I try to keep out of online squabbles on the subject (though I don’t always succeed), and sometimes I feel like a detached observer when I’m not ignoring them altogether. But really. This Stan Lee vs Jack Kirby ‘debate’ will never end. I actually resent the way it’s framed often as not; if you like Kirby’s work you’re a ‘Kirby Advocate’ or, more insultingly, a ‘Kirby Zealot’. This, because there seems to be a de facto assumption that liking Kirby inherently means being crazy about 1960s Marvel Comics and thinking Stan Lee was a creative & writing genius. If you don’t fit that description you’re some kind of freak.
I outlined my feelings on the Lee-Kirby collaborations last year. Looking at this work today I am not remotely interested in what was most commercially successful. Using sales as a yardstick (or proof) of quality is phoney-baloney. It just happens to fit the argument if you think Stan is a genius. Pick a box-office-smashing movie you hate and see how the argument floats. (Let’s argue, for instance, that Citizen Kane is obviously inferior to Titantic. Duh.)
It doesn’t interest me to argue about the creation of those books. The early Marvel books, mostly, were kind of poor. The actual ideas weren’t particularly good, because whatever was involved they seem to follow a pattern set, I assume, by publisher Martin Goodman, of trying to emulate the DC Comics line. I don’t doubt a lot of Kirby ideas were in the mix, but the enterprise smacks of desperation regardless. How on earth it got off the ground at all seems one of the bigger mysteries to me. And it saw Kirby, at least for a while, involved in material that was creatively inferior to work he’d been doing a few years earlier. So, whatever. When his workload lightened and he started to see the books as a chance to tackle things that were more personally engaging, we get a period (1965-68, I’d say) where Kirby’s on fire, but it didn’t last long—Stan’s ‘genius’ kept getting in the way.
So, incredible as it might seem, some of us just don’t think Stan Lee’s a very good writer. That’s all. He can have his credit for writing the embarrassingly melodramatic dialogue and copy. The credit for engineering the lie of the Big Happy Bullpen goes entirely to him, but who over ten years old gives a damn? All due credit for editing and overseeing the line, interfering with and course-correcting the work & ideas of others to fit his ‘vision’. Steering the ship to commercial success—yep, that was Stan.
But it doesn’t matter to me. It isn’t even a question of picking sides. I’m just not a fan of Stan’s work. It’s like, y’know, PERSONAL TASTE. Funny how that works.