Marvel su­per­heroes creator, Stan Lee, dies at 95

Times-Record - - OBITUARIES - As­so­ci­ated Press writer John Rogers con­tributed to this story.

LOS AN­GE­LES (AP) — Stan Lee, the cre­ative dy­namo who rev­o­lu­tion­ized the comic book and helped make bil­lions for Hol­ly­wood by in­tro­duc­ing hu­man frail­ties in Marvel su­per­heroes such as Spi­der-Man, the Fan­tas­tic Four and the In­cred­i­ble Hulk, died Mon­day. He was 95.

Lee was de­clared dead at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, ac­cord­ing to Kirk Schenck, an at­tor­ney for Lee’s daugh­ter, J.C. Lee.

As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its pub­lisher, Lee was widely con­sid­ered the ar­chi­tect of the con­tem­po­rary comic book. He re­vived the in­dus­try in the 1960s by of­fer­ing the cos­tumes and ac­tion craved by younger read­ers while in­sist­ing on so­phis­ti­cated plots, col­lege-level di­a­logue, satire, sci­ence fic­tion, even phi­los­o­phy.

Mil­lions re­sponded to the un­likely mix of re­al­is­tic fan­tasy, and many of his char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Spi­der-Man, the Hulk and X-Men went on to be­come stars of block­buster films. He won the Na­tional Medal of Arts in 2008.

Re­cent projects Lee helped make pos­si­ble range from the films “Avengers: In­fin­ity War,” ‘’Black Pan­ther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to such TV se­ries as “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” and “Dare­devil.” Lee was rec­og­niz­able to his fans, hav­ing had cameos in many Marvel films and TV projects, often de­liv­er­ing his trade­mark motto, “Ex­cel­sior!”

“Cap­tain Amer­ica” ac­tor Chris Evans mourned the loss on Twit­ter: “There will never be an­other Stan Lee. For decades he pro­vided both young and old with ad­ven­ture, es­cape, com­fort, con­fi­dence, in­spi­ra­tion, strength, friend­ship and joy. He ex­uded love and kind­ness and will leave an in­deli­ble mark on so, so, so many lives. Ex­cel­sior!!”

Lee con­sid­ered the comic­book medium an art form and he was pro­lific: By some ac­counts, he came up with a new comic book ev­ery day for 10 years. “I wrote so many I don’t even know. I wrote ei­ther hun­dreds or thou­sands of them,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2006.

He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fan­tas­tic Four, the Hulk, Spi­der-Man, Iron Man and nu­mer­ous oth­ers to life. “It was like there was some­thing in the air. I couldn’t do any­thing wrong,” he said.

His he­roes, mean­while, were a far cry from vir­tu­ous do-good­ers such as ri­val DC Comics’ Su­per­man.

The Fan­tas­tic Four fought with each other. Spi­der-Man was goaded into su­per­hero work by his al­ter ego, Peter Parker, who suf­fered from un­re­quited crushes, money prob­lems and dan­druff. The Sil­ver Surfer, an alien doomed to wan­der Earth’s at­mos­phere, waxed about the woe­ful na­ture of man. The Hulk was marked by self-loathing. Dare­devil was blind and Iron Man had a weak heart.

“The beauty of Stan Lee’s char­ac­ters is that they were char­ac­ters first and su­per­heroes next,” Jeff Kline, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the “Men in Black” an­i­mated tele­vi­sion se­ries, told The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, in 1998.

Some of Lee’s cre­ations be­came sym­bols of so­cial change — the in­ner tur­moil of Spi­der-Man rep­re­sented ‘60s Amer­ica, for ex­am­ple, while The Black Pan­ther and The Sav­age She-Hulk mir­rored the tra­vails of mi­nori­ties and women.

“I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups,” he told The AP in 2006. “We all grew up with gi­ants and ogres and witches. Well, you get a lit­tle bit older and you’re too old to read fairy tales. But I don’t think you ever out­grow your love for those kind of things, things that are big­ger than life and mag­i­cal and very imag­i­na­tive.”

