Stan Lee passed away on Monday at 95. He may have had a role in the creation of many of my favourite superheroes, but for me he’ll be the guy who popped up in every Marvel film, starting from Spiderman. It was the cameo to watch out for, reflecting the self-awareness that Marvel superhero films that have since shown, which make them a little more likeable than their dark DC counterparts.
However, Lee’s legacy has impacted my life in other ways. The X-Men was a fabulous comic series to read in my teenage years. Here are a bunch of superheroes who save the day, and yet struggle to be accepted. One of the first comic books I ever read outside of The Phantom was one featuring Jean Grey turning into Phoenix. After becoming the Phoenix, she proceeded to eliminate every member of the X-Men methodically, and without any hesitation, as they struggled to stop her. They failed. The premise was completely unexpected for a comic book. So when I later discovered Batman, its darkness wasn’t half as shocking.
Then there were Wolverine and the Hulk, which is what teenage years are all about: random, misdirected rage, and the occasional flashes of complete self-awareness. There was also Spiderman, who faced regular teenage problems with a constantly aching heart. Peter Parker was the superhero you wanted to be. Becomes a superhero by chance, doesn’t really enjoy having his powers, might have done fine without them, but does good now that he has them. And then there are wisecracks and jokes.
Marvel comics were much less darker than DC. And because of that the superheroes are a lot more self-aware. They are able to mock their own superpowers and those of their counterparts. And which may explain why they’ve made for much better cinematic adaptations, many of which even kids can watch.
But would I recommend Marvel pantheon to my child? No, not yet. My fundamental grouse against most comic books is that they lack strong female characters, who have the same motivations and abilities as their male counterparts. I admit my knowledge of comics is very limited, there may be editions and characters out there who meet all the criterion that I seek (please direct me to them). For me the best characters from the Marvel universe still reside in the X-Men, where there’s a woman capable of destroying the world if she deems it fit. I don’t want my daughter to destroy the world, but I’d like her to know that she has the power to do anything she’d like. However, I’ve not been able to find that comic yet.