As another Marvel Comics-inspired movie dominates the box office, a Wyoming teen has tapped into the franchise’s superpowers for a triumph of her own. The team of superheroes, the Avengers, probably needs no introduction. And neither does the mastermind behind those characters—Stan Lee. For Marvel Comics fans, he’s the ultimate superhero.
“Actually, I had never really been a fan before this project,” confesses Hazel Homer-Wambeam. She’s 14, wrapping up homeschooled 8th grade, and lives in Laramie.
The project is a 10 minute documentary film about Stan Lee and the creation of the Marvel universe. It was a first place winner in Wyoming’s state competition for National History Day. Now Hazel is gearing up for National History Day’s national competition in Washington, D.C.
Every year, more than a half million middle and high school students enter competitions with research projects on historical topics. This year’s theme is Leadership and Legacy. “And I feel that my topic really fits into the theme, because of Stan Lee’s leadership in the comic book industry and his legacy that he’s leaving to our culture and society,” explains Wambeam.
Her film narration picks up the idea: “Examples of this include raising awareness of social issues, shaping contemporary pop culture, teaching literacy, giving people hope and self confidence in the face of adversity, and leaving behind a multi-billion dollar industry that employs thousands of people.”
Like any good superhero story, Hazel Homer-Wambeam’s film has a villain. As she explains in the movie, Stan Lee’s nemesis was the Comics Code Authority. Suddenly, starting in the 1950’s, comics couldn’t deal with difficult themes any more. Stan Lee was reduced to writing kiddie cartoon comics. So one day, Lee came home from work, says Wambeam, “and he said, ‘I am going to quit my job, because I do not like writing this kind of comic book.’ And his wife said, ‘Well, then write something that you want to do.’ So he wrote what he wanted to write and what he would want to read, and that was the Fantastic Four.”
His publisher liked it, so Wambeam says Stan Lee didn’t quit his job; the Marvel universe was born, and the Comics Code Authority dialed back the censorship. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Just like fairy tales will be with us forever, I think that superheroes type of story will be with us for a long time also,” reflects Stan Lee in the film.
As for the experience of interviewing the comic book legend? “I can’t even explain it,” Wambeam gushes. “It was incredible. I mean, it was only a 10 minute interview, and afterwards I would have thought it was a dream if I hadn’t recorded it and put it in my documentary.”
Of course, Stan Lee has done lots of interviews over the years, but typically not with eighth graders.
“There was a lot of correspondence going back between me and my parents and Stan Lee’s executive assistant to set up this interview,” says Wambeam. “And that was one of the things, I had to prove my case that I was a very serious History Day Student. I had to send them my previous projects.”
One of those previous projects already includes a national competition win at National History Day two years ago. Come June 15th, Hazel Homer-Wambeam is hoping for another.