Saturday, May 5, 2012

Stan Lee is a Mutant


Today I tried to take my daughter to see The Avengers (well, actually, she was taking me).  We went to the local theater, that had something like 20 showings scheduled, but they were sold out and there was a line about a mile long.  I don't know much about movies, but it looks to me like they have another Mega-hit on their hands.  Like, Marvel Comics might make as much money as some entire nations.  

    What is even more amazing is that the amazing characters of Marvel Comics were created by Stan Lee, who has been doing this since 1939!  1939?  That couldn't be right, could it?   That would mean the guy has been working on comics for 73 years???  He would have to be a mutant for that to be true.

    Well, that's exactly right.  Stan Lee started to work as a child prodigy at the age of 17, at which time he created Captain America, the Human Torch, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner and others. Now, as a cheery 90 year old, he's still at it. Along the way, he created Thor, Spider-Man, Daredevil and probably a thousand other amazing characters and super villains.  It's incredible to think about doing something you love for such an amazing long time. 

Stan’s superheroes were different from DC Comics’.   Marvel superheros had real problems, ranging from money worries to girl problems, and an occasional hangover from getting too much radiation.  Superman and Batman, on the other hand, were basically super-strong boy scouts in tight longjohns.  Plus, characters like Superman were kind of boring because they had no limitations.  Face it, Superman could fly into the sun and destroy entire planets if he wanted to.  That just didn't make much sense after a while.

   By contrast, Stan Lee created a drama of misunderstood super powered mutants trying to be accepted in a world that just doesn’t seem to care.    That seems to be a theme that others can relate to on some level.  Maybe at times we have all felt that we had some special power or goal in life, only to have it attacked by an ignorant and prejudiced world.   
   Spider-man, in particular, was always going through some kind of crisis.  Poor guy!  If it wasn’t his girlfriend getting mad at him, it was Aunt May having a heart attack, and it was always his fault.  All he wanted to do was save the world...!

 Guys, would you rather have Nastasha (Black Widow) Romanova for a girlfriend, or Lois Lane?  

    Stan must be the most prolific writers of all time. It's one thing to simply create all those characters, but he also wrote stories, dozens per month, for the better part of a century.  Incredible! Definitely, he has to be a mutant, for no one could be that prolific unless some type of super power is involved. 

   One of my professors in Seminary, Tom Boomershine, used to argue that stories of superheros have their roots in the apocalyptic literature in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Heros like Daniel or Enoch (especially in the non-canonical literature) have some similarity to Peter Parker or Steve Rogers, in that they visit strange new worlds and encounter supernatural creatures.  We tend to view the Biblical stories differently because some of them, after all, are part of the Bible, but from a literary point of view there are some common themes.  These may teach us, in some way, about our own nature.
   My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Stanton, was appalled by my suggestion that William Shakespeare was simply creating popular entertainment at the Globe Theater, and that nobody recognized that it was great at the time.   Thus, by the same token, popular television shows (like Star Trek) might someday be ranked alongside Shakespeare. Poor Mr. Stanton.  He about passed out at that suggestion, but the fact of the matter is that Star Trek has indeed been enormously influential in the world culture.  

 Stan Lee’s creations are in the same category, and based on early returns, it may be that the latest superhero movie may be ranked among the most popular in world history.  At some point, people are going to have to evaluate the impact of such works on society as a whole.   I hope we don't start worshipping them, but I've seen stranger things in this world.

 I might have expanded that argument to include Stan Lee’s creations, which are going to reach audiences far larger than Bill Shakespeare has.  I believe that people will be discussing Lee’s genius in the 25th Century, along with Billy Shake and others.  Moreover, people will certainly recognize the names William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and Toby Maguire.  Not sure about Richard Burbage, though. 
    Well one of these times, my daughter and I will get to see the Avengers.  I can’t wait.  
Post script
   Well this time the nine year ond I  made it to the show.  It did not disappoint, despite the enormous buildup I gave it.  It lives up to the hype.   The movie succeeds not only in amazing special effects, but also develops the personalities of the superheroes.  I like brilliant inventor Tony Stark (Iron Man), and red blooded true American Hero Steve Rogers (Captain America) the best.  They tend to butt heads a bit.  I think Iron Man is a Democrat, but Captain America is a Republican.  

    The high tech military stuff is incredible.  Basically everything we ever thought of at Air Force Research Labs and then some, it is an engineer's dream.   But ultimately it came down to great acting and the interaction between the characters that outweighed any special effects magic.

    Not sure if the movie reached Shakespearian levels in poetry or plot development, as I had suggested it might.  Nevertheless it will likely have  a certain impact on society.  In particular I think if I were a would-be terrorist, I would hesitate to take on people that make movies like this.  

   On the other hand, The Avengers  is most assuredly not a comedy but there are a few scenes that made me laugh as hard as any movie I have ever seen.  I won't give them away; you'll have to see the movie yourself. 
    Also, if you're thinking about taking kids to see it, my nine year seemed to do okay with it.  It was very intense and the special effects were very exciting, but for the most part it was not really gory or upsetting.  However, the six year did not see it, and I'm sure that was the right call.  He was better off watching the cartoon pirates movie. 


  1. I also saw this, and thought it was very well done. I liked what you might refer to as the interpresonal drama between Loki and the Incredible Hulk.

    1. Yes the Hulkster may have a bit of a sense of humor after all. I think he may just be misunderstood.

  2. enjoyed this review, never thought of how all this would seem from a engineer perspective, effects and all.