In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stonecomic book icon Stan Lee (who was 91 at the time!) gave a long-ranging interview about the birth and evolution of Marvel Comics.
He elucidated the incredible burst of creativity he had in the 1960s alongside artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, leading to legendary characters like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Avengers and more. You don’t have to be a comic book nerd to know that these characters have only grown in popularity (and profitability) since they started saving the world seven decades ago.
In one section of the interview with writer Brian Hiatt, Lee shared the truth about how he came up with the genre-shattering concept for the X-Men. Rather than receiving their superpowers via radioactive spider bites or gamma bomb explosions, Lee decided that they would be mutants who were simply born that way. And like many people in real life who face struggles due to their skin color or sexual preference, they would meet discrimination from the public and even from fellow superheroes.
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How did Lee come up with the idea to deliver an entertaining book that simultaneously delivered a powerful commentary on society? Well, for lack of a better word, laziness. When asked if he remembered what sparked his idea for the X-Men mutant concept, Lee explained:
Well, I think it was the fact that the Fantastic Four had sold so well. And we figured, my publisher and I, figured why not do another group? My problem was, what powers would I give them? Because with the Fantastic Four, we already had a guy who could fly, who could burst into flame, we had a woman who was invisible with a force field, we had a guy who could stretch, and we had a big strongest man in the world. So it wasn’t easy.
Then, once I figured out what powers they’d have, I had to figure, how did they get their powers? And they were all separate people that weren’t connected to each other, so I knew that would be a helluva job. And I took the cowardly way out, and I figured, hey, the easiest thing in the world: they were born that way. They were mutants. So I thought that would be one way to get around having to find new origins.
Lee’s “easy way out” resulted in one of the most successful franchises in comic book and movie history. To date, there have been 14 X-Men movies that have collectively grossed over $6 billion.
We should give being lazy a try more often. As Stan would say, excelsior!