Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee passed away on November 12, 2018, at the age of 95. Born as Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922, Lee’s work in the then-nascent comic book industry began in 1939 as a gofer at Timely Comics, one of many pulp fiction publishers that arose in New York City during the Great Depression. He acquired the pen name by which the world would know him from a two-page story for Captain America #3, slowly rising through the ranks at Timely with a brief stint in the Army starting in 1942 (where he served in the Signal Corps in a group that included Frank Capra, William Saroyan, and Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss).
While accounts differ on exact details, the newly re-christened Marvel Comics released Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s team of superheroes making a big splash and leading to a creative explosion of work that led to the creation of Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, and the X-Men in short order. Marvel’s comics were set apart from the competition at DC by introducing self-doubt and more realistic problems for their superhero characters, and in fully embracing the concept of a shared universe where events in one comic book could affect the storylines in others. Lee served as editor and the public face of Marvel (often claiming more credit for creations than many of his co-creators felt was warranted) during a period where the company’s fortunes soared and the characters became a part of the counter-culture. He was named publisher in 1972 and relinquished editorial control of the company to acolytes (several of whom had come of age on Lee’s co-creations), focusing on promoting the company and expanding the reach of their iconic superheroes to other media. Their earliest successes were in television animation and a few live-action projects, with the 1967 Spider-Man animated series (and its catchy theme song) and the 1977 Incredible Hulk live-action series (starring Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk) being among the most well-known.
While Lee was connected to Marvel in some capacity for the duration of his life, he was not a controlling figure in the company for many years and was not a part of the live-action movie deals that turned Marvel Comics and their characters into blockbuster films and household names, although he made cameo appearances in every Marvel film (along with several Marvel-influenced movies such as Disney’s Big Hero 6 and Warner Bros’ Teen Titans Go! to the Movies). In his later career, he was involved in an ever-changing stream of companies and properties, some of which created legal entanglements that plagued Lee throughout his later years.
(Splash image by me, New York Comic Con 2007)