I have a complicated relationship with comic books. For some reason I never had any when I was a kid. It’s not that my parents had any objections to comic books, but I don’t remember going anywhere they were for sale. When I was, I think, in second grade there was some kind of school contest and I won a single issue of <i>The Fantastic Four</i>. I don’t remember what the contest was exactly–I wasn’t really paying attention, and maybe if I had I could have won more than just a single issue, but that’s another story. And I loved it. I could never figure out where to find more, though. I hear people talk about comic books racks at the drugstore or the grocery store, and eventually, when I was in my teens, the bookstores in the mall had racks with offerings from Marvel and DC, but at that point I’d moved on. I was making regular trips every Thursday–new comic day–to a local comic book store where I spent my money on mostly independent titles. I liked, if I could, to pick up a comic from issue one so I wouldn’t miss any of the backstory. I avoided the old classics because the size and depth of their universes intimidated me. My friends were all big X-Men fans and yet I avoided it because I felt I’d missed so much. I was fascinated by them–and several times seriously considered getting back into Spider-Man, my childhood hero–but kept my distance.
And yet there had been a glorious summer, maybe in between second and third grade–I don’t really remember because I wasn’t paying attention–when every afternoon the local UHF station ran a series of Marvel cartoons from 1966, and, starved for superhero action, I soaked up a good dose of Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Namor of Atlantis. The stories were great but at first the animation seemed a little shoddy and goofy to me–characters barely moved, and the design seemed, well, flat. Over time it grew on me, though, and I realized these were faithful interpretations of the originals. The quality of the animation may have been intended to save on costs, but it also captured the spirit of the comic books. I like to think the singular genius behind all of these characters, Stan Lee, had a hand in making the comic books characters he created and helped write the stories for, accessible. And that he got a kick out of the catchy theme songs. They opened me up to the worlds of comic book stories, and those comic books I collected in my teens–that included The Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman–probably wouldn’t have existed without him.
Tom over at Tom Being Tom has a great tribute to the comic books of his youth and the profound influence Stan Lee had on him and, reading it, I realized that even before I started collecting comic books regularly Stan Lee had an influence on me too, and even that his influence reached beyond just giving us memorable comic book characters who’ve become part of our collective culture. He made it possible for us all to be part of the world of heroes.
Hail and farewell Stan Lee.
Here are some of the openings to those old cartoons. Enjoy the catchy theme songs.
Those are freakin’ awesome! If I saw them as a kid I don’t remember the theme songs … corny as heck! Gotta love that. Thanks for doing a tribute to Stan the Man, Chris. His life and creations meant an awful lot to me – mean an awful lot to me.
It’s kind of funny, what drew me to the Marvel (and DC) stuff was the overarching and cumbersome histories you avoided. I never got into much independent stuff cuz I was always digging for more history on my faves!
The fun thing about the corniness of the theme songs is I think it was intentional–especially the neologisms like “unglamorais” in the Hulk theme and that final bass baritone on “For Namor of Atlantis is the Prince of the Deeeeeep….” are just too funny to be accidental.
What’s also funny to me is I can’t figure out why the depth of the backstory on the traditional comics intimidated me so much when the comics I did get into–The Watchmen especially–had pretty complicated backgrounds of their own.
And I keep coming back to how diverse Stan Lee’s superheroes were, and how they, especially The Hulk and Spider-Man, weren’t traditional hero types but deeply misunderstood characters. Stan Lee really focused on making superheroes human.
He changed the way we look at comics, from their humanity to tackling social issues between bams, pows, and whaps. Good bloke. And even though this was Lee’s tribute, Jack Kirby’s influence should not be forgotten. Titans, both, and they changed the (comic) world.
A wonderful tribute. There were no comic book stores in the town where I grew up, but now there are a lot of antique malls where you can buy just about anything–old and new. I really think that someone has to make a movie out of Captain Canuck though–that would be something!
The more I think about Stan Lee–and especially Spider-Man, who is still my favorite superhero of them all–I’m amazed by how much he did to make heroes human, and the characters he created made comic books what they are today.
Captain Canuck, I have to admit, would probably be my next favorite superhero, capable of knocking down enemies with superhuman politeness.
Stan Lee had a huge influence on me because my father owned a drugstore and he would bring home every comic book he carried for me to read. I knew the word “invulnerable” when I was at a very vulnerable age, and my favorite comics included the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Thanks for the fantastic tribute, Chris.
You’re very lucky to have grown up with comic books, especially Spider-Man, who remains my favorite superhero, and The Fantastic Four, both of whom represent a common theme in Stan Lee’s work: characters who didn’t start out as superheroes but through chance gained great power which they in turn used for good. Your father was a hero who passed that on to you.