Stan Lee, the larger-than-life former Marvel publisher, creator, and editor has passed away at the age of 95.
Born Stanley Marten Lieber on December 28, 1922, to Romanian-born immigrant parents Celia and Jack Lieber, he grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. As a boy, he was an avid fan of adventure books and mystery novels, along with dashing Errol Flynn movies and they left a mark. Often throughout his career, he remarked upon the way that growing up with heroes at a young age influenced his work later in life.
In 1939 at age 17, Lee became an assistant at Timely Comics, the predecessor publisher that would later become the Marvel Comics of today. His famous pen name was created two years later when he wrote a two-page filler story in Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Captain America No. 3 and signed it “Stan Lee.” At the astoundingly young age of 19, he was named interim editor, but his career in comics was put on hold when he enlisted to fight in World War II in 1942. For the next few years, he served in the Signal Corps, a branch of the Army that wrote training manuals and films for the troops, where he worked alongside two more future legends in Frank Capra and Theodor Geisel, who would later be known as Dr. Seuss.
After the war, he returned to Marvel in the role of editor, where he remained for decades, during that time creating and co-creating some of Marvel’s – and pop culture’s – most enduring characters. His characters and stories helped shape the Silver Age of comics. In November of 1961, Lee and his longtime co-creator, Jack Kirby, created the Fantastic Four, who rewrote the concept of what a superhero team was and could be. In what would become the trademark of Lee’s characters, the Fantastic Four weren’t the perfect, godlike heroes of rival publisher DC Comics, but strange, flawed, and relatable. The Hulk, Daredevil, the X-Men, the Avengers, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and others soon followed. Lee was an early champion of progressivism and diversity, pushing back against the authoritarian censorship of the Comics Code Authority, and co-creating the Falcon with Gene Colan in 1969, comics’ first black superhero.
But no creation of Lee’s was more beloved or had more of an impact than Spider-Man, whom Lee co-created with artist Steve Ditko. The wisecracking webhead first appeared in 1962 in Amazing Fantasy #15 and immediately became an icon to a generation of teenagers who felt a little bit different, a little bit weird. Lee famously hated teenage sidekicks, believing that teenagers, and teen characters, deserved better. Spider-Man’s funny quips might be seen as an extension of Lee himself, whose sense of humor and boundless joy for his work have always been a hallmark of his career.
In the 1970s, Lee’s natural promotional tendencies and showmanship saw him stepping down from the role of editor and into the role of publisher, where his tireless energy went into promoting Marvel and comic books in general. Over the years, Lee became the figurehead and public face of Marvel, and, it could be argued, the godfather of modern pop culture. He was endeared to an entirely new generation of fans all over again with his cameo appearances in Marvel movies starting with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s, and continuing his tradition of popping up in Marvel films through the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His energy and enthusiasm were often on display on social media and at comic conventions, where he never said no to a fan or refused to sign an autograph.
Stan Lee also left a considerable legacy in the realm of charity work. The Stan Lee Foundation was founded in 2010, with a focus on literacy and education, along with the arts. His goal was to support endeavors that gave increased access to literary resources, as well as championing diversity and accessibility in the arts.
In his last few years, Lee was besieged by a world of troubles, with people in his team mismanaging his money or taking advantage of his good nature and advancing age to squabble over his estate while making bad faith deals. In July of last year, Stan Lee’s wife of 69 years, Joan, died from complications of a stroke, also at age 95. He is survived by his daughter, JC.
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