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Learn more about my first book, Six Pack: Emergence.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Writing Inspirations: Stan Lee

OK, so this writing influence I'm about to discuss would be a "well, of course" for almost any comic book geek.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Stan Lee.

I watched the PBS three-part documentary "Superheroes" and it gives a lot of good insight into how the comic book industry and superheroes evolved. Of course, Lee was one of the many interviewed, and his influence on comic books is impossible to ignore.

When Lee created The Fantastic Four, he did more than just create a team of superheroes, but superheroes with flaws and struggles. That made them characters people could relate to in many ways, rather than a larger-than-life archetype.

Then, of course, came Spiderman -- or should I say, Peter Parker. I think those who say that Parker really sold people on Spiderman are correct. Parker was a teenager who felt awkward and insecure, then is suddenly blessed with superpowers and is on top of the world.

And then the story unfolds: Parker becomes a television star, is shorted on a promised payment, and refuses to stop a thief. Later, his Uncle Ben is killed and Spiderman decides to pursue the killer, only to learn it's the same thief he earlier refused to stop.

And then comes perhaps the most memorable line in all of comics: "With great power comes great responsibility."

What made Spiderman unique was that he was a teenaged superhero who wasn't a sidekick, and he had to face many issues a teenager would confront on his own. Lee never made Spiderman a superhero who had a solution to every problem, and that's what allowed many people to relate to him.

What's interesting about the PBS documentary is that Lee admits he never intended to make a career in the comic book industry. At the time he wrote for comics, he envisioned himself writing anything but comic books. Yet the ideas he injected into the comics are arguably what made comics more than just a distraction for kids, and allowed them to explore complex issues.

As I didn't read a lot of comics as a kid, but spent more time watching animated shows, I probably didn't think much about Lee's influence. But as I got older and watched animated shows that expanded upon superheroes, I came to appreciate more about what Lee brought to the table. His influence is evident in so many writers who have ties to the comic industry.

And so, that brings me to his influence in my book: Teenaged superheroes who must deal not only with a significant problem in their own society, but individual problems they must face, ranging from how they handle the superpowers they acquire, to how they handle working with each other, to how they deal with own doubts and struggles.

It's hard to imagine how the comic industry would have evolved if Lee hadn't come along. I suppose somebody would have emerged who would inject new ideas, but I wonder how much longer it would have been. Needless to say, as the Superheroes documentary details, Lee's ideas came at the right time, giving new life to an industry that was losing steam.

And in the process, he influenced more people than I suspect he could have ever imagined.

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