Yesterday I talked a little about Stan Lee’s version of 1960s Marvel history. I want to add that Stan Lee may be telling the truth: Lee may have forgotten Steve Ditko pointed out the similarity of the Kirby Spider-man and the Simon/Kirby Fly to him. I just think it’s a shame Lee hasn’t simply said at some point over the last 50 years, “Y’know, I really don’t have a very good memory, so, sure, maybe Jack did contribute some elements to the first Spider-man story. I just don’t remember.”
Lee reminds me of American athletes in this country who are accused of using steroids, and for whatever reason — whether it’s a personal decision, or based on the advice of their lawyers — they never, ever deviate from their fake story.
That’s what we see from Lee when he’s asked about the initial genesis — the origin or creation — of all the 1960s Marvel characters. When asked, “Did Kirby help you create all those characters?” Stan always claims all the original, initial ideas were his. Always. 100% of the time. Galactus is a great example. Lee claims he wanted Jack to give him a character who’s godlike, larger than life. And Kirby did his job.
In my opinion, in terms of Lee’s contribution, that’s called handing out an assignment. I have a challenge for you, dear readers. I just came up with a character who is larger than life: a god bigger than Galactus. I call him Omnipotentus. Now get to work. Gimme a 20 page story featuring Omnipotentus vs. the FF. Make it a 3-parter. 60 pages of story and art told through visuals and margin notes.
Sure, Lee’s role as editor giving Jack an assignment is important, and many would still argue that Lee giving Jack that assignment was the moment of creation — the genesis of the character — but why not emphasize the fact that maybe Jack did more than just follow orders. I’ve always wanted to ask Stan Lee this question, and maybe one of my readers can pass this along to him:
Stan, why not honor your friend and collaborator Jack Kirby by admitting maybe he helped you create those 60s Marvel characters? When people ask you how Spider-man was created, why not say, something like, “You know, I worked on Spider-man fifty years ago, I don’t have a photographic memory, in fact I forget a lot of things; I was working very closely with Jack Kirby at that time, the guy was full of ideas, so yeah, if Jack says he helped create Spider-man, if Jack says he pitched a character who crawls all over the walls of New York City, maybe he did — I just don’t remember every second of every meeting with Jack. For Spidey, Maybe the Aunt and Uncle was his idea. Or maybe shooting webs was his idea. I just don’t remember.”
But we don’t get that from Stan. 100% of the time Lee takes 100% of the credit for creating 100% of the pivotal Marvel characters alone (except Silver Surfer which Lee admits was Jack’s idea, although Lee makes it clear that he feels his characterization via captions helped shape the character’s personality). This behavior just sends up red flags if you ask me. Not accusing Lee of lying, just saying my common sense alarm goes off.
Please don’t accuse me of “Stan bashing.” I like Lee. He reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield. A lovable huckster doing shtick.
But for me, in the same why I don’t believe Roger Clemens when he claims he never ever did steroids, I’m afraid I don’t believe Lee when he suggests Jack didn’t play a pivotal role in creating all those major 60s Marvel intellectual properties.
I understand the philosophy behind Stan’s all-or-nothing approach. It can be an effective rhetorical strategy. It reminds me a lot of former President Clinton’s famous “I never had sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” comment.
You deny, deny, deny until you get busted. But why on earth does Lee maintain such a hard line when it comes to his collaboration with Jack? Throw Jack a small bone, Stan. A scrap. Say, “Y’know, I have a really bad memory, I don’t remember every detail of creating X-Men, so y’know, yeah, maybe somethin’ like Cyclops from X-Men was Jack’s idea. Maybe Jack pitched that concept and I liked it. I just don’t remember, but I have tremendous respect for Jack so if he says he helped create X-Men, maybe he did.”
And of course, Jack designed all those famous costumes, which in my opinion was a huge part of the genesis process. Jack also contributed a significant amount of story elements to each origin story since he did not work from a full script. Why does Stan take such a hard line? Why not admit the mere possibility Jack was involved?
Why Lee feels he must take 100% of the credit for creating all the Marvel characters 100% alone, I’ll never understand. I’ve read many theories on the topic in articles and online: Some experts and comics insiders claim Lee might be under some kind of gag order, where he signed a confidentiality agreement with Marvel promising never to acknowledge the possibility of Jack’s involvement in the creation of the pivotal 1960s characters, this to avoid any potential lawsuits from Jack’s family. Others have suggested Lee simply wanted to create a sort of Mozart persona for himself where he could awe his audience with tales of his miraculous period of unparalleled creative genius during the timeframe from 1960-1970 (where coincidentally Kirby designed all of his characters and wrote the bulk of his stories with visuals and margin-notes). Others have even suggested, usually off-the-record, maybe Lee resented Kirby dumping him in 1970 and going to DC, and Lee’s systematic marginalization of Jack’s creative contributions from the historical record is “payback.” Others suggest Lee is a liar and a phony of epic proportions — nothing more than a con man who got his job at Marvel because Martin Goodman was a relative; that the so-called “Marvel Method” was a scam where Lee could take credit for stories that in many cases contained significant story and plot elements contributed by the artists. Most say Lee is actually a shrewd businessman and his routine is brilliant fictional P.T. Barnum-esque self-promotion — all of his “origins” stories are a clever version of a modern Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story meant to entertain and inspire the masses.
Was Lee’s refusal over the last 50 years to even admit it’s POSSIBLE that Jack played a pivotal role in the genesis of the major 60s Marvel characters like Thor, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-man, Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, Avengers, Nick Fury, etc., Lee’s way of getting even with Jack, or was it a way for Lee to make tens-of-millions of dollars and transform himself into a living legend? Who knows? All I know is that if Jack did help Lee create those characters, in my opinion, I think Lee’s false solo-creator-mythology damaged Jack’s reputation while he was alive, and now in 2011, Lee’s insistence that he came up with all the major 60s Marvel characters alone is going to make it more difficult for Jack’s family to reach any kind of fair settlement with Marvel/Disney.
It’s too bad Jack isn’t alive to give his side of the story.