Stan Lee is arguably the most important living figure in the world of comic books and superheroes. His creations, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, and The Hulk, are everywhere: Asserting near-total dominance at the box office, occupying aisle after toy store aisle, and still saving the day in the comic pages from which they sprung decades ago. Lee could very well sit back and enjoy watching his life’s work continue to grow in popularity and influence. Instead, he continues to put himself out there, promoting the hell out of the medium he loves and the characters he’s helped create. Now, at a spry 92, Stan “the Man” has teamed up with the Smithsonian to offer anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to learn about the history and influence of comic book superheroes, straight from one of the genre’s prime movers.
The Smithsonian’s “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture” is a five week long, free-to-join, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which will cover the history of the comic book superhero, its roots in classic mythology, and the ways these heroes have shaped—and been shaped by—the culture in which they reside. According to the MOOC’s registration page, Lee, along with film and TV producer, comics writer, and educator Michael Uslan (as well as other guests), will explore questions like:
How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?
When and how did comic book artwork become accepted as a true American art form as indigenous to this country as jazz?
Lee, while undeniably a sine qua non in today’s world of comic book superheroes, isn’t without a measure of controversy when it comes to his role and reputation in the comic industry. As Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims points out, Lee’s creative legacy, though undeniable, is shaded by accusations of taking credit for work done by others, his non-stop self promotion and a Gene Simmons-esque appetite for commercialization (the guy has an eponymous brand of cologne).
Still, the opportunity to learn at the digital feet of one of comicdom’s last living legends isn’t something that should be passed up. Enrollment for the course, which starts May 5th is currently open, and entirely free.