On July 15th I was scrolling through a list of companies that supported Trump and I saw that Marvel Entertainment was one of them. As a big comic book who is black and actively hates Donald Trump and the Republican party, I did a little more research into how this could be. Turns that the chairman of Marvel Entertainment Ike Perlmutter used to offer, and maybe still does donate tons of money to Trump’s campaign and is one of Trump’s top donators. So far I’ve not heard any updates on if the chairman has changed their stance, but as of now that news is disappointing to hear considering the anti-racists and progressive views that Stan Lee and many other creators shared in the Marvel comics themselves and as an outside company image. To me as a fan, this betrays what Marvel comics, and even comics in general are about. Journalist and Black Panther writer Te-Nehisi Coates once said that “comics are the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks.”; that is no more displayed than in the works that were inspired by Stan Lee.
As with any large public figure, Stan Lee has left a complex legacy. According to Alex Abad-Santos of the vox news website, Stan Lee was often known to his colleagues in the early days of marvel comics as more of a salesman who sometimes took full credit of certain works and ideas. However, that discussion opens a large can of worms about the other creators and pioneers of the marvel universe, and much has already been said of the working environment of marvel comics in the 60’s and 70’s. For more information on that, I would highly recommend you “true believers” to read Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe. For now, let’s delve into the many contributions that Stan Lee provided to the hip hop and black culture in America.
1. Black Panther
Stan Lee’s first and major contribution to African American pop culture is his creation of the first major black superhero: T’Challa, or better known as Black Panther. It was in Fantastic Four#52 that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby not only introduced the Black Panther, but also the afro-futuristic city of Wakanda. In the 1960’s this was a bold move considering the Civil Rights movement taking place, and the lack of the racial diversity within comics. This was also different for Stan Lee as most of his characters at the time were from New York city and white, but for Black Panther Stan Lee wanted to defy expectations of a native African. In the opening of the story, we first see all the stereotypical and racist depictions of Africans wearing spears and robs, but Stan Lee flips that perception on its head by showing the reader how technologically advanced and scientifically intelligent Black Panther and his people were with space-crafts, T’Challa’s inventions, and his cunning skills displayed in how he almost defeats the Fantastic Four.
2. The Main Conflict of the X-Men
Another major contribution that Stan Lee provided for black pop culture was the X-men. It’s well known that Stan Lee was inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the radical counter culture in the 60’s. It was 1968 that Stan Lee, within the fan letters pages of marvel comics, wrote a powerful short speech on the nature of bigots and how tolerance should be embraced for a better future. With this mindset, it only made sense that Lee’s philosophy of tolerance would make its way into the comics themselves; thus the X-Men were born. The central conflict of the X-Men comics was inspired by the stark contrasts of philosophies between the two most prominent black leaders during the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X. Just as Martin Luther King wanted the peaceful unity between all races in the United States, so too does Professor X want the peaceful unity between mutants (people born with strange abilities) and humans. And just as Malcolm X (at first) wanted the separation of the black race and the white race through any means possible, so too does Magneto want for the mutant and human races separated as well. Even though Stan Lee himself didn’t create such prominent black X Men characters like Storm or Bishop, he certainly approved and created the world that many writers and artists would change and expand on in later years.
3. The Wu Tang Clan Fandom
It is because of Stan Lee’s inclusion of black characters and black issues within comics that have led to many inspired works and inspired artists. The rap group Wu Tang Clan made several references to marvel characters as the group was formed in Brooklyn, New York. A famous example is in the song “Protect Ya Neck” in which the reference “the friendly neighborhood spider-man”, One its members, Ghostface-Killer also took the real name of Iron Man as his alter ego Tony Stark and his album was titled “Iron Man” and in his album series “12 Reasons to Die” and it’s sequel. It’s also worth noting that the Wu Tang Clan is not only used in the soundtrack to Netflix’s Luke Cage (R.I.P Netflix Luke Cage), but method man himself made a cameo and constructed a whole song titled “Bullet-Proof” on the show itself. “Bring da Rukus” is also played in Netflix’s Defenders show as well in the famous fight scene in the Crispus Attucks building.
4. Marvel Hip-Hop Covers
I would be remiss in not mentioning the variant marvel covers based on famous hip hop albums. Just look them up for yourself and see how cool and inventive they are. Here are some my favorite examples. I’ll make like Stan, and let the artwork speak for itself.
5. The Stan Lee domino Effect
Stan Lee’s push to put more diversity in superhero comics have led to many popular minority characters today such as the Miles Morales Spider-man who made his first film debut in the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Other popular minority characters include Storm, Ultimate Nick Fury (based on the likeness of Samuel L. Jackson), the Prowler, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Shuri, and Blade the vampire hunter, and the new Ms. Marvel, and the new Hulk. Upon explaining why he designed Spider Man’s mask to cover his entire face, Stan Lee said that he wanted to give the reader the impression that Spider Man could be anyone. To me, that perfectly sums up Stan Lee’s contributions to the Hip hop and African American community, and to overall American pop culture landscape. That’s the beauty to Stan Lee’s work and influence in the marvel universe. Stan Lee, through his comics, and decisions as editor-in chief of marvel comics, showed the world that everyone has the capability of being a hero and performing a heroic deed. Whether you’re a nerdy kid from Brooklyn, a scientist with anger issues in a dysfunctional family, a blind-person, a World War 2 vet, an old and forgotten god, an undercover spy, an African king, a disabled doctor, or even a corrupt industrialist. We can all be heroes.
“Nuff said”-Stan Lee
Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics: From the Legendary Co-Creator of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Iron Man