notice of what their parents seriously tried to teach them and spiritual and moral values have been increasingly promoted through the media, especially children’s media like comics and films. Not that the idea is new. Moral storytelling is as old as the ancient Greeks if not earlier. There have always been stories where ignorant, nasty people get their just deserts. Nowadays the boundaries have blurred considerably to the point where nasty criminals become heroes and everything is measured with a confused bundle of values that must make us wonder what we’ve done when some fruitcake goes on a killing spree with a machine gun. All of which brings us back to Stan The Man Lee and Marvel Comics…
All those years ago Stan Lee made superheroes human. Superman and Batman were too perfect, too far removed from the problems and sufferings of ordinary people. It is said that kryptonite was invented to give the actor a break when Superman was broadcast on the radio but without kryptonite Superman is so invincible it is hardly worth having a villain present. In fact, they might as well give up. Stan Lee’s new breed of superhero were powerful but not too powerful and flawed in any number of ways just like anyone but, and it is a big BUT, when the chips are down they know what is right and the best values of human nature shine through – honesty, commitment, self-sacrifice, generosity etc etc. Stan Lee has given several generations of kids all over the world a massive input on moral and spiritual issues and made it fun at the same time. And it isn’t moralising us such most of the time. Yes, the odd hero like Thor (who lets face it can be a bit starchy at times) does give forth with a slice of moralising like the one at the top of this article but mostly Stan had us think about it and decide for ourselves. There were moral dilemmas. Do you choose to save the one you love and allow the villain to get his nasty weapon working that may enslave all mankind or do you let your loved one die for the sake of humanity?
I’ve been reading Marvel comics since a time when I had no idea I was reading Marvel comics. Howzat you ask? Well, I was ten years old when a brand new comic was advertised on TV – ‘Fantastic’ it was called and I spent almost a whole day bicycling around every newsagent in the area until I found a copy. The X-Men knocked me out. I’d never seen anything like it in my short life so far (although not a lot since to be honest either!) and Thor and Iron Man …O Wow! … this was “Eureka” time all right! And it was British too, it said so right across the top – “The Best of British Comics” – and it was a few years until I found out that the best of British comics was in fact American and that I’d been reading all these stories in cheap black & white print when they had originally been published several years earlier in the USA in full glorious colour.
As you might expect since I run Artists UK it was the art that grabbed me most but the stories were excellent and I’m sure that the moral and spiritual content was a bigger influence on me than anything that my teachers or parents said. My big favourite was actually Dr. Strange, possibly because I like magical stuff and possibly because I found all the thumping and smashing of more physical characters could get a bit boring. It could go something like Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk, Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk, Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk … zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I’m still waiting for a Dr Strange film and hope that characters like Eternity and The Living Tribunal are in it …
Anyway, what I’m trying to say amongst all this babbling is that, when you think about it, given the influence Stan The Man Lee has had via Marvel comics on so many generations of kids aged 9 to 90 all over the world, possibly we are looking here at the ninetieth birthday of the greatest superhero of them all and the true and unrecognised saviour of the world. I doubt Stan is going to read this but if you do, thank you so much for all these amazing comics that I enjoy as much today as I did at ten years old when I had no idea they were Marvel comics.