Last 12 November one of the most important authors in the history of comic books passed away: his name was Stan Lee and he was 95 years old. Lee wrote hundreds of comics and invented dozens of characters. He worked for many years for the publisher Marvel Comics, for whom he created, among others, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, Black Panther and the X-Men. Today these characters are more than fifty years old, but they are still very popular. They are the protagonists of comic books, but also of video games, animated and live-action series and feature films. The ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – which includes the films of just some of Marvel’s superheroes – is the highest-grossing film franchise in history, earning more than even the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises. Lee ‘signed’ these films by appearing in them as an actor, playing short, funny cameos.
Lee was full of energy and ideas. He started working when he was very young. After a series of odd jobs, he began working for a comic book publisher, Timely Comics (later renamed Marvel Comics). It was 1939. He liked writing, but he felt that the comic books of the time were too simple. After many years of writing what he called “silly little comics” he was ready to quit, but his wife told him: “before you do, why don’t you do one comic book the way you would like to do it?” If his boss fired him it wouldn’t matter – he was going to quit anyway. Lee followed his wife’s advice. In 1961, he created an unusual team of superheroes called the Fantastic Four. It was a success. Lee then created the Hulk, Spider-Man, the X-Men and dozens of other heroes and villains. The artists who drew his comics often helped him in the creative process. The most famous was Jack Kirby, who had a very dynamic style of drawing. It was the beginning of the ‘Marvel Revolution’.
The Marvel Revolution
Lee reinvented superhero comics, making them popular again. He did more than simply invent new characters with special powers; he created three-dimensional individuals. His superheroes are not perfect. They have personal problems and character flaws. They have complicated relationships with their powers. The X-Men, for example, are a group of misfits who are the victims of discrimination. Bruce Banner, who transforms into the Hulk, doesn’t even want his superpowers. Peter Parker, the boy behind the mask of Spider-Man, is a shy, bullied school boy. When he first dresses as Spider-Man he uses his powers in an egotistical manner, and he doesn’t help a policeman catch a thief. The same thief later kills Peter’s uncle. Peter feels responsible and understands that “with great power there must also come great responsibility.”
Comics as literature
All of Lee’s superheroes learn this lesson, but so did Lee himself. He knew that he was creating role models for his young readers. He used his comic books to entertain, but also to express positive values. Lee also wanted comics to ‘grow up’. His work inspired a new generation of authors who used comic books to tell more complex and mature stories. One such example is the comic book Watchmen, written by the Englishman Alan Moore, and published in 1986-7. Moore’s superheroes are so life-like and his story so sophisticated that Time Magazine put Watchmen in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Stan Lee once said: “Our goal is that someday an intelligent adult would not be embarrassed to walk down the street with a comic magazine.” His work was extremely important in making that possible.
1) Read the biography of Stan Lee on Simple English Wikipedia:
2) Watch this tribute to Stan Lee’s life and work:
3) Read some of Stan Lee’s landmark comics (such as the first stories of The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man) at this link:
4) Check out some of Jack Kirby’s superhero art here:
5) Listen to this review of the comic book Watchmen:
1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.
1. Stan Lee’s superheroes first appeared in
- TV series.
- comic books.
2. Lee was born in 1922. He invented his most famous character when he was
- in his fifties.
- in his late thirties and early forties.
- when he was very young.
3. Lee became a comic book writer
- as his first job.
- after doing other jobs.
- because he was full of ideas.
4. Lee believed that comics in the 1940s and 50s were
- difficult to understand.
5. Lee’s wife told him to
- write The Fantastic Four.
- write a story that wasn’t a ‘silly little comic.’
- quit his job.
6. Lee created many of his characters with the help of
- his publisher.
- other artists.
- his wife.
7. The ‘Marvel Revolution’ superheroes are special because
- they have special powers.
- they don’t want their superpowers.
- they have flaws like ordinary humans.
8. At the very beginning, Spider-Man
- did not fight crime.
- fought against criminals.
- bullied other boys.
9. Watchmen is a comic book that
- tells the story of some of Lee’s superheroes.
- is considered literature.
- is considered the best comic book since 1923.
10. Stan Lee wanted to write comics
- just for kids.
- just for intelligent adults.
- for a wide readership, including intelligent adults.
2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.
to gross * franchise * to quit * to fire * flaw * misfit * to bully * odd jobs * to pass away * villain
1. Another way to say ‘to die’ is to say ______.
2. The evil character who fights the hero is called ______.
3. An outsider, or a person who does not ‘fit’ in society is called a ______.
4. She ______ her job because she didn’t like it any longer.
5. He never showed up at work, so his boss ______ him. He is jobless now.
6. We all have our virtues, and we all have our ______.
7. That boy likes ______ smaller, vulnerable children. He must be stopped.
8. The term ______ is often used to describe a group of films with the same characters and setting.
9. ______ means to earn.
10. He should stop doing______, he should start focusing on a career.
GRAMMAR – Past simple and past continuous
3) Complete the sentences using the verbs provided. Use the past simple or the past continuous.
1. I ______ (to read) a comic book when the phone ______ (to ring).
2. I ______ (to watch) a Marvel film when suddenly Jack ______ (to say): “Look, that actor is Stan Lee!”
3. At 6 o’clock, Mary ______ (to find) me at the library; I ______ (to draw) Iron Man.
4. While Stan Lee ______ (to write) stories, Jack Kirby ______ (to illustrate) them.
5. Stan Lee ______ (to invent) his most famous characters while he ______ (to work) for Marvel.
6. What ______ you ______ (to do) yesterday evening? I ______ (to attend) a comic book convention.
7. I ______ (to see) John at the comic book convention. He ______ (to wear) his Spider-Man costume!
8. Stan Lee ______ (to plan) many new projects when he ______ (to die).
9. I ______ (to like) comic books when I was younger, but today I prefer to read novels.
10. A radioactive spider ______ (to bite) Peter Parker while he ______ (to visit) a laboratory.
4) Do you like comic books? What’s your favourite comic book or comic book character? Explain why you like it. (60-80 words)
5) Do you think that some (or all) comic books can be considered literature? Explain. (60-80 words)