By Matt Petras
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Stan Lee, Marvel comic book writer and co-creator of superheroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Hulk, died Tuesday at the age of 95. The legendary writer had a profound impact on comic book and movie fans around the world, including Pittsburgh, where many in the local comic book community consider their lives radically affected by Lee.
Lee died in a Los Angeles hospital Monday morning, according to The Hollywood Reporter. While Lee was away from substantial comic book work for decades, he remained a familiar face. He’s made countless convention appearances over the years and had cameos in most films based off of Marvel Comics properties since the original “X-Men” movie in 2000, such as “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), “Avengers” (2012) and “Black Panther” (2018).
For Colin McMahon, 53, the owner of Pittsburgh Comics in Canonsburg, learning about Lee’s passing felt like “a kick in the gut,” he says.
“It’s just tough,” McMahon says. “He definitely shaped a lot of.. my life… growing up, I read comics, I watched the cartoons, since then I’ve been watching watching the movies. Just all sorts of stuff that he had his fingerprints all over. It’s a big loss.”
He points to the classic “Amazing Spider-Man” #33 from Lee and Steve Ditko, released in 1966, as one of his favorites. A moment in issue #33 has become known as a defining moment for the character, in which the webslinger struggles to lift heavy machinery off himself in time to obtain a serum needed to save his aunt May. The powerful imagery and dialogue portrayed the relatable hero at his most determined and resilient.
“If she doesn’t make it,” a distressed Spider-Man says to himself, “it’ll be my fault! Just the way I’ll always blame myself for what happened to Uncle Ben.”
Tom Scioli, 42, a Pittsburgh comic book artist, considers Lee’s work on Spider-Man and Fantastic Four to be his best. Lee was able to create a unique voice for each character, and the humor shined most in his writing, according to Scioli.
Scioli could talk all day about Lee and the early days of Marvel Comics. He is currently working on a biography in comic book form of Jack Kirby, a Marvel artist who frequently worked with Lee. In it, he is exploring the sometimes tumultuous relationship between Lee and Kirby, which underscores the complications to Lee’s legacy. Lee has been accused many times over the years for taking too much credit for the characters and storylines for which he’s known at the expense of Ditko and Kirby.
“I sort of spend a lifetime trying to figure out who did what… but there’s a lot of Stan in that stuff. I find a lot of The Thing’s dialogue in the Fantastic Four to be laugh-out-loud funny. Like, I’ve laughed out loud many times at his different zingers and one-liners and witticisms, and those parts feel like Stan,” Scioli says. “That feels like something that’s consistent across his body of work. It’s this sort of light touch, this sense of humor that’s genuinely funny.”
Less than a decade ago, Scioli briefly met Lee after coming across him while waiting for an elevator at a convention in North Carolina. Lee didn’t disappoint, according to Scioli.
“He could not have been more warm [and] engaging,” Scioli says. “He just radiated energy. He was dressed all in white and he bounded up the steps into the elevator waiting area.”
Wayne Wise, 57, who teaches a graphic novels class for the University of Pittsburgh and has worked at the Pittsburgh comic shop Phantom of the Attic for more than 20 years, also met Lee, at a Pittsburgh convention. He gave Lee a newspaper containing material from an interview Wise did with him over the phone.
Before getting the opportunity to speak with Lee, Wise was well-aware of Lee’s larger-than-life personality in his public life.
“He had very much created a character that he portrayed throughout his career, a persona that was the Stan Lee Marvel persona, and when you saw him out in public, he was on, he was being Stan Lee,” Wise says.
Wise can remember bits from that phone interview he did with Lee in the ’90s. When he began speaking to Lee on the phone, the legend acted like a normal guy, Wise said. Lee remarked that he needed to get himself some coffee before answering questions.
“And then, as I started asking him questions, you heard him turn on the Stan Lee persona. And by the end of it, I was getting ‘Excelsior!’s and the ‘nuff said’ and that sort of thing,” Wise says. “But for that briefest of moments, I saw through the Stan Lee persona to the guy underneath who just needed some coffee.”