“On November 12, Stan Lee, father of the Marvel universe has passed away.” It took me a while to digest this piece of information as I had just seen him in the newly launched marvel film Venom. I was just wondering when Stan Lee would show up this time, as he walked past Tom Hardy, saying, “Don‘t give up on her…either of you!” It has been a fun tradition for marvel fans to look for him in each film of the marvel series.
Stan Lee and Jin Yong-the father of wuxia novels, two great creators of the east and the west passed away in the course of two weeks. Both of them were prolific creators throughout their lives. I began imagining some 20 years from now, when I tuck my kids in at night, and how I’ll tell them stories about our generations’ pop culture.
SEE ALSO: Jin Yong: A Legend of Wuxia Literature
In the movie Midnight in Paris, the heroine came to the conclusion that people tend to have the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s currently living in. But now I firmly believe that we, right now, live in a golden age of creations, some of which will have widespread influence on generations to come.
Two Fantasy Worlds Parallel with Reality
The two masters have a lot in common, both on a personal level, and in terms of the sophisticated universes they created, the Marvel universe and Jianghu. Both worlds have countless ties to the real world, with deep-rooted historical and political implications. At the same time, they are also more compelling than the real world, with their magical and fictional additions. Marvel comics and films tend to mirror important elements of history, giving insight into the American mindset. Reading Marvel is a shortcut to western culture. In comparison, each novel of Jin Yong also took place in an actual historical time in ancient China.
For instance, The Battle of New York in Marvel’s The Avengers that took place in Midtown Manhattan remind me of what happened on September 11, the devastating incident for Americans.
In 1941, the third series of Captain America was Stan Lee’s first project after he joined Marvel. It was the same year that the Pearl Harbor attack happened, when the whole nation felt beaten up and traumatized. Captain America thus became a spiritual symbol of patriotism and individual heroism, guiding the nation out of its collective gloom and depression.
Talking about patriotism, another character that comes to mind is Xiao Feng, who is probably the greatest martial arts master in Jin Yong’s novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. He has all the characteristics you’d expect to see in a hero-righteous, brave and heroic. Unlike those martial artists who retreat to their holy spiritual land, Xiao Feng dedicated all his life to saving the nation and its people, until his last breath.
Save the world by the rules–freedom or order?
Another commonality I find interesting in the two masters’ universes is that it shows the contradictory and complex relations between the government and the heroes.
In the marvel comic series civil war, Superhero Registration Act (SRA) light the fuse of the war between Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Ironman (Tony Stark), as it requires the heroes to disclose their identities and behave under the government’s management. Ironman proactively promotes the implementation of this act, while Captain America believes it’s unacceptable having to obtain permission from the authorities in order to save lives.
It reflects the eternal conflict in superhero comics: Can the hero abide by the law and save the world at the same time? You can’t expect to defeat Thanos with the help of Interpol, right?
We could see the same contradictions in Jin Yong’s wuxia novels. In his novels, martial artists are supposed to be outcasts of society. The heroes often live by a certain set of rules inside a small martial arts community, which is usually not recognized by the mainstream society or the government.
It is also discussed in Jin Yong’s The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, a martial artist called Liu Zhengfeng wants to leave Jianghu-the martial arts community and even get himself a position in the government. But then, just as he was preparing to lead a tranquil life, playing zither in the woods with his friend, his family become victims of a killing spree.
In Jianghu, there is a price to pay before you want to escape this chaotic world, and being recruited by the government is regarded as demeaning.
Misfortunate Villains–Growing up with the wrong father
The world is not just black or white, there is a huge grey area in between. And a good creator knows how to maintain the balance. Both Stan Lee and Jin Yong really excel at creating sophisticated characters, who are flawed, and troubled by trivial matters just like ordinary people. Some have miserable and tragic upbringings, some are lonely and rejected by society. Others might suffer from some kind of mental disorder, and lose control, like the Hulk.
In the Marvel universe, my favorite villain is Loki, god of mischief, foster son of Odin and brother of Thor. He was also selected as the eighth greatest villain in American comics in 2009. I couldn’t help but find tons of similarities when comparing him to another widely discussed bad guy called Yang Kang in Jin Yong’s the Legend of the Condor Heroes. Both of them are adopted children, who later found out that their biological father is actually a big enemy of their foster dad, which makes them mentally twisted.
Teased by their destinies, the two characters gradually became complicated mixtures of egocentricity and low self-esteem. And then they both grew up with a righteous brother. In Loki’s case, his love-hate relationship with Thor didn’t end until his “death” in the movie. In Yang’s case, he envied his brother all his life, and has intended to kill him on numerous occasions.
Apart from just interesting stories with thrilling plots, the works of Stan Lee and Jin Yong boast deep-rooted political implications, and characters that embody the glory and the intricacies of human nature. They created something I would like to call parallel universes of the east and west, that co-exist with reality, but with many more possibilities and more profound meanings.
They will live forever in the vast universe they created!