Stan Lee David Kunzle - Essay

David Kunzle

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] interest of Stan Lee's anthology of the comics he himself writes, lies primarily in the light shed on the psychology of the comics producer. The spirit in which Lee discusses the evolution of his comics is similar to that in which he originally made them. He thinks of himself as mover and destroyer, god of the media and the childish imagination. With genial bluster and biblical phrases, he simultaneously regenerates, distorts and parodies ancient mythological material. The creative self-consciousness is manifested in the Marvel comics through various devices to establish esthetic distance between the product on the one hand, and its creators and consumers on the other. Narcissus withdraws, the better to jump into his own reflection. But this is accompanied by an extraordinary degree of self-deception. Lee candidly states his purpose (which is that of so many other comics producers), "to relieve the awesome affliction that threatens us all: the endlessly spreading virus of too much reality in a world that is losing its legends." In fact it is the comics' manichaeistic dissociation of myth (good) from reality (bad), and their ignorance or denial of that vast historical process by which myth grows out of reality, which is the "awesome affliction" threatening our culture.

Comics historians … take as their task the dispelling of the illusion that comics are "pure entertainment" irrelevant to social reality. One can shoot Lee's claims to "pure mythic fantasy" clear out of the sky simply by pointing to the stereotype he rehases even now of vicious Communist spies trying to steal US secrets and take over the world. Elsewhere he casually has "America's mighty defense structure" unleash its "fantastic arsenal" at an "unidentified" (thus not necessarily enemy) missile. Marvel's almost abstract joy in the physical destruction of bodies and things is a reflection of a greater and more sinister reality, that of the adult media's attitude to our recent wars. (p. 27)

David Kunzle, "Self-Conscious Comics," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1975 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 173, No. 3, July 19, 1975, pp. 26-7.∗