What do Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, and the Black Panther have in common? They were all created by the incomparable Stanley Martin Lieber, known merely as Stan Lee. Along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and several other artists, Lee brought some of the world’s most compelling and memorable superheroes to life. As a result of declining health, Lee departed this life today at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. He was 95.
Born and raised in Manhattan, New York, Lee enjoyed writing in his youth and had big dreams of writing the world’s best novel one day. While having a plethora of part-time jobs such as delivering sandwiches to offices in Rockefeller Center, ushering at Broadway’s Rivoli Theater; and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune. Lee soon got to flex his writing chops writing obituaries and press releases. While nurturing his entrepreneur spirit, he still managed to graduate from high school early at age 16½. Soon, Lee joined the WPA Federal Theater Project.
In early 1942, Lee entered the United States Army and served as a member of the Signal Corps, repairing a plethora of communications equipment, including telegraphs. Later, he was l transferred to the Training Film Division, where he worked writing manuals and occasionally cartooning Vincent Fago, editor of Timely’s “animation comics” section. In later days, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field. Long before Lee’s Marvel characters became box-office gems, they graced small screens. An animated Spider-Man show with it’s Paul Francis Webster composed theme song ran on ABC from 1967 to 1970, while the iconic Lou Ferrigno brought The Incredible Hulk to life on CBS from 1977-82.
Lee’s creative process was called”The Marvel Method”. During this process, he would brainstorm a story with an artist, and write a synopsis soon after. After the artist illustrated the story panels, Lee would then fill in the captions. The humble beginnings of the iconic Marvel empire started with long-time collaborator Jack Kirby. The first superhero that they created together was the Fantastic Four.
The Marvel staple was based on Kirby’s previous superhero team Challengers of the Unknown, which was published by DC Comics. Fantastic Four’s immediate popularity led Lee and his collaborators to produce a multitude of new material. Soon after, Thor, the Hulk, and Iron Man were born along with Kirby, the X-Men with Bill Everett, and Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man with Steve Ditko. All of these iconic characters live through a communal universe. Seven of which were amassed to form the Avengers. The classic line-up also revived characters from the 1940s such as ever so popular Captain America.
In the late 1950s, Julius Schwartz, DC Comics editor, updated the Flash, and later created the Justice League of America. Following advice that was given by publisher Martin Goodman, Lee opted to give his characters flawed lives. They were Lee complex, with bad tempers, and vain. They also were worried about surviving, paying their bills, and were always at war with their personal insecurities. Gone were the days of the unrealistic personalities that were perfect people with no issues. Ultimately Marvel became an unstoppable empire.
Following his retirement from Marvel, Lee remained an overseer public for the company, frequently made cameos, yet comical appearances in the Marvel films playing everything from a DJ in a strip club to a FedEx, delivery guy. In 2010, Lee founded the Stan Lee Foundation to focus on literacy, education, and the arts. In 1994, Lee was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame. In 1995, he was inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. He received a National Medal of Arts in 2008.
Lee’s passing spawned an outpouring of heartfelt tributes from friends and co-stars Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Evans among others. He will be sincerely missed, but his cherished legacy will live on.