I became a "Marvel Zombie" in September, 1966. I was in the fifth grade at Brykerwoods Elementary School. There was a new kid in our class that year by the name of John Leeds. One day I noticed that he had the names of all of the Marvel Comics superheroes written on the borders of his brown paper ButterKrust bread book covers. I had read enough Marvel comics over the prior couple of years to have a working knowledge of the characters even though I didn't buy any of the titles on a regular basis.
"I know who those guys are," I said to him one day."They're all Marvel Comics characters."
"Yeah," he replied. "I collect them all."
And with that, a friendship was born along with a comic book collecting hobby that has stood me well for these now fifty years. I decided that I wanted to emulate John and start buying and collecting every Marvel title that was currently being published. That wasn't that hard to do at the time. Marvel's output was limited to a handful of books in 1966: FANTASTIC FOUR, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, AVENGERS, THOR, DAREDEVIL, X-MEN, TALES OF SUSPENSE (Iron Man and Captain America), TALES TO ASTONISH (Sub-Mariner and Hulk), STRANGE TALES (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dr. Strange), SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, plus westerns RAWHIDE KID, TWO-GUN KID and KID COLT OUTLAW along with reprint giant-size mags MARVEL TALES, FANTASY MASTERPIECES and MARVEL COLLECTOR'S ITEM CLASSICS. On the horizon were such late '60s touchstones as NOT BRAND ECHH, CAPTAIN MARVEL, THE SILVER SURFER and the awarding of individual books to Cap, Iron Man, Hulk, Subby, S.H.I.E.L.D and Dr. Strange. While I can't claim to have been there at the very beginning of the "Marvel Age", I got on board the bandwagon at a great time in the company's history.
Of course, almost every one of these comics were written at the time by the one and only Stan Lee. Roy Thomas was just beginning his run on AVENGERS and a couple of other books but Stan was still the Man. While I now consider Roy Thomas my all-time favorite comic book writer, there's no denying that Stan Lee will always hold a special place in my heart. He was Marvel Comics for those of us lucky to be caught up in Marvelmania in the 1960s and the characters he co-created and the stories he wrote stand among the greatest in the history of the medium. When I was ten years old, I loved Stan Lee. I'll be sixty in a couple of months and I still love the guy. In fact, I loved Stan so much that one of my earliest career ambitions was to move to New York City and become a writer for Marvel Comics. Never happened of course but I know I wasn't the only True Believer to harbor that fantasy, a dream that several fans actually acted upon, making the leap from readers to creators and bringing fresh and new ideas, concepts and wonderment to the four color pages.
For some reason, my brother didn't care much for Stan Lee. He wasn't a comic book reader at all but he knew that I was crazy about the guy, always talking about how great he was and how cool Marvel Comics were. He used to pester me mercilessly by telling me that there was no such guy as "Stan Lee", that it was just a name they (Marvel), made up. I knew better. One day there was a letter of comment in CAPTAIN AMERICA from a reader in Brenham, Texas, where my brother attended junior college. I cut the page out (d'oh!) and mailed it to him with a note admonishing him to look the letter writer up, that here was someone else who enjoyed Marvel Comics and fully believed in the gospel of Stan Lee. He finally had to admit that I was right.
One of the gifts Judy gave me this past Christmas was a copy of the new hardcover graphic novel, AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE: A MARVELOUS MEMOIR by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran. I read it this morning and while there's nothing new in it, I have to admit that I got a kick out of it. Stan recounts his life story (written by David with very nice art by Doran). In the course of the book Stan tells us repeatedly of his love for his wife Joan, gives credit where credit is due to co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, admits that his memory isn't 100%, drops the names of several heavy hitters he's met over the years, gives a brief synopsis of the "Marvel" method of writing comics, explains how he created most of the initial Marvel superheroes, talks about the work he's done post-Marvel and his many cameo appearances in the Marvel movies.
AMAZING covers a lot of ground but it still just hits the high points of this incredible man and his career. He truly is one of the giants of not only comic books but pop culture with a career that now encompasses both the 20th and 21st centuries. I've never had a chance to meet him but I'd love to do so if only to shake his hand and tell him how much his work means to me. Oh, and get his signature on my copy of AMAZING FANTASY #15. Will it happen? Who knows.
If you love comics, especially Marvel Comics, this is a must read. It's a fun stroll down memory lane by the one and only Stan "The Man" Lee.