During the civil rights movement, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee championed the virtues of diversity and tolerance within the pages of Marvel’s comics. Days after violence incited by militant white nationalists erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, reading Lee’s words from half a century ago continues to inspire little bits of hope in an otherwise bleak time.
From 1965 until 2001, Lee published a column called “Stan’s Soapbox” in an unmistakable yellow box, placed in the back of each comic book. The “Bullpen Bulletins” featured letters from readers, and Lee placing his candid own words after readers’ helped inspire an intimate “fireside chat” feeling. He often weighed in on epic showdowns and dramatic cliffhangers, but he also used his Soapbox as a force for good. While it’s not difficult to see some political centrism in Lee’s column, for the most part, Lee encouraged readers to just flat out not be bigoted.
Here are five examples of Lee’s Soapbox espousing woke views in an exceedingly unwoke time.
5. Welcome Luke Cage
Although not explicitly political, Stan Lee personally introduced Marvel’s first major African-American superhero, Luke Cage, to readers in an interesting installment of his Soapbox. Without even mentioning that Luke Cage was black, Lee simply says the cliche of a picture is saying a thousand words. “If this picture doesn’t fit the bill, may Forbush forgive me!” wrote Lee, who finished the short column with: “He’s really somethin’ else!” How right he was.
4. “So Much Moralizing”
In the pages of The Avengers #74, Lee took to task a common complaint he had heard about Marvel Comics: There was too much “moralizing” in its pages. Although Lee still doesn’t lean left or right in this column, he argues why comics should be opinionated, even if they’re made up fantasies. “They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading, and nothing more,” Lee says, before quickly shooting that notion down:
“But somehow, I can’t see it that way. It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all—old time fairy tales and heroic legends—contained moral and philosophical points of view.
At every college campus where I may speak, there’s as much discussion of war and peace, civil rights, and the so-called youth rebellion as there is of our Marvel mags per se.
None of us lives in a vacuum—none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us—events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives.
Sure our tales can be called escapist—but just because something’s for fun, doesn’t mean we have to blanket our brains while we read it! Excelsior!”
3. Hateful Men Are Not Immortal
In X-Men #56 from 1969, Lee argued that no one remembers men of hate. In a surprisingly philosophical edition of the Soapbox, in which Lee name checks Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Moses, he reasons that those who express peaceful beliefs are better remembered than men of violence.
“[C]onsider the practitioners of hate who have sullied the pages of history,” Lee wrote. “Who still venerates their words? Where is homage still paid to their memory? What banners are still raised to their cause? The power of love — and the power of hate. Which is most truly enduring? When you tend to despair . . . let the answer sustain you. Excelsior!”
Unfortunately, he probably saw the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville who marched with t-shirts, carrying quotes from Adolf Hitler. No one said Lee was infallible.
2. Some Yo-Yo With a Low IQ
I can’t pinpoint the exact issue where this long Stan’s Soapbox was printed, but in it, Lee has some harsh words towards harsh people. In which he called bigots “yo-yos” with low IQs, he argued that no one person represents their culture (remember that this is what counted for progressive politics at the time).
Lee ended the Soapbox with the following:
“You wanna dislike someone? Be my guest. It’s a free country. But do it because he or she has personally given you a reason to feel that way, not because of skin color, or religion, or foreign ancestry, or the shape of their toenails, or any other moronic, mixed-up, mindless motive! Because, if you justify your hatred by smearing everyone in any given group with the same brush, then you’re a bigot, Charlie!”
(“You’re a bigot, Charlie!” sounds like the worst Peanuts special ever, by the way.)
1. The Deadliest Social Ills
This is the Soapbox that finds its way back on social media most often. At a compact 244 words, Lee puts his foot down. “Let’s lay it right on the line,” Lee began in this December 1968 Soapbox, showing just how little he’s messing around. “Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today.”
“But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater — one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom.
“Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL — His children.
“Pax et Justitia, Stan.”