Stan Lee, legendary comics writer, publisher, and longtime editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics passed away today at the age of 95. One of the great creative forces in the comic book industry, Lee helped spearhead the superhero comics boom of the 1960s, one that resulted in superheroes being the dominant comic book genre from then forward.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 in Manhattan, New York, Lee grew up dreaming of being a writer. He was hired on as an assistant at Timely Comics in 1939, where he would meet his greatest co-collaborator in Jack Kirby. When tasked with writing some text filler for a Captain America comic in 1941, he adopted the pseudonym Stan Lee. Lee would later on in life say that this decision was due to him wishing to save his given name for the great American novel that he dreamed of writing. He never wrote his novel, but it is hard to argue that any American writer has reached and impacted more readers than Stan Lee.
After Detective Comics revived their superhero line in the late 1950s, Stan was tasked with creating a new superhero team for the recently renamed Marvel Comics. He collaborated with Jack Kirby to create The Fantastic Four, a team that would come to be known as the First Family of Marvel comics. The Fantastic Four were unlike any heroes of the time, they were characters with flaws, who could fight and argue, and struggle. This became the blueprint for the Marvel way of writing comics and expanded out to all of the Marvel characters. Stan Lee further paired with Jack Kirby to co-create The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and The X-Men. With Bill Everett he created Daredevil. And with Steve Ditko, in August of 1962 within the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, Stan introduced the world to his most popular creation, and the most commercially successful superhero today, Spider-Man. In 1963 Lee and Kirby brought several of their most popular heroes onto a single team, creating The Avengers, which now stands as Marvel’s foremost hero team, due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These characters and many others won over countless fans, who were able to look at these flawed beings and see themselves within them. Lee continued to work as a monthly writer for Marvel until 1972, when he stepped back to fill the role of publisher. Over the next 46 years he would assume many roles, from company chairman to television and film producer.
It would not be appropriate to discuss Lee’s work without touching on his passion for social causes. Never one to shy away from being controversial, Lee used his position as writer and editor at Marvel to touch on such issues as racism, homophobia, segregation, drug use, and many more. He was responsible for co-creating Black Panther, the first ever superhero of African descent, and The Falcon, the first African-American superhero. It was Lee’s defiance of the Comics Code Authority that helped bring an end to censorship in comics. He used his monthly column, Stan’s Soapbox, to bring attention to causes and concerns of his and champion the downtrodden. It was within this column that Lee famously refused to keep his and Marvel’s work apolitical, claiming that a story without a message was “like a man without a soul.”
Lee’s work has been adapted to film, television, and video games countless times, dating all of the way back to the 1960s when his characters were first bursting onto the scene. Perhaps most famous among these adaptations are those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a now 20 film-long shared cinematic universe spearheaded by Marvel Studios, featuring the creations of Stan Lee and many others. It brought a cavalcade of previously B and C-list Marvel heroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and many others to the mainstream, elevating them to similar heights as that of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and Spider-Man, whose film rights were at the time owned by other movie studios. Beginning with Fox’s cinematic adaptation of the X-Men in 2000, Stan established a tradition of cameoing in each Marvel movie released in theaters, a tradition that every studio that has produced a Marvel film has endeavored to continue. It is unclear at this time which of the upcoming slate of Marvel films and properties will feature Lee’s final cameo, but whether he appears in a film or not, his presence will always be felt in his creations being brought to life on screen.
Stan Lee was a visionary whose work has reached billions, and will continue to do so for years to come. His passion and love for superheroes helped elevate them to their position today at the pinnacle of the pop-culture landscape, and while he never wrote that great American novel, I think a young Stanley Lieber would have been more than happy if told that his work would live on long after he was gone. So from a lifelong fan and True Believer, rest in peace Stan, and EXCELSIOR!