Pop culture expert Rob Weiner pays tribute on the day an American icon died.
Rob Weiner remembers being a 7-year-old kid, and for the first time, catching a glimpse of a genre that has captivated him ever since. He has had plenty of company in that regard, especially since the dramatic emergence of comic books onto movie screens in an entertainment revolution that will impact generations to come.
What Weiner didn't know as a child was how impactful the man behind those comics was then and continued to be every day for the rest of his life. That impact won't fade any time soon, if ever.
Stan Lee, an American icon in comic books and their explosion onto big screens and living rooms around the world, died Monday (Nov. 12) at age 95 – a life full of achievement that will stand the test of time, Weiner said.
“I remember very early on as a 7-year-old seeing ‘Tales of Suspense No. 39,' just seeing that Marvel Comics banner and being intrigued by it,” Weiner said of one the world's most famous single comics because it introduced the character Iron Man to the world. “It drew me in, just like the work Stan Lee did for so long has drawn so many other 7-year-olds in.”
So impactful was Lee's influence on comics from the magazine form to the multi-million dollar movies that Weiner has devoted much of his life's work to studying, explaining and trumpeting how important Lee and his contemporaries have been to the fans in the United States and around the world.
“His importance to our culture cannot in any way be underestimated,” said Weiner, Texas Tech University's pop culture librarian and film, comic book and superhero expert. He has taught several courses on superheroes, comics, film and pop culture and authored ‘Marvel Graphic Novels and Related Publications: An Annotated Guide.'
“He created our whole modern mythology. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody between the ages of 2 and 102 who doesn't know who Spider-Man is. Marvel characters are a part of our consciousness, and more than ever because of the movies, they are part of our modern-day world.”
Lee was a New York-born writer who rose to prominence in the late 1950s and never stopped making major contributions. Along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee co-created characters like Spider-Man, The Hulk, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Black Panther and The X-Men. With Larry Leiber, his brother, Lee co-created Ant-Man, Iron Man and Thor.
Throughout his career, Lee and his talented collaborators made an effort to humanize
the superheroes by showing their flaws as well as their qualities of greatness.
“The superhero genre is here to stay for the long haul, and Stan Lee has an awful lot to do with that,” Weiner said. “That was Stan Lee's contribution – making these characters flawed and giving them problems and angst like the rest of us.
“When each of these characters was introduced and written about, the world was dealing with a lot of serious issues, so Stan Lee was writing comics that he himself would want to read – stuff for adults and not just for kids.”
Weiner gravitated to Spider-Man and Captain America most when he spoke of Lee's impact.
He noted that a quote that is commonly attributed to Ben Parker, the uncle of Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter-ego in the first Spider-Man movie, but originally from ‘Amazing Fantasy #15' in 1962, has become part of American lexicon: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.”
Likewise, Weiner said he sees Captain America as a representative of the best ideals of not necessarily what America is, but what it strives to be.
As the comics Lee was so much a part of evolved into television shows and then motion pictures, the impact grew greater. Weiner noted that the enormous popularity today encompasses toys, video games, Halloween costumes, etc.
“Superheroes have been around for over 80 years now and are part of who we are as a culture,” Weiner said. “They are supposed to represent the best of who we are but also show frailties as human beings, and Stan Lee was a major force behind that.
“His contribution to the world is equal to that of any political leader or popular figure – right up there with The Beatles. His importance in terms of changing the world, the landscape we live in, can never be underestimated.”