With­out Joan, we might not have Stan Lee’s Mar­vel uni­verse

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MICHAEL CAVNA Wash­ing­ton Post

I wasn’t even fully seated be­fore Stan Lee brought up his beloved Joanie, his wife of seven decades.

It was the eve of an­other highly an­tic­i­pated royal wed­ding: the 2011 nup­tials of Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton. Joan Lee may have lived in Amer­ica for most of her life, but the for­mer model and show­girl was still ab­so­lutely Bri­tish, and she wanted her then 88-year-old hus­band to stay up with her to the wee hours to watch the West­min­ster Abbey cer­e­mony.

“I had a one-word re­ply for her,” Lee re­counted, grin­ning be­hind his sig­na­ture tinted glasses in his Bev­erly Hills of­fice, “‘Why?’”

Stan Lee, the Mar­vel Comics mas­ter­mind emer­i­tus, loves to speak of Joan with a teas­ing tone that re­flects deep devo­tion. They mar­ried in 1947 — af­ter the past mat­ter of a di­vorce could be ironed out — and had shared their lows and highs ever since, in­clud­ing the birth of two chil­dren in the ‘50s (the sec­ond child would die sev­eral days af­ter the birth).

Dur­ing our same Bev­erly Hills in­ter­view, Lee — as he long had — cred­ited Joan with the big­gest shift in his ca­reer.

Stan­ley Lieber had gone to work as a teenage of­fice boy in the ‘30s for Martin Good­man, his cousin’s hus­band, who ran Timely/At­las, the pub­lish­ing fore­run­ner to Mar­vel. To re­serve his birth name for that great Amer­i­can novel he planned to au­thor one day, Lieber be­gan writ­ing comics un­der the nom-de-toon “Stan Lee.”

By the mid-‘50s, su­per­heroes had yielded comics-mar­ket dom­i­nance to soap opera and sci-fi books and war stories, and times grew lean for Lee, who was now edi­tor of Mar­vel’s fore­run­ner. But in 1960, the arc of Lee’s pro­fes­sional life sud­denly bent to­ward great­ness — right as he was on the verge of quit­ting the busi­ness.

That year, Good­man told Lee to cre­ate a team of su­per­heroes, af­ter the head of DC had boasted of his suc­cess with its su­per­hero team Jus­tice League of Amer­ica. Good­man wanted Lee to cre­ate a com­pet­ing su­perteam, but the edi­tor was tired of fol­low­ing for­mu­laic con­ven­tion.

“I told my wife Joanie, ‘I’m go­ing to quit.’” Lee re­counted. “But she said: ‘Why not write it the way you want to write it? If it doesn’t work, the worst that’s go­ing to hap­pen is that they’ll fire you. And you want to quit any­way.’”

With those words, Lee says, Joan changed their lives — and the fu­ture of Mar­vel Comics.

Lee sat and dreamed up the Fan­tas­tic Four — a bick­er­ing fam­ily of he­roes that emo­tion­ally seemed more hu­man than su­per. Lee fol­lowed by co-cre­at­ing a vul­ner­a­ble, awk­ward Spi­der-Man — dis­tinct coun­ter­pro­gram­ming to DC’s mighty Su­per­man and Bat­man. Mar­vel’s great rise was fully launched, as Thor and Iron Man and the X-Men fol­lowed.

In Lee’s mind, we would have no multi-bil­lion-dol­lar Mar­vel su­per­hero in­dus­try to­day were it not for Joanie.

Joan Lee died Thurs­day in Los An­ge­les, af­ter be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized for a stroke this week, her fam­ily said in a state­ment. She was 95. She is mourned by mil­lions.

GETTY FILE PHOTO

Stan Lee’s wife, Joan Lee, died on July 6 in Los An­ge­les af­ter re­port­edly suf­fer­ing a stroke.

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