Stan Lee is the most famous name in comic books, not counting the characters on the pages. The writer and editor has had a hand in the creation of hundreds of heroes and villains in collaboration with artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and John Buscema. Lee gave the world the modern mythology of Marvel Comics with Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor, the Silver Surfer, Daredevil, the Avengers, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury. Those characters have gone well beyond the comics too, inspiring massive Hollywood movie blockbusters, dozens of television series, video games, comic strips, novels, a Broadway show and enough toys, T-shirts and tie-in products to choke Galactus, the planet eater.
Stanley Martin Lieber was born in New York City three days after Christmas 1922. Times were tough. The youngster worked as a movie-house usher, a sandwich-delivery kid and a subscription seller for the New York Herald Tribune. He found his future, though, in the early days of the American comic-book industry, which took flight in a big way after Superman made his debut for DC Comics in the summer of 1938. A teenage Lieber worked at a rival shop, publisher Martin Goodman's Timely Comics, where in 1941 he got his first credited work in the superhero business — a “filler” story in Captain America Comics — and the pseudonym that would later become his legal and world-famous name. The early motivation for the pen name was a telling one; Lieber wanted to save his real name for “legitimate” writing opportunities later in his career.
It was at Timely in those war years that Lee crossed paths with Kirby, the prolific artist and cosmic dreamer. Two decades later, Timely would be known as Marvel Comics, and Lee and Kirby would collaborate for a new sort of comic-book hero — instead of being goody-two-shoes boring, these humans bickered among themselves, struggled in their personal lives and wrestled with doubts and personal demons. Essentially, they put the “human” into superhuman stories, and the melodrama was pitch perfect for a 1960s audience far more interested in rebel souls and haunted heroes than morally polished authority figures.
Lee was a master at marketing and creating a community that kept readers invested far beyond the final page of the comic book in their hands. His relentless energy and the intricate, ever-widening Marvel Universe contributed mightily to the tone and texture of the “fanboy” culture that later turned Comic-Con International into the world’s largest pop-culture expo.
Lee has endured some bumpy years, certainly. There was a business scandal in 2000 that resulted in the bankruptcy of Stan Lee Media and the securities-fraud conviction of co-founder Peter F. Paul, but the company’s namesake was never implicated. Lee also has become a figure of controversy among some fans and students of comics history who argue that he has gotten too much credit for bottling the creative lightning of Kirby and Spider-Man co-creator Ditko.
There is no argument, however, that Lee changed the course of comic-book history and pioneered the success of Marvel with the power of his personality. Lee also has become quite the movie star, with cameos in two dozen films based on Marvel characters. The kid who once ushered moviegoers to their seats ended up ushering in a new age of superhero cinema for the CG-effects generation and, as usual, he did it with a smile on his face and boundless enthusiasm.
— Geoff Boucher for the Los Angeles Times Jan. 3, 2011