Lee scripted most of Marvel’s su­per­hero comics him­self dur­ing the ‘60s, in­clud­ing the Avengers and the X-Men, two of the most en­dur­ing. In 1972, he be­came Marvel’s pub­lisher and ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor; four years later, 72 mil­lion copies of Spi­der-Man were sold.

“He’s be­come our Mickey Mouse,” he once said of the masked, web-crawl­ing cru­sader.

Lee also pub­lished sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “The Su­per­hero Women” in 1977 and “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” the fol­low­ing year, when he was named pub­lisher of the year by the Pe­ri­od­i­cal and Book As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica.

CBS turned the Hulk into a suc­cess­ful TV se­ries, with Bill Bixby and Lou Fer­rigno por­tray­ing the doomed sci­en­tist from 1978-82. A Spi­der-Man se­ries ran briefly in 1978. Both char­ac­ters were fea­tured in an­i­mated TV se­ries as well.

The first big-bud­get movie based on Lee’s char­ac­ters, “X-Men,” was a smash in 2000, earn­ing more than $130 mil­lion at North Amer­i­can the­aters. “Spi­der-Man” did even bet­ter, tak­ing in more than $400 mil­lion in 2002. A Marvel movie em­pire would emerge af­ter that, one of the most lu­cra­tive mega-fran­chises in cinema his­tory, with the re­cent “Avengers: In­fin­ity War” gross­ing more than $2 bil­lion world­wide. In 10 years, the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse films have net­ted over $17.6 bil­lion in world­wide grosses.

“Black Pan­ther” ac­tor Win­ston Duke took to Twit­ter to pay his re­spects to Lee: “You gave us char­ac­ters that con­tinue to stand the test of time and evolve with our con­scious­ness. You taught us that there are no lim­its to our fu­ture as long as we have ac­cess to our imag­i­na­tion. Rest in power!”

Stanley Martin Lieber was born Dec. 28, 1922, in New York. He grew up a fan of “Hardy Boys” ad­ven­ture books and Er­rol Flynn movies, and got a job at Timely Comics af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school.

Within a few months, the editor and art di­rec­tor quit, leav­ing the 17-year-old Lee with cre­ative con­trol over the com­pany, which grew and was re­named At­las Comics and, fi­nally, Marvel. Lieber changed his name, think­ing Lee would be used for “silly lit­tle comics” and his real name would be re­served for nov­els.

His early work largely re­flected pop­u­lar movies — westerns, crime dra­mas, ro­mance, what­ever was the rage at the time. He worked for about 50 cents per page.

Af­ter a stint in the Army dur­ing World War II, writ­ing for train­ing films, he was back at Marvel to be­gin a long and ad­mit­tedly bor­ing run of as­sem­bly line comic book pro­duc­tion.

Comics in the 1950s were the sub­ject of Se­nate hear­ings pushed by the Comics Code Author­ity, which frowned on gore and char­ac­ters that ques­tioned author­ity. Ma­jor comic book com­pa­nies adopted the code as a form of self-reg­u­la­tion to avoid sanc­tions.

Lee said he was also work­ing for a pub­lisher who con­sid­ered comics as fare only for chil­dren.

“One day I said, ‘This is in­sane,’” Lee told the Guardian in 1979. “I’m just do­ing the same type of sto­ries as ev­ery­body else. I wasn’t tak­ing pride in my work and I wanted to quit. But my wife said, ‘Look, why don’t you do the kind of comics you want for a change?’”

The re­sult was the first is­sue of “The Fan­tas­tic Four,” in 1960, with the char­ac­ters, plot and text from Lee and the il­lus­tra­tions by famed Marvel artist Jack Kirby.

The char­ac­ters were nor­mal peo­ple changed into re­luc­tant su­per­heroes through no fault of their own.

Writ­ing in “Ori­gins of Marvel Comics,” Lee de­scribed the quar­tet this way: “The char­ac­ters would be the kind of char­ac­ters I could per­son­ally re­late to; they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles, they’d be fal­li­ble and feisty and — most im­por­tant of all — in­side their col­or­ful, cos­tumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.”

