Arguably the most well-recognized figure in comic book history, legendary writer Stan Lee was famous for creating the iconic superheroes Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men. Often sporting tinted glasses and a trademark grin, Lee was a larger-than-life figurehead with a personality as colorful as his characters. Though only a mainstream name in his later years, thanks to the blockbuster films "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," long-time comic fans knew him for decades as the granddaddy of that world who, in the backs of Marvel Comics in his monthly column "Stan's Soapbox," dispensed news of coming attractions, as well as his own musings on events of the day. Not unlike Walt Disney, Lee forged a personal connection to his creations and his fans. With a deft sense of humor and a keen eye for melodrama that worked its way into his scripts, he pioneered the "Marvel style" of writing: first creating a plot with the artist, then letting the artist illustrate the story, after which Lee would add dialogue to the finished pages. His singular talent for hyperbole and self-promotion allowed him to peek out from the pages of his comics and emerge as a personality that became as well-known as his own heroic creations and equally beloved by his readers. His dea th at the age of 95 on November 12, 2018 was greeted with sadness around the world, even from those comics fans who preferred DC to Marvel.
Born Dec. 22, 1922 in New York, NY, Lee was the son of Romanian immigrants, Jack and Celia, who struggled to raise their two sons during the Great Depression. A series of moves to cheaper neighborhoods - first to Washington Heights, then to the Bronx - only underscored the desperation of the times. A voracious reader who benefited from the encouragement to be creative from both parents, Lee developed an interest in writing at an early age. When he was 15, he received substantial encouragement to become a professional writer from an editor at the Harold Tribune after Lee had entered a writing contest. While attending DeWitt Clinton High School, he worked a series of odd jobs, including writing obituaries for news services, press releases for a hospital, and selling subscriptions to the New York Harold Tribune. After graduation, Lee went right to work for a distant relative at Timely Comics, a comic book publisher that eventually evolved into Marvel Comics. Though initially a glorified gopher, Lee quickly had an opportunity to contribute a story to help ease the workload of an overburdened staff of two. His first published piece was "The Traitor's Revenge," which first appeared in Captain America #3 in 1941. Before he was into his 20s, Lee was on his way to becoming a comic book icon.
Being the early 1940s, the comic book industry was just finding its footing with robust sales of Superman and Batman issues, while several lesser publishers were keen to cash in on their success with their own titles. Among the more unique fellow heroes were Captain America and The Human Torch, both published by Timely. Meanwhile, following Lee's first assignment, he was given his first script, Captain America #5, then was promoted to editor while still in his teens. In 1942, Lee had a temporary stint for stateside service during World War II in the Signal Corps, before returning to his comic books duties. Sales were brisk throughout the 1950s, but concerns of a rising tide of juvenile delinquency brought about by comics filled with violence, gore and fantasy prompted publishers to create tame books with bland, upbeat storylines. Even monster comics of the day - many of which were published by Timely - were fairly white-bread. As editor, Lee wanted to leave the company out of boredom. But his wife, Joan, persuaded him to write the stories he wanted to tell, regardless of the risk. Lee took her advice and created the most influential comics ever made.
In 1961, along with fellow artist and co-creator Jack Kirby, whom he had known since the days of Captain America, Lee created The Fantastic Four; largely in response to the success of DC's superhero team, The Justice League of America. The Fantastic Four was a superhero book notable for a few key distinctions: the characters went by their real names (Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm) as much as their superhero monikers (Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Invisible Girl and the Human Torch), while they initially wore civilian clothes instead of the traditional colorful uniforms, though they eventually adopted blue costumes emblazed with a "4." But what really distinguished the series, besides Kirby's revolutionary artwork, were the characters; they were ultimately a flawed, dysfunctional family unit, rather than a group of larger-than-life solo characters gathered together like most team books. In the end, the Fantastic Four never lost their individuality or their flaws, even to the point of fighting each other as often as the menace of the day. Thus was born Marvel Comics and its template for success: superhuman heroes who were very much like everyone else, flaws and all.
In a burst of creativity nearly unmatched in any medium, Lee and Kirby followed The Fantastic Four with a flood of amazing characters, including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, a revival of Captain America and more super-teams like The Avengers and The X-Men. But it was the 1962 debut of The Amazing Spider-Man in the canceled anthology Amazing Fantasy #15 that Lee - with artist and collaborator Steve Ditko - delivered his masterpiece. The first teenaged costumed character who was not a sidekick, the brainy, sensitive and bullied high school student Peter Parker epitomized adolescent angst and neurosis, until a bite from a radioactive spider infused him with arachnid-like powers, allowing him to escape into the uncertainty and joy of being a superhero. Balancing personal dramas with a penchant for genuinely funny and clever wisecracks, Lee injected a note of pathos and morality into Parker when he turned guilt-ridden superhero after his beloved uncle was murdered by a burglar who Spider-Man had refused to capture. Thus was born one of the most oft-repeated credos in comic book history: "With great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man ultimately joined Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as one of the most recognized and iconic superheroes in the pop culture pantheon.
