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Monday, 17 October 2011
STAN, JACK, OR STEVE - OR WAS IT ALL THREE?
I sometimes feel sorry for STAN LEE. Not that he needs my sympathy by any means, but it must be hard to constantly be on the receiving end of concerted attempts to diminish or deny even the slightest bit of creative input from him on anything he ever worked on with JACK KIRBY or STEVE DITKO - or anyone else for that matter.
There are some diehard Kirby and Ditko fans who maintain that their artistic heroes were responsible for everything good that ever came out of MARVEL in the 1960s, and that all Stan did was edit the pages and dialogue them. Notwithstanding all the redrawn Kirby pages which seem to suggest that Stan's involvement was far more than that.
However, just for the sake of argument, let's imagine for a moment that both Kirby and Ditko created all the characters they worked on and were responsible for all the plotlines, leaving Stan's contribution as no more than scripting the tales from Jack and Steve's margin notes. Got that notion fixed in your head? Good. Now consider this. Nothing that either Jack or Steve worked on after Marvel ever had the same kind of impact as the body of work they produced while collaborating with Stan. That would suggest that Stan's involvement, even if only 'mere' scripting, was the 'secret ingredient' that had a disproportionate effect on the finished result.
Stan Lee, in effect, was the vital factor that transformed many competent but ordinary comicbooks into the dynamic Marvel masterworks that so many people fondly remember today. Had Jack and Steve scripted their own strips, it's extremely doubtful, going by their few later limited achievements, that Marvel would have become as successful as it was in its glory years.
Who came up with the idea of THOR? Jack said Jack, Stan said Stan, and LARRY LIEBER (Stan's brother) said Stan (with input from himself - the names DON BLAKE and URU, for example). But does it matter who came up with the initial concept? Surely it's what's done with it that matters? How it was 'dressed up' and first presented to the public in JOURNEY Into MYSTERY #83. The finished result was a product of Stan, Jack & Larry, so in that sense all three can legitimately claim to be co-creators of the character. (Larry hasn't ever made such a claim as far as I know, but I noticed he was credited alongside Stan and Jack on the recent Thor movie.)
Take DOCTOR STRANGE. Critics of Stan seize on his frank comment that the then-upcoming mystic master's first appearance was "Steve's idea" as proof that Ditko created the character and not Lee. However, even ignoring Lee's obvious input to the 'DR. DROOM'-type origin a few issues later, it's clear that Strange is nothing more than a reworked Droom figure (by Stan and Jack - and actually inked by Steve), so SD can hardly be said to have come up with anything new, merely regurgitating Stan's original concept. Certainly, regardless of who first came up with the idea, Doctor Strange - as he is perceived by the comics buying public today - is as much a creation of Stan as he is of Steve.
That's why it's simply much easier (and no less accurate) to say 'by Lee & Kirby', or 'by Lee & Ditko', because the nuts and bolts of exactly who did what is probably much more complicated and may never be known. One thing's for sure - all three creative titans were never better than when working with their respective collaborators, their body of work providing a perfect example of something being greater than the sum of its parts.