“The Amaz­ing Spi­der­Man” fol­lowed in 1962 and be­fore long, Marvel Comics was an in­dus­try be­he­moth.

Lee knew his work was dif­fer­ent, proudly not­ing that sto­ries were drawn out over sev­eral is­sues not to make money but to bet­ter de­velop char­ac­ters, sit­u­a­tions and themes. He didn’t ne­glect his vil­lains, ei­ther. One, the Mole­man, went bad when he was os­tra­cized be­cause of his ap­pear­ance, Lee wrote, adding it was “al­most un­heard of in a comic book” to ex­plain why a char­ac­ter was what he was.

Lee’s direct in­flu­ence faded in the 1970s as he gave up some of his ed­i­to­rial du­ties at Marvel. But with his trade­mark white mus­tache and tinted sun­glasses, he was the in­dus­try’s most rec­og­niz­able fig­ure. He lec­tured widely on pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Lee moved to Los An­ge­les in 1981 to head Marvel Pro­duc­tions, an an­i­ma­tion stu­dio that was later pur­chased, along with Marvel Comics, for $50 mil­lion by New World En­ter­tain­ment.

As sales of comics de­clined, Marvel was forced into bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings that meant it had to void a life­time con­tract pro­hibit­ing Lee from work­ing for any­one else. Lee later sued Marvel for $10 mil­lion, say­ing the com­pany cheated him out of mil­lions in profits from movies based on his char­ac­ters.

In 2000, Lee agreed to write sto­ries for DC Comics, rein­vent­ing Su­per­man, Bat­man, Won­der Woman and other sig­na­ture char­ac­ters for Marvel’s one-time ri­val. DC Vice Pres­i­dent and Pub­lisher Paul Le­vitz had noth­ing but praise when the agree­ment was made.

“With his artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tors at Marvel, Stan co-cre­ated the rich­est imag­i­nary uni­verse a sin­gle comics writer has ever built,” he said.

The dap­per, friendly comic book ge­nius con­tin­ued to work into his 90s on nu­mer­ous projects, in­clud­ing comics, films and DVDs.

In the late 1990s, he looked to cap­i­tal­ize on the In­ter­net craze, of­fer­ing an­i­mated “We­bisodes” of comic-like ac­tion. Stan Lee Me­dia also sought to reach out to Web­savvy youth through deals with pop artists the Back­street Boys and Mary J. Blige.

The com­pany went bank­rupt, and three men were in­dicted for al­legedly de­fraud­ing the busi­ness in a check kit­ing scam. Lee wasn’t im­pli­cated.

Af­ter that ini­tial fail­ure, Lee formed the suc­cess­ful Pow! En­ter­tain­ment com­pany to launch an­i­mated In­ter­net­based projects.

Lee’s wife and part­ner in nearly ev­ery­thing, Joan Lee, died on July 6, 2017, leav­ing a void that made her hus­band, by then in men­tal and phys­i­cal de­cline, vul­ner­a­ble to hang­ers-on who be­gan to sur­round him. Law­suits, court fights and an elder abuse in­ves­ti­ga­tion all emerged in the fight over who spoke for the el­derly Lee.

Lee is sur­vived by his daugh­ter, Joanie, and a younger brother who also worked in comics, Larry Lieber.

In this June 22, 2004, file photo, Spi­der­man creator and “Spi­der­Man 2” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Stan Lee poses for pho­tog­ra­phers at the pre­miere of “Spi­der-Man 2” in Los An­ge­les. Comic book ge­nius Lee, the ar­chi­tect of the con­tem­po­rary comic book, has died. He was 95. The cre­ative dy­namo who rev­o­lu­tion­ized the comics by in­tro­duc­ing hu­man frail­ties in su­per­heroes such as Spi­der-Man, The Fan­tas­tic Four and The In­cred­i­ble Hulk, was de­clared dead Mon­day, Nov. 12, 2018, at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, ac­cord­ing to Kirk Schenck, an at­tor­ney for Lee’s daugh­ter, J.C. Lee.

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