As Marvel Comics grew, Lee hired more writers and artists, and stepped into a more editorial role before eventually moving on to publisher. Always with an ear to the ground to check the cultural vibe, Lee won notoriety and accolades for tackling stories about drug abuse and civil rights. Due in large part to Marvel's success, the industry grew exponentially and artists began to speak out for better pay, ownership of their work, and credit for their creative contributions. In the center of the controversy were Kirby and Ditko, who bitterly parted company with Lee over individual disputes, both suggesting he had claimed the lion's share of credit for their work while insisting the two of them were primarily responsible for crafting the Marvel legacy - not Lee. After defecting, both Kirby and Ditko failed to equal their earlier commercial successes - even during brief, frustrating returns to Marvel in the 1970s - while Lee continued to collect accolades for efforts like The Silver Surfer and a Comics Code Authority-defying drug storyline in "Amazing Spider-Man" that attracted national headlines. Meanwhile, Lee's image grew to near Walt Disney-esque proportions. Though the company did not bear his name, Lee and Marvel Comics had become nearly indistinguishable.
In later years, Lee more openly applauded the efforts of his former co-creators and even made a tenuous peace with Kirby before the latter's death in 1994. But even an apparently heartfelt letter from Lee and a co-creator credit on the "Spider-Man" films failed to move Ditko, who remained mysteriously silent and isolated on the issue, refusing to grant interviews or accept offered work. Meanwhile, though big screen successes were a later phenomenon, Lee had designs on conquering television and movies almost from the start of his career. Several television cartoons were produced in the '60s and '70s, while several live action projects followed, including the hit telepic "The Incredible Hulk" (CBS, 1977), starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno which spawned a popular series (1978-1982). After setting up Marvel Productions on the West Coast in 1981, Lee reached wider audiences when he served as narrator for the Ruby-Spears cartoons "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" (NBC, 1981-86) and "The Incredible Hulk" (1982). Several stabs at reanimating The Incredible Hulk in forgettable made-for-television movies were followed by his first effort in the feature arena, consulting on "The Punisher" (1989), starring Dolph Lundgren.
Possessed with a jolly, chummy persona, Lee had a flare for alliterative or rhyming nicknames for himself and his collaborators. He was known to fans as "Smilin' Stan" and "Stan the Man," while his use of goofy, albeit meaningless catchphrases like "Excelsior!" "Face front, True Believers!" and "'Nuff said!" in captions, cover copy, credit boxes, letter columns and his regular "Bullpen Bulletins" column, hooked a legion of brand-loyal fans who became known as "Marvel zombies." The writer-editor also delighted in vexing Marvel's chief rival, DC - known to Marvel fans as "the Distinguished Competition." Whenever DC would pick up on and imitate a Marvel trend that seemed to be selling comics - filling covers with enticing copy, for example - Lee would immediately do the opposite and his books would still outsell DC's. In-house, Lee was just as impish; when his publisher suggested that the popularity of comics hinged on his knack for evocative hero names, Lee deliberately created the ridiculous-sounding war title "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos." With such high-spirited antics coupled with business savvy, Lee transformed the comic book world in his own image and became a father figure to millions.
Eventually, Lee departed Marvel Comics completely, though he remained Chairman Emeritus and continued drawing a $1 million annual salary. Subsequently, he created his own company, Stan Lee Media, which promised to bring superhero storytelling to the Internet, but became a victim of the dot-com bust when he filed for bankruptcy in 2001, while principal Peter Paul was charged with defrauding the investors. Lee, who had no part in the wrongdoing, emerged unscathed and began serving as executive producer and sometimes consultant on movies based on his creations: three "X-Men" movies (2000, 2003 and 2006), three "Spider-Man" films (2002, 2004 and 2007), two "The Incredible Hulk" films (2003 and 2008) "Daredevil" (2003) and two "The Fantastic Four" movies (2005 and 2007). As with Alfred Hitchcock, Lee typically made cameo appearances in most of the films, starting with "X-Men" and most memorably as the enthusiastic mailman Willie Lumpkin in "The Fantastic Four." Meanwhile, by matching the richly drawn characters with A-list filmmakers including Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi and Ang Lee, the Marvel heroes soared at the box office and reinvigorated the action-fantasy genre. Marvel soon launched its own Marvel Productions company and Lee - who was once embarrassed to tell people at parties what he did for a living - became a household name for even non-comic fans.
