Under his leadership, Marvel directly challenged societal norms on race, religion, war, gender and sexuality
By Michael Taube
TORONTO – Stan Lee passed away on Nov. 12. The larger-than-life personality of Marvel Comics for seven decades, he helped create some of the world’s most beloved superheroes, including Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Black Panther.
The 95-year-old son of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, Lee was a genius and great innovator in the comic book industry – and later, TV and film.
He also played a direct role in bringing modern liberalism and various left-wing elements to the forefront of U.S. politics and society.
Lee wasn’t a wild-eyed radical. He believed in capitalism, and opposed communism personally and in his comic books. But he clearly preferred the company of liberal Democrats like Edward Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Although he typically avoided political discussions, he briefly let his guard down two years ago. In a short, barely-viewed YouTube video posted on May 21, 2016, by the Kansas City Star, Lee was asked about the presidential election during an appearance at Planet Comicon. He said it had “more colour to it because of, umm, Trump. He’s a very unusual guy. And there’s a lot of bitterness also, and I’m not sure it’s good for the country to have that much bitterness in a presidential election.”
It’s not surprising that Lee disliked current President Donald Trump’s political style. Under Lee’s leadership, Marvel became part of the liberal cultural revolution and directly challenged societal norms on race, religion, war, gender and sexuality.
Marvel superheroes were mostly imperfect beasts, a different model from the nearly-perfect superheroes of yore. They struggled with their secret identities, failed almost as often as they succeeded, challenged authority and fought with their inner demons as much as they battled supervillains.
Peter Parker (alias Spider-Man) suffered from teen angst, girlfriend problems, an inferiority complex and anti-social behaviour. Bruce Banner had to constantly control his temper or he transformed into The Hulk. Wolverine, part of the X-Men, is a complex, brooding loner who occasionally goes berserk. The patriotic Captain America was racked with guilt when his sidekick, Bucky, was killed.
By making these superheroes more flawed than god-like, Lee allowed readers to identify with the twists and turns faced by their favourite characters.
This provided Lee with the opportunity to use his fantasy world to shape and remake the real world. On the plus side, he strongly opposed racism and religious bigotry, and supported civil rights and tolerance. Unfortunately, Lee’s Marvel also kicked the door wide open to left-wing-supporting commentary.
The company shifted from a pro-Cold War stance to anti-war activism, including its criticism of the Vietnam War. Captain America and Iron Man, Marvel’s two great pro-American defenders, seriously questioned U.S. foreign policy decisions in storylines (although the former less so today). Student radicals weren’t necessarily praised, but some stories threw serious shade on their fight against “The Man.” Radical environmentalists nodded approvingly at Thanos’s critique of unchecked population growth hurting the planet in the movie Avengers: Infinity Wars.
Marvel even ran a Captain America story about white supremacists that specifically highlighted an anti-tax, Tea Party-like group. They ultimately apologized for it.
Indeed, the progressives who read his comic books, most notably Obama, may have been partially influenced by Lee’s worldview as children – and carried these views well into adulthood.
Does Stan Lee deserve widespread condemnation for holding a slightly bizarre amalgam of capitalist and radical liberal positions?
But when you praise this comic book legend, it’s important to remember his influential role as a left-wing culture warrior.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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