It’s hard to believe it has been two years since Stan ‘The Man’ Lee passed away, and left behind a legacy that has not only shaped the world of comics, but television, movies, pop culture, and beyond.
When Stan Lee died on 12th November 2018, he was at the ripe old age of 95 and accomplished more even in his later years than most of us do in an entire lifetime.
As one of the big three alongside Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee had a hand in creating everyone from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men.
Among his biggest achievements were the pioneering race relations of co-creating Black Panther, as well as the iconic Spider-Man – who Lee frequently said was his favourite character.
Looking closer at the wall-crawler’s world in particular, the character of J. Jonah Jameson was even based on Lee.
You can’t look at the life and times of Stan Lee without noting his influence on the world of cinema and our current obsession with comic book movies.
While the likes of 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man are largely credited with giving birth to the superhero movie boom we still enjoy today (Lee served as an executive producer on both), his role spanned right through to the might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The birth of the MCU came from the simple decision that licensing properties out to other studios just wasn’t working.
Even though Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were going great guns in the early noughties, other outings like New Line’s Blade: Trinity, Universal’s Hulk (not to be confused with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk), and Artisan’s Punisher were offering little return for such an output.
Around 2005, Avi Arad was the head of Marvel’s film division and decided to form Marvel Studios to make the most out of the expansive catalogue of comic book characters.
Much like Lee himself, MCU head honcho Kevin Feige was a self-confessed fanboy and realised that although ownership for the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four was scattered across other studios, Marvel still retained the rights to the Avengers.
With Lee’s blessing, Feige got to work launching his own universe of standalone movies that would then bring the characters together in a crossover.
This acorn would eventually grow in 2012’s The Avengers.
The reason Disney didn’t own the rights to such big names is because a cash-strapped Marvel first sold off the X-Men back in 1993.
It started a devastating fire sale with repercussions that rage on to this day.
Disney is slowly clawing back the final pieces of the puzzle, but as it stands, there are still question marks over the likes of Namor. The character is one of the earliest comic book creations from back when Marvel was Timely comics and has (so far) only been hinted a handful of times.
Even if Lee sadly won’t get to see huge teams like the X-Men and Fantastic Four make the leap to the House Of Mouse, at least he got to watch some his favourites get their time to shine, including the box office success of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Unfortunately, Lee passed away before he’d get to see Spider-Man: Far From Home become Sony’s highest-grossing movie of all time.
Much more than just having a hand in overseeing the world’s highest-grossing franchise from the sidelines, Lee became known for his cameos.
Even as Lee’s health declined and there were scandalous rumours about his wellbeing, the MCU doubled-down on its promise to keep Lee’s cameos going for as long as possible.
In his last cameo, he appeared as a digitally de-aged version of himself driving a car outside Camp Lehigh in Avengers: Endgame.
As well as being alongside a digital recreation of his late wife Joan, there’s a sense of poetry that the last six words we ever heard Lee say in the MCU were, “hey man, make love, not war!”.
That single line fitted Lee’s entire mantra of fighting for minorities and making sure everyone felt included.
With Lee now gone, there are questions about the future of the MCU. We’ve already seen Feige sketch out what’s next, with movies including Black Widow, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, and The Eternals (eventually) making up Phase Four when cinemas reopen.
Whether anyone will replace Lee in terms of cameos, the simple answer is no.
The MCU has boasted some amazing cameos including everyone from David Hasselhoff to Seth Green, Michelle Yeoh to Lou Ferringo, Miley Cyrus to Matt Damon, but no one can replace Lee.
Last year, Marvel Studios Executive Vice President Victoria Alonso told Miami Latin News no one else will get a Stan Lee-inspired line of cameos.
She explained: “Stan Lee is not replaceable. So we will never try. That is the legend, the man, we will never try to replace him. Other people will come around, and then you have someone as phenomenally creative as [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige, but there’s only one Stan Lee.”
His spirit lives on with the MCU. Just like Lee himself helped reform the Comics Code Authority during his time as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, the MCU hasn’t been afraid to tackle darker issues like Tony Stark’s addiction, the death of Meredith Quill from cancer, and Gamora/Nebula’s abusive relationship at the hands of Thanos as their adoptive father.
However, alongside this, the fun that Lee brought to Marvel Comics is at the very core of the MCU.
Even two years on, the legacy of Lee still looms large over the franchise. Whether it’s watching from the sidelines, or popping up as an Edward Scissorhands-esque barber in Thor: Ragnarok, Stan Lee was much more than just a cameo trotted out as an Easter egg.
Although the MCU is definitely a different place now Lee is no longer part of it, he can sleep soundly knowing his comic book creations have been brought to a whole new generation of fans, and will presumably continue to do so for decades to come.
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