Stan Lee passed away this week at the age of 95. As the chief creative mind at Marvel Comics for decades, he helped make comics a viable literary form and a distinctly American contribution to art with near-mythological-level by introducing everyone from Spider-Man to the Avengers to the X-Men to the Fantastic Four to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Here’s a look back on the hero’s journey of the man born Stanley Martin Lieber.
The 1920s and 1930s
Growing up in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Lee harbored dreams of becoming a novelist, but in 1930 he took a job as an office runner at small comic book publisher Timely Publications. Timely turned into Atlas Comics, and then…Marvel Comics. Lee brought along his old Timely co-worker Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America.
The early ‘60s were a very fruitful time for Lee. In 1961, he developed the Fantastic Four. In 1962, he launched Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and probably his most famous and important creation, Spider-Man.
President and Publisher
Lee stopped actively writing comic books in 1972, at the age of 50. From there, he held the role as president and publisher of Marvel Comics, as well as face of the company and its unofficial cheerleader. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, he moved to Hollywood to develop his creations for television. He was so hands-on that he was even the narrator for Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man cartoons.
Superman = Boring
Lee created countless characters for Marvel Comics, but he liked plenty of work put out by other publishers. But not quintessential D.C. Comics hero Superman. Why? He’s boring because he’s so powerful that there’s little dramatic tension. “He is so unstoppable that they had to later on invent kryptonite because nobody worried about him!” Lee once said. The difference between Superman and Lee’s characters — and which made them so compelling, and oddly enough, relatable — was that his had real human problems and flaws.
Stan Lee created and developed so many Marvel Comics characters over his decades of work that when movies in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally started to hit screens in the 2000s, filmmakers paid homage by giving Lee a clever cameo appearance in all of them. In Iron Man, he’s shown wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and surrounded by models, leading Tony Stark / Iron Man to mistake him for Hugh Hefner. In The Avengers, a TV reporter interviews Lee, a man playing chess in a park, who says that he doesn’t think the heroic Avengers are real.
So Many Characters, So Little Time
Lee created so many characters and invented so many plots that he sometimes forgot the details. In one issue of Spider-Man, he wrote that Spider-Man’s real identity was that of Peter Palmer (it’s actually Peter Parker), and another time, he noted that The Incredible Hulk transformed back into his regular persona of Bob Banner (not Bruce).