Tribute to a genius

Looking at the Neighbourly Notes this week, there have been several deaths, and we extend condolences to all who have lost loved ones recently.

Some we knew better than others. But they were all loved by their families and friends, and will be missed and mourned.

Occasionally, we might even feel grief and loss over the death of someone we did not know, but who nevertheless had some impact on our lives.


For me, this week it was Stan Lee, who followers of pop culture might recognise as the creative genius at Marvel Comics in the 1960s, who together with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created a pantheon of superheroes for the “Silver Age” of comics, including Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, the Avengers, the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

These all sprang from Lee’s mind and were given colourful form by the artists he worked with.

It was an unsurpassed era of creativity in comics. And Lee, as the writer, did something quite different than what was expected in comics – he made his creations more human by imbuing them with weaknesses, struggles and self-doubt. They resonated with that generation.

Lee eventually handed the reins to other writers who were inspired to take his creations to new heights, but the core of their character remained.

I started out in my youth as a reader of DC Comics – the home of Superman, Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. I only really started following Marvel when they had their own “Renaissance” in the late 1980s, with writers like Peter David taking on The Hulk and David Michelinie on Spider-Man, and featuring fantastic art by Todd McFarlane.

I still treasure those stories.

Many scoff at the idea of comics having any significance after childhood, but that’s because they never got into the medium.

One of the most poignant stories I ever read was after my mother died of cancer a few years ago, when I came across a collected edition of The Life and Death of Captain Marvel, by writer-artist Jim Starlin.

A cosmic warrior who fought intergalactic tyrants and other more earthbound menaces, it wasn’t a supervillain who laid Captain Marvel low – it was cancer.

Starlin said he wrote the story as he dealt with the death of his own father, and you can feel the emotion as the hero accepts and faces his mortality.

Unlike other “deaths” in comics, Captain Marvel was not later resurrected by a creative ploy. He stayed dead. The publishers respected the story.

Lee inspired that. I am grateful for the many hours of enjoyment he and the ones who came after him have given me.

– Jon Houzet

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