Stan Lee was a pioneer in a universe of imperfect heroes

In recent years people have tended to reject him as the gullible grandfather of comic books, an outdated subject that appeared alongside the most heartbreaking superheroes on earth in the blockbuster Marvel films of the past decade.

But Stan Lee, who died on Monday, was much more than that. It is no exaggeration to say that it has contributed to the redrawing of the world of American fiction. And he certainly made sure everyone knew.

From the ashes of old magazines and the raw radioactive material of post-war uncertainty about science and power, Lee – not in itself, but without parallel or even – called a nuanced and self-sufficient universe of imperfect heroes.

While Updike and Cheever did it in the literature, and Kubrick, Lumet or Penn in the films, Marvel's father introduced in the American comic book – which at that time was especially interesting for teenage boys – a pantheon of deeply imperfect protagonists who, in spite of their astonishing presence in so many stories, were in many ways like other people.

These pariahs and outsiders stood up with the alarm clock and went to work every morning, not in a fantasy metropolis or Gotham, but in the real streets of New York and beyond. For them the battle was constant – whether it was the task to save the world, to pay the rent or to make ends meet, such as an independent photographer, a blind lawyer or a traveling stunt motorcyclist.

Unlike the iconic heroes of DC Comics, many of them destined for grandeur as the last survivors of destroyed planets, Amazonian royalty or legitimate kings of the sea, who like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ghost Rider and the Incredible Hulk have put together a catalog with human weaknesses – naive who, as a result of improvisation or negligence, clashed with the traffic of the destination.

Some rich, some workers, all of them neurotic, were forced by bad luck or by dubious elections. His abilities were simultaneously adversity and blessing. And sometimes it was difficult to distinguish the villains from the villains. Just like in real life.

This was largely due to Lee, who as editor of Marvel wrote many of the books during the Silver Years & # 39; of the comics in the early 60's. With seemingly inexhaustible energy and an amazing variety of voices, He created personality, ambiguity and a common story for characters who would become endearing.

"One of the things we try to prove in our stories is that no one is completely good or not at all bad," wrote Lee in a Marvel column column for March 1969. "Even a bad supervillain can have a quality have positive, just as any absolute hero can have his craziness. "

It is difficult to overestimate how innovative this philosophy was in a country that, since the 1930s, with a tone imposed by Hollywood pacatas productions, had spent 30 years positioning one-dimensional heroes in the center of their emerging mass culture. If we add the efforts of the 1950s government to demonize the comics as a cause of the deterioration of the spirit of American youth and force the editors to restrict themselves to the papilla of child consumption, we have an idea of ​​what Lee has reached the beginning of his life. 60.

Suddenly there was Tony Stark, a genius inventor with parental problems (and in the end we knew an alcoholic narcissist) who literally changed his broken heart in Iron Man and Peter Parker, a shy nerd from high school who had no idea how to deal with the strange powers and hormonal changes that stifled him from a radioactive spider during a school trip. Who knew the audience he spoke better.

And Bruce Banner, a military scientist who tried to save someone from one of his test blasts and eventually got locked up in a fight with his own furious and destructive superego – hardly an incidental story in an era in which psychotherapy and self-help grow dizzily.. And Matt Murdock, blinded by a terrible accident by irradiated waste that Daredevil demonstrated every night with his radar accuracy that disability is not necessarily a destination. And the X-Men, mutants and perpetual strangers whose struggle to find a place in the mainstream on Earth have been compared several times with racial relations, anti-Semitism and the Red Terror.

Even Steve Rogers, whose Captain America is the most similar of the group with Superman, had his demons. He was a meager rejected by the recruiters for the Second World War, so eager to fight that he offered himself as a guinea pig to try a "supersoldier serum" that made him the ultimate fighting machine.

Captain America debuted during the war years, when Marvel was still called Timely Comics, but Lee and his team updated the story for the sixties with even more ghosts at Rogers: he spent more than two decades frozen by falling into the sea and became awake in a world of big changes, morally cloudy, which hardly recognized.

There was another less conspicuous angle in which Lee was also a pioneer. As an editor of Marvel, in an era prior to pocket computers, he worked tirelessly to develop a relationship with his audience.

He talked about things behind the scenes and compiled a studio of half-crazy writers and artists who worked as a team and wanted to do everything to get good stories. His regular column, "Stan's Soapbox", spoke directly with readers in a way that preceded the type of celebrity access that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram nowadays offer.

Many felt that Lee did not give enough credit to comic book pioneers such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who worked alongside him in those early years in developing the "miracle method" of story development. Very good But part of Lee's genius was his ability to be a master in the collage.

Like a Bob Dylan or a Gene Roddenberry, Lee took cultural threads – elements that were already present in society – and wove his own plot. Although his source text was sometimes derived, what he sewed was something new under the sun.

And in his emerging pantheon of annoyed white men, Lee was often an enthusiastic advocate of progressive views on race and gender. The now famous Black Panther debuted in 1966 in a Marvel comic book and became one of the first conventional superheroes of African descent, but only in 1973 he got a prominent role in a comic titled "Jungle Action".

"None of us is so different from the others, we all essentially want the same things in life," wrote Lee in the pages of Marvel Comics in February 1980. "So why do not we all waste our time with it? hate from the & # 39; other & # 39; boys, just look in the mirror, sir – that other guy is you. & # 39;

Marvel is now a calibrated commercial giant, with a world of merchandise that strengthens his stories. It is dismissed as a mass production story for the age of mass production. But somehow Lee manages to leave a lingering sensation – maybe a snake oil, but somehow powerful – that everything can happen in the stories of Marvel.

Because, as Stan Lee knew before the country knew it, we still want our fantastic, unlikely superheroes to be like us. Or, more prominently, we want to believe that we can look like them. And who knows what they will do to get the upper hand, because who knows what we would do? Maybe we can be heroes, yes, but you still have to pay the rent on the 15th of every month.

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