A post about the time Stan Lee included me in a short Fantastic Four story. I eventually purchased the original art for this page as a wedding gift for Associate Editor Molly Lazer when she got married.
“Joe! We have a CRISIS!
The MOLE MAN’s taking over New York!”
Those are the fateful words I uttered on that harrowing day, the 45th anniversary of the Fantastic Four’s journey into space. Except I didn’t come up with them–Stan Lee did, for a story he wrote for FANTASTIC FOUR #543.
I’ve appeared in Marvel comics before, often in the background (I was a newsreader in CIVIL WAR #1), sometimes as a participating player (as in a whimsical story in FANTASTIC FOUR #50). I even had the rare privilege of appearing on the cover of a Marvel mag, the somewhat-strained SPIDER-MAN: 101 WAYS TO END THE CLONE SAGA, along with Ralph Macchio and Bob Harras. But this is a little different.
To be honest, I’ve always kind of felt that most of these sorts of appearances were self-indulgent, self-congradulatory twaddle. Yes, there’s a long history of creators being drawn into the books, stemming back to FANTASTIC FOUR #10 wherein Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were enlisted by Doctor Doom in a bid to destroy the Fantastic Four. In fact, one of the earliest Marvel comics I read was FANTASTIC FOUR #176, which involved the Impossible Man invading and attacking the Marvel Bullpen, because he wanted to star in a magazine of his own. Heck, John Byrne drew himself into his stories so often that Marvel should own the rights to his likeness.
But these were all, you’ll forgive me, real guys. People who mattered. Genuine contributors to the Marvel mythos. Not just a bunch of shlubs like the crew we’ve got working here now. And really, does any reader really care? I can see being interested if it’s Brian Bendis or Jeph Loeb or Bryan Hitch or somebody on the page–they’re the guys writing the stories or doing the artwork, so there’s naturally an interest in them. But nobody really cares about the editor–nor should they. So I’ve always found these self-aggrandizing appearances off-putting, and vaguely in bad taste–a seeming attempt to pull the spotlight away from the characters and stories and people who really matter to the audience. Kind of sad, really.
Except this is Stan Lee. I don’t know if anybody who began reading comics in the 1980s or later, after Stan was pretty much gone from the monthly pages including the Bullpen pages for the most part, can truly appreciate who he is and what he did, and how vital his work was when it first came out, as it now seems somewhat dated with the passing of time and the evolution of the medium. But really, Stan more than any other individual is why there’s a Marvel Comics in the first place, and very much the reason why there’s still a comics industry. So if he wants to put me in a story, then that’s the way it’s going to be.
And there’s something strangely appealing about the guy who first put words into the mouths of Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Sue Storm 45 years ago putting words into mine.