RIP Stan Lee

Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics master­mind, was as im­per­fect as his su­per­heroes—and just as in­deli­ble

Newsweek - - Contents - BY STEVEN ASARCH @Ia­masarch

stan lee, co-founder of Marvel Comics, died at 95 on Novem­ber 12. Along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and count­less oth­ers, he helped cre­ate some of mod­ern pop cul­ture’s most en­dur­ing icons. Lee leaves be­hind a daugh­ter and a le­gacy as com­pli­cated as his flawed char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Spi­der-man and the X-men.

He was born Stan­ley Martin Lieber on De­cem­ber 28, 1922, and grew up in New York. In 1941, he landed a job at Martin Good­man’s Timely Comics. Af­ter fill­ing the inkwells of artists, get­ting them lunch and proof­read­ing their work, he was quickly pro­moted to writer. With his first as­sign­ment—“cap­tain Amer­ica Foils the Traitor’s Re­venge” in 1941’s Cap­tain Amer­ica Comics #3—he adopted the pseu­do­nym Stan Lee.

That same year, af­ter the de­par­ture of Cap­tain Amer­ica cre­ators Kirby and Joe Si­mon, the 19-year-old Lee be­came Timely’s in­terim ed­i­tor, then ed­i­tor-in-chief. He left in 1942 to join the Army, where he wrote man­u­als and scripts un­der the mil­i­tary clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “play­wright.” He re­turned to Timely af­ter the war, and the com­pany would soon change its name to At­las Comics—pur­vey­ors of pulpy ro­mance and hor­ror. Ri­val DC Comics, mean­while, was hav­ing enor­mous suc­cess with a re­vival of the su­per­hero genre: Su­per­man, Bat­man and a newer ver­sion of the Flash. Good­man, ea­ger to de­velop At­las he­roes, brought Kirby back and paired him with Lee .

It was Lee’s wife, Joan (the cou­ple were mar­ried for 69 years; she died in 2017), who sug­gested ad­ding pathos and real-life strug­gles to the do-gooder mix. Shortly af­ter At­las re­branded as Marvel Comics in 1961, Lee and Kirby launched the Fan­tas­tic Four, the first mod­ern su­per team, fol­lowed by the Hulk; Black Pan­ther, the first black su­per­hero; and high school nerd Peter Parker (aka Spi­der-man). Comics would never be the same.

One of Lee’s ini­tia­tives was stream­lin­ing de­vel­op­ment. Where pre­vi­ously books were cre­ated by an artist work­ing from a fully writ­ten script, Lee’s “Marvel method” had artists draw­ing pages based on brief story sum­maries; the writer then went back and filled in the script. The more ef­fi­cient model al­lowed artists to fin­ish mul­ti­ple scripts per month, but it took a toll. Spi­der-man artist Ditko got fed up and left.

Lee was a big per­son­al­ity and a tax­ing boss: The brand grew ex­po­nen­tially in the ’70s—and he took credit for most of it (his by­line ap­peared on most of the books Marvel re­leased). While artists like Kirby, Bill Everett and John Romita Sr. drew, plot­ted and de­signed the Marvel worlds—rarely re­ceiv­ing roy­al­ties for their work—lee’s fame grew. Artists were forced to file law­suits for proper com­pen­sa­tion.

But Lee was al­ready look­ing be­yond the comic book. Hop­ing to build a me­dia em­pire, he moved to Hol­ly­wood in 1981. Ear­lier ef­forts— TV se­ries like Spi­der-man and Fred and Bar­ney Meet the Thing—flopped. The first over­whelm­ing suc­cess, Fox’s X-men car­toon, wouldn’t come un­til 1992, af­ter Marvel ac­quired the stu­dio Toy Biz, which in­cluded an in­spired ex­ec­u­tive named Avi Arad, who would later be­come chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of Marvel En­ter­tain­ment and CEO of Marvel Stu­dios.

Lee wasn’t in­volved in build­ing the Marvel Uni­verse (with films that have raked in a com­bined $4 bil­lion at the box of­fice); he left Marvel in 1998 to found Stan Lee Me­dia, then POW! En­ter­tain­ment. But as chair­man emer­i­tus, he re­mained a ma­jor fig­ure at the com­pany and among fans. In his later years, he ap­peared at con­ven­tions and, like a comic-geek Al­fred Hitch­cock, made cameos in Marvel movies—a Hugh Hefner look-alike in Iron Man, a mail­man in Fan­tas­tic Four and a bus driver in Avengers: In­fin­ity War.

He was a vi­sion­ary—one who made his name out of the work of many oth­ers. But his im­pact can’t be over­stated. As the fa­ther of a com­pany Dis­ney bought (for $4 bil­lion in 2009—a steal!), he can take credit for turn­ing su­per­heroes into a global pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. And as the cre­ator of very hu­man he­roes, he taught kind­ness, com­pas­sion and courage to gen­er­a­tions.


As the cre­ator of very hu­man he­roes, Lee taught kind­ness, com­pas­sion and courage to gen­er­a­tions.

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