All it takes is a quick scan of Marvel Comicsâ€™ massive roster of fantastical characters to realize the importance of Stan Lee to the comic book world.
Most great comic creators have one or two signature creations to their name, as in Siegel and Shusterâ€™s Superman or Todd McFarlaneâ€™s Spawn. Lee, on the other hand, co-created an entire universe, the writer and former Marvel editor-in-chief is linked to more than 500 characters. These include the iconic likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Avengers and X-Men, who have made the transition to blockbuster movies.
But the impact he made on pop culture extends far beyond the comic book world.
We see this in the documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story â€” screening Sunday at the Globe Cinema as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival â€” as such movers and shakers of modern pop culture as Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen, Jon Favreau, James Franco, Frank Miller and Nicolas Cage sing the praises of the man they all view as a seminal influence.
Leeâ€™s impact is further felt in the work of such prominent directors as Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi (who have been involved with Marvel movies) as well as the likes of J.J. Abrams (see the comic book vibe of TVâ€™s Lost or a movie like Super 8) and James Cameron (The Terminator and Avatar could easily have been storyboarded in the pages of a Marvel Comic).
Then thereâ€™s the popular sitcom Big Bang Theory, its lovable nerds frequently hailing Lee as a god among men.
All of this is entirely fitting according to Will Hess, co-director of With Great Power.
â€œIf you think of all the great 20th-century creators, Jim Henson, George Lucas, Walt Disney â€” Stan Lee goes hand in hand with them,â€? Hess says.
Co-director Nikki Frakes agrees. â€œIâ€™m a big traveller and I have to say, in the 40 countries Iâ€™ve been to, Iâ€™ve never been to a country where I donâ€™t see Stanâ€™s influences,â€? she says. â€œBe it someone wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt or Spider-Man painted on a wall, or some form of merchandising, his influence is felt everywhere around the globe.â€?
Lee, who emerged as the first comic-book creator of celebrity status, was also instrumental in the birth of todayâ€™s comic convention culture, epitomized by massive crossover events like the San Diego Comic Con and the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, wherein comic book artists and writers are received as stars by thousands of fans.
(Lee will be appearing at all three days of the Calgary Comic Entertainment Expo, running next Friday through Sunday.)
Lee, a dynamic figure in his own right who naturally attracted the media spotlight, instigated this phenomenon across the industry by giving prominent credits to the talent behind each issue. As well, in his editorâ€™s page he treated his collaborators at Marvel as fun, quirky personalities who the fans could relate to.
â€œHe made readers feel like they were part of this family, this club,â€? says Frakes.
Terry Dougas, who also co-directed With Great Power says that fans regard Lee as a figure of inspiration. â€œHeâ€™s the American dream,â€? Dougas says. â€œHeâ€™s a super-simple man who works hard and loves it and he achieved so much. . . . Heâ€™s become a global pop culture force.â€?