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Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I am a big comic book geek.   My office looks like a superhero toy store. Much to the dismay of my mother and since 2009,  my wife, I have bought about 12-30 comics a month since 1982.  And I even have a Superman logo tattoo on my left bicep. And because of that, I’ve been revisiting my comic book and cartoon collection following the death of Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee.  

Lee died at 95 and while many people will remember him for his work in creating Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers, just to name a few.  What I loved most about Lee’s work is how well he humanized his characters and the issues that they were not afraid to tackle. Don’t get me wrong, the Man of Steel will always be my guy, but the problem with Superman, at least when I started reading comics, was that he was too perfect, too strong, too invulnerable; Marvel’s characters were different, and they were more complicated.

The Fantastic Four was a  family, and they fought like a family.   In issues #3 and #4, the Human Torch gets into an argument with the group, leaves only later to discover the Sub-Mariner in a flophouse.   The Torch recognizes him, drops him in the water, Namor gets his memory back and then declares war on the human race.

Peter Parker, everyone’s favorite Spider-Man, broke the mold of superheroes, by first of all being a teenager.  At the time, teens were regulated to sidekicks of more prominent superheroes, Dick Grayson anyone? He was a hero, but he was also a bit of an outcast at school, he didn’t have a lot of money, and he carried around the guilt of not stopping the robber who would later go on to kill his Uncle, Ben.  That’s some pretty heavy stuff.

And Marvel, under Lee’s guidance, was not afraid to tackle the big social issues of the day.  The X-men were an allegory for the civil rights movement with Professor X taking the approach of Dr. Martin Luther King and Magneto being more like Malcolm X.    Even the Avengers took on overt racism when they took on a group called the Sons of the Serpent, a hate group that wanted to drive the “unfit” from America. Marvel also addressed the women’s movement of the 1970s, the drug wars of the 1980s and, if my memory serves me correct, it  introduced the first openly LGBT superhero character. And we all know about the Black Panther, who by the way was originally supposed to be the “Coal Tiger.”

Now, this isn’t to say Marvel was perfect, sometimes the character’s brooding would turn into whining.  And Marvel had a bad habit for a while doing crossover events (that’s when a storyline goes through several different titles), and every summer became an “earthshattering event that would rock the Marvel Universe to its core.”  But overall, they were stories that I have loved and kept for the last forty years.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to break out my Secret Wars collection (the first one, not the second one for my fellow geeks) and give it a read.  

Photo:  Abdul’s Comic Stash