“Excelsior!”: R.I.P. Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics

By on November 12, 2018

Like many of you reading this today, we here at Night Flight HQ are mourning the death of Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and Marvel Comics publisher. Lee died early this morning, Monday, November 12, 2018, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Lee — who was 95 years old — became quite famous and almost as instantly recognizable as his superheroes through his many movie and TV cameo appearances, where he often played a jokester, avoiding falling concrete, watering his lawn, delivering the mail or Fed-Ex packages, crashing a wedding, playing a security guard, etc.

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For more than six decades, beginning in at least 1939, Lee’s contributions to the world of comic book art and, more specifically, his creations/co-creations/collaborations — including The Incredible Hulk, The Black Panther, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Mighty Thor, Daredevil, Ant-Man, and, last but not least, and probably his greatest creation of all, Spider Man — have certified his status in pop culture.

He grew Marvel Comics into mega-huge corporation (in 2009, the Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion).

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Lee — born Stanley Lieber in Manhattan, NYC, on December 28, 1922 — had the vision to create a universe within Marvel Comics in which the characters could cross over from one comic book series to the next.

He became a force to be reckoned within the comics community shared between fans and comic book creators, but, as we’re sure many of you already know, he was also very personable.

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Lee — who had a monthly column, “Stan’s Soapbox,” in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins — signed off his letters to fans with friendly and familiar sign-offs like ” ‘Nuff said,” and “Hang Loose.”

Another of his catchphrases was “Excelsior!,” which became his trademark motto (or signature phrase, if you prefer), which he said he used mainly because the people at Marvel didn’t know what it meant, and he also knew they wouldn’t know how to spell it.

In 2002, Stan Lee published an autobiography titled Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.

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Lee worked on his own and will frequent artist-writer/collaborators, including Jack Kirby (on the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Silver Surfer and X-Men), Steve Ditko (Spider-Man and the surgeon Doctor Strange) and with artist Bill Everett (the blind superhero Daredevil).

Sometimes these collaborations were challenged by his cohorts who disputed who was responsible and deserved credit, often leading to bitter, protracted fights. (Lee, like all Marvel Comics employees, had no rights to the characters he helped create and he received no royalties).

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Captain Sticky with Stan Lee at a 1975 comic convention in San Diego

One of our favorite stories — the topic of one of our very first Night Flight blogs, in fact, published on March 4, 2015 — was how Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics were going to create a comic book around a real-life superhero, Captain Sticky, detailing his various exploits. Captain Sticky was one of this humble blog writer’s personal childhood heroes.

Writer-artist Don Rico was assigned to tag along with Captain Sticky (real name: Richard Pesta) and get his story down on paper, but nothing ever came of it because Pesta found out that Marvel had expected him to cover their costs of the issue — in other words, they’d help him promote his Captain Sticky schtick for a comic book, but because he was rich, they expected him to pay for the privilege. So there was never a Captain Sticky comic.

Read our blog about Captain Sticky here.

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“His stories taught me that even superheroes like Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk have ego deficiencies and girl problems and do not live in their macho fantasies 24 hours a day,” said Gene Simmons of Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s KISS in 1979. “Through the honesty of guys like Spider-Man, I learned about the shades of gray in human nature.”

Lee had Simmons bleed some of his own blood into the ink of a Marvel comic book he did for KISS.

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In 1972, Lee handed over the Marvel editorial reins when he was named publisher, spending all his freetime to promote the company.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 — buying a home overlooking the Sunset Strip — and set up an animation studio and built relationships on the west coast.

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By the end of the 1990s (1998, to be exact), Lee had launched his internet-based Stan Lee Media — a superhero creation, production and marketing studio — which he took public a year later, but the company later had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when investigators uncovered illegal stock manipulation by his partners (Lee was not charged).

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According to the Hollywood Reporter in their obituary, published earlier today,

Lee’s final few years were tumultuous. After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, he sued executives at POW! Entertainment — a company he founded in 2001 to develop film, TV and video game properties — for $1 billion alleging fraud, then abruptly dropped the suit weeks later.

He also sued his ex-business manager and filed for a restraining order against a man who had been handling his affairs. (Lee’s estate is estimated to be worth as much as $70 million.)

And in June 2018, it was revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating reports of elder abuse against him.

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We here at Night Flight HQ refer to remember Stan Lee in better times and in better ways, though, especially as the man who always liked to smile and pose for selfies and sign autographs for his fans at comic book conventions.

R.I.P. Stan Lee.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.