R.I.P. Stan Lee: Take His Free Online Course “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture”

“I grew up in an exurb where it took near­ly an hour to walk to the near­est shop, to the near­est place to eat, to the library,” remem­bers writer Adam Cadre. “And the steep hills made it an exhaust­ing walk.  That meant that until I turned six­teen, when school was not in ses­sion I was stuck at home.  This was often not a good place to be stuck. Stan Lee gave me a place to hang out.” Many oth­er for­mer chil­dren of exur­ban Amer­i­ca — as well as every­where else — did much of their grow­ing up there as well, not just in the uni­verse of Mar­vel Comics but in those of the comics and oth­er forms of cul­ture to which it gave rise or influ­enced, most of them either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly shaped by Lee, who died yes­ter­day at the age of 95.

“His crit­ics would say that for me to thank Stan Lee for cre­at­ing the Mar­vel Uni­verse shows that I’ve fall­en for his self-promotion,” Cadre con­tin­ues, “​that it was Jack Kir­by and Steve Ditko and his oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tors who sup­plied the dynam­ic, expres­sive art­work and the epic sto­ry­lines that made the Mar­vel Uni­verse so com­pelling.”

Mar­vel fans will remem­ber that Ditko, co-cre­ator with Lee of Spi­der-Man and Doc­tor Strange, died this past sum­mer. Kir­by, whose count­less achieve­ments in comics include co-cre­at­ing the Fan­tas­tic Four, the X‑Men, and the Hulk with Lee, passed away in 1994. (Kir­by’s death, as I recall, was the first I’d ever heard about on the inter­net.)

Those who take a dim­mer view of Lee’s career see him as hav­ing done lit­tle more artis­tic work than putting dia­logue into the speech bub­bles. But like no small num­ber of oth­er Mar­vel Uni­verse habitués, Cadre “didn’t read super­hero comics for the fights or the cos­tumes or the trips to Asgard and Atti­lan. I read them for fan­ta­sy that read like real­i­ty, for the inter­play of wild­ly dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties — ​and for the wise­cracks.” And what made super­hero sto­ries the right deliv­ery sys­tem for that inter­play of per­son­al­i­ties and those wise­cracks? You’ll find the answer in “The Rise of Super­heroes and Their Impact On Pop Cul­ture,” an online course from the Smith­son­ian, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture and still avail­able to take at your own pace in edX’s archives, cre­at­ed and taught in part by Lee him­self. You can watch the trail­er for the course at the top of the post.

If you take the course, its pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als promise, you’ll learn the answers to such ques­tions as “Why did super­heroes first arise in 1938 and expe­ri­ence what we refer to as their “Gold­en Age” dur­ing World War II?,” “How have com­ic books, pub­lished week­ly since the mid-1930’s, mir­rored a chang­ing Amer­i­can soci­ety, reflect­ing our mores, slang, fads, bias­es and prej­u­dices?,” and “When and how did com­ic book art­work become accept­ed as a true Amer­i­can art form as indige­nous to this coun­try as jazz?” Whether or not you con­sid­er your­self a “true believ­er,” as Lee would have put it, there could be few bet­ter ways of hon­or­ing an Amer­i­can icon like him than dis­cov­er­ing what makes his work in super­hero comics — the field to which he ded­i­cat­ed his life, and the one which has tak­en more than its fair share of deri­sion over the decades — not just a reflec­tion of the cul­ture but a major influ­ence on it as well.

Enroll in “The Rise of Super­heroes and Their Impact On Pop Cul­ture” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

The Great Stan Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”

Stan Lee Reads “The Night Before Christ­mas,” Telling the Tale of San­ta Claus, the Great­est of Super Heroes

Down­load Over 22,000 Gold­en & Sil­ver Age Com­ic Books from theCom­ic Book Plus Archive

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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