Over 50 years ago, in an issue of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s famous run of Fantastic Four, a masked villain known as the Hate-Monger stirs up unrest and increases his own popularity by vilifying immigrants, calling for their mass deportation. Since this is a superhero comic, the Hate-Monger naturally ends up trying to take over the world (he turns out to be Hitler!), giving the FF the chance to give an arch-criminal the kind of satisfying beat-down that rarely, if ever, happens in real life.
This idea of a man scapegoating a whole race of people for the sake of increasing his power still resonates today, of course—perhaps even more strongly than before. For Stan Lee’s volume of work, this is nothing special.
Lee, who passed away on Nov. 12 at the age of 95, not only leaves behind a long list of accomplishments that includes co-creating some of the biggest fictional characters in pop culture and helping to revitalize a genre that is now the dominant force in Hollywood, but he also leaves a legacy of calling for tolerance and respect for all fellow men. Besides collaborating in the creation of one of the first black superheroes, the Black Panther, Lee also regularly vented his views on various subjects on the letters page, known as “Stan’s Soapbox.”
In 1968, around the time of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations, Lee wrote that “racism and bigotry are among the biggest social ills plaguing the world today,” adding, “Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.” He reposted this message on Twitter last year, after a resurgent white-nationalist movement sparked more violence.
Fans and well-wishers have been posting Lee quotes on Twitter since his death, in recognition of his life’s work. Not all comments have been positive, of course—see Islamaphobe Bill Maher’s dismissal of Lee’s influence and disparagement of comic books as a children’s medium that makes us all dumber.
Lee may have retired decades before his death, and it’s up for debate how much of his work on characters such as Spider-Man and the X-Men were really his, but he gave a voice to characters who have resonated for over half a century and are beloved by millions across the world. “The world may change and evolve,” he said in a video to his fans last year, “but the one thing that will never change is the way we tell our stories of heroism.”
Alex T. Randolph is an intern for the ‘Bohemian’ and ‘Pacific Sun’ by day, and a winged crusader for justice by night.
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