After the phenomenal success of the "Spider-Man" films, Lee won a $10 million lawsuit against Marvel over a profits dispute. Then in 2003, the energetic octogenarian joined sexpot Pamela Anderson to create the animated series "Stipperella" (Spike TV, 2002-04), about a pole dancer by night; superheroine by "later at night." With a prominent guest-writing gig for rival DC Comics, where he re-imagined icons such as Superman and Batman in one-shot issues. With the creation of another company, Kapow Comics, Lee remained a formidable presence in the comic book world. Revered by fans - many of whom became film and television professionals when they grew up, based on their Marvel-laden childhoods - Lee reveled in his status as an icon and a brand name. Back on television, he was tapped to be host and judge on "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" (Sci Fi, 2005-07), where costumed contestants vied for their own Dark Horse Comics television movie and comic book. At first glance, the show seemed an exercise in camp, but many of the contestants' genuine admiration for Lee gave the quirky show a touching element. Lee, who communicated via plasma screen video, was an affable and quick-witted host who struck the right tone when delivering lessons on exactly what inner characteristics make a true superhero.
In 2006, Marvel Comics celebrated Lee's 65th anniversary of employment with the company with a series of Stan Lee Meets... one-shot comic books in which the writer teamed up with several of his most famous creations, including Spider-Man, The Thing, The Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, and Dr. Doom. The following year, POW! Entertainment began releasing a straight-to-DVD series of animated films, starting with "Mosaic" (2007), starring Anna Paquin, and "The Condor" (2007), with Wilmer Valderrama. Despite the enormous success, Lee was not without his legal troubles. Lawsuits were flying back and forth, from Lee to Marvel Entertainment and from his own Stan Lee Media to him, mostly over copyright and character ownership issues. Meanwhile, Lee's Marvel properties continued their enormous success on the big screen when "Iron Man" (2008), a surprisingly strong character-driven take on the comic, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges, reaped big rewards at the box office, becoming the first bona fide hit of that year. In what was by then an established Marvel movie tradition, Lee continued to pop up in cameos in the increasingly successful slate of films that included "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), "Iron Man 2" (2010), "Thor" (2011) and "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011). The culmination of Lee's efforts came together onscreen in what was dubbed the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" and the blockbuster summer film event "The Avengers" (2012), which united the heroes of the earlier movies and went on to smash box office records around the globe. Lee was, of course, seen in a cameo as an old man scoffing at the very idea of superheroes in New York City. In fact, Lee went on to make a brief cameo in each MCU film up to 2018's "Ant-Man and the Wasp," although reports that he was in increasingly poor health began to rise as he entered his mid-90s. Stan Lee died in Los Angeles on November 12, 2018. He was 95.
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First superhero co-creation, the "Destroyer" in <i>Mystic Comics #6</i>
Promoted to editor when he was in his late teens
First published piece, "The Traitor's Revenge," appeared in <i>Captain America #3</i>
Served stateside in the U.S. Army, writing manuals, training films, and slogans
Created (with Jack Kirby) <i>The Fantastic Four</i>
Also created (with Kirby) the <i>Incredible Hulk</i>, <i>Iron Man</i> and the <i>X-Men</i>
Created (with Steve Ditko) <i>The Amazing Spider-Man</i> in the anthology <i>Amazing Fantasy #15</i>
The popular CBS series, "The Incredible Hulk" was based on his Marvel character
Narrated the Ruby-Spears cartoons "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" (NBC)
First appearance in a Marvel TV project, "The Trial of the Incredible Hulk"
Created a new Internet-based production and marketing studio, Stan Lee Media
Executive produced the "X-Men" feature film trilogy (2000, 2003 and 2006), also made cameos in the first and third film
Executive produced and made cameos in all three "Spider-Man" films (2002, 2004 and 2007)
Co-created with Pamela Anderson, the animated series "Stripperella" (Spike TV)
Executive produced feature adaptations "Hulk" (2003) and "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)
Executive produced "Fantastic Four" (2005) and its sequel "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007), made cameos in both films
Hosted the Sci Fi Channel reality series "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?"
Executive produced and made a cameo in Jon Favreau's "Iron Man"
Executive produced the sequel "Iron Man 2"
Executive produced feature adaptation of "Thor" and the prequel feature "X-Men: First Class"
Co-executive produced in "The Amazing Spider-Man," starring Andrew Garfield
Co-executive produced the Marvel superhero ensemble feature "The Avengers," starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson
Was an executive producer on both "The Wolverine" and "Thor: The Dark World"
Was an executive producer on "Iron Man 3"
Was an executive producer on "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Guardians of the Galaxy"
Executive produced "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Ant-Man," and "Fantastic Four"
Was an executive producer on Marvel series "Daredevil" and "Agent Carter"
Executive produced "Doctor Strange" and the series "Luke Cage"
Was executive producer on "Deadpool" and "Captain America: Civil War"
Was an executive producer on "Logan," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," and "Thor: Ragnarok"
Executive produced "Black Panther," "Avengers: Infinity War," "Deadpool 2" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp"