Obituary: Stan Lee

Stan Lee
November 12, 2018

Stan Lee, the man whose name and likeness is synonymous with Marvel and comic book superheroes the world over, passed away earlier today at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 95.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922, Stan Lee was born and raised in New York City.  After graduating high school, he began working at Timely Comics in 1939. Initially, he ran errands and did small projects for the artists. It wasn’t until 1941 that he got his name on his first comic.  Working under the pseudonym, Stan Lee (he’d eventually legally change his name to Stan Lee), Lieber was credited as text filler on “‘Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ in Captain America Comics #3 (cover-dated May 1941).” (Source: Wikipedia).

After Timely editor and writer, Joe Simon (who originally hired Lee), and artist Jack Kirby left Timely in 1941, publisher Martin Goodman appointed Stan Lee as editor (he wasn’t quite 19). It should be noted that Stan Lee was Goodman’s wife’s cousin.  Nepotism for the win! Stan was so good at the job that he remained editor-in-chief until 1972 when he succeeded to the publisher position.  Following Stan Lee’s service in World War II, he oversaw  Timely Comics which became known as Atlas Comics by the early 1950s.

Spurred on by DC Comics’ resurgence in the late 1950s  with the reboot of The Flash, Green Lantern and the creation of a superhero team, the Justice League of America, Stan Lee was tasked with coming up with Marvel’s own version of a superhero team. Lee had a vision to create new superheroes that were more human, that is to say, flawed, and had a darker side than the traditional, pure, shiny image superheroes of the Golden Age (e.g., Superman, Captain America).

The Marvel name was adopted in 1961 and this year was the real beginning of the company we know today.  Working with Jack Kirby (who Lee had previously lured back to the company), the duo co-created the Fantastic Four (Issue 1 published in 1961). Lee and Kirby would go on to co-create numerous famous characters including the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the original X-Men, Black Panther and the concept for the Avengers. In 1962, Lee co-created Spider-Man with artist Steve Ditko.  This duo would go on to co-create many of the most famous villains in the Spider-Man verse as well as Doctor Strange.  This period of creation is often called the Silver Age of Comics.  Throughout the 1960s, Stan Lee increasingly became the face of Marvel, interacting with fans through the pages of the comics and other avenues.  He was a tireless pitchman for Marvel comics and had an abundant energy that was hard to ignore.

Stan Lee perfected what would become known as the “Marvel Method” – he would break ideas and then hand brief descriptions off to the artists to draw. The artists often expanded the stories, sometimes even adding in new characters.  Their product returned to Lee’s desk for final dialogue and sound effects.  This process allowed Marvel to handle a lot of projects at once but ultimately led to a lot of tension, bitterness and litigation over authorship and royalties that may or may not have been due artists.  Marvel’s two most famous artists, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, both eventually left Marvel in the late 60s over such disagreements (Lee and Kirby would work together when Kirby came back to Marvel to work on The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience.

Stan Lee eventually moved to the West Coast to oversee the development of Marvel’s television and film properties.  He was also eventually appointed chairman emeritus of the company.  He had several side media companies in the 1980s through 2000s but none were ever nearly as successful as his time with Marvel.  Young people today will know him best from his cameo appearances in all of the Marvel Superhero movies and most of their other IP (he even appeared in 2018’s Spider-Man video game developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony).

The last year of his life was clouded by claims of elder abuse with associates of his daughter alleging to be involved with working their way into his life … and his money. After some turbulent times, he announced that all was well and credited his daughter with being a great help to him.

Stan Lee married Joan Clayton Boocock in 1947 and remained married until her death in 2017.  They are survived by their daughter, Joan Celia “J. C.” Lee. Another daughter, Jan Lee, died three days after being born in 1953.

In short, the impact of Stan Lee on today’s popular culture, not just in comic books but cross all mediums, is incalculable.  He was a force of will and energy, one that may never be matched again, and singlehandedly resurrected an art form that teetered on the edge of  oblivion.  You may not know who Stan Lee was but if you watch any number of popular movies or television today or read comic books, you owe Stan the Man a debt of gratitude. His memory will not be soon forgotten.


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