Multiple sources are reporting that former Marvel Comics editor in chief and movie producer Stan Lee has died in Los Angeles. He was 95.
Lee is survived by his daughter, J.C. Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in 2017.
A controversial figure for decades, Lee was nevertheless one of the greatest creators and supervisors-of popular culture of his generation.
It is unlikely the American comic book business would have survived the crash of the 1950s and early ‘60s without his direct, hands-on involvement and there is no question that superheroes as we know them would be long gone without his creative vision.
With collaborators such as Jack Kirby (who died in 1994 at 76) and Steve Ditko (who died earlier this year at 90), Lee co-created much of what we consider the Marvel Universe, including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Hulk, X-Men, Black Panther, the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, Daredevil and dozens more.
As editor-in-chief at Marvel, Lee oversaw a comics line full of human-sized characters, epochal stories, soap opera tropes and dynamic storytelling, a line which revolutionized the comic book business and made Marvel one of the most creatively successful and influential comic book companies of all time.
After a hit or miss history with TV and movies, Marvel characters started to generate serious money at the box office, starting with “X-Men” in 2000, the astonishing successful “Spider-Man” in 2002 and “Iron Man” in 2008 (the latter of which kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Today, superhero movies, especially the Marvel ones, occupy an enormous part of the blockbuster market. Characters that Lee either worked on or supervised have generated billions of dollars for Marvel, which is owned by Disney.
The iconic creator, born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in Manhattan, was 16 years old when he started employment at Timely Comics (his cousin was the publisher’s wife).
He was all of 19-years old when he was installed as editor in chief and art director at Timely, which became Atlas and then Marvel, a position he held (with a brief pause for World War II) until 1972
In the 1950s, as superheroes were out of fashion, Lee wrote or supervised the creation of horror comics, Western comics, romance comics and crime comics. When superheroes came back into fashion in the late 1950s, he and older artist and visual genius Jack Kirby, co-created the Fantastic Four, a family of cosmic adventurers, in 1961.
The Four were a smash, and Lee, in collaboration with Kirby, Ditko, Bill Everett and others, began cranking out title after title, emphasizing an entire world of heroes that could be right outside your door (assuming your door was in New York City, where most superheroes seemed to operate). By 1966, Spider-Man, his co-creation with Steve Ditko, was one of the most recognizable characters in popular culture.
Lee injected his back-slapping personality into his editor’s notes and letter’s page, which in turn emphasized that comics fandom was not a bunch of largely anonymous kids but a community you could join simply by picking up the monthly adventures of Spider-Man, the X-Men or Thor.
Marvel comics' stories, he argued (mostly by example of his writing) were as vital a part of high school and collegiate counterculture as anything else. Lee was, in many ways, the original "comics aren't just for kids, anymore" advocate.
It is worth noting that a great deal of Lee's work concerned the obligation of the powerful to stand up for those without power.
Spider-Man's motto is literally "with great power, comes great responsibility." The X-Men have been seen as an allegory for racism and homophobia (with mixed results for both, in fairness). Captain America is the embodiment of the idea that if you represent this flag -- in World War II or the 1960s or now -- your first obligation is to help people in need.
In 1972, he stopped writing comics (and being Marvel’s editor-in-chief) to become Marvel’s publisher and all-around ambassador. In 1981, he moved to Hollywood to oversee getting Marvel characters into TV and movies. By the 21st century, cameos by Lee became standard fare for Marvel movies.
Lee was also an enormously complicated figure and nobody will entirely agree what percentage of his genius went into what made the Marvel characters so great. Lee often didn’t help matters -- he was once quoted as saying “You know me, I'll take any credit that isn't nailed down."
But we can agree on this:
That which Lee helped create, helped midwife, helped promote and helped popularize changed lives as much as any fictional characters before or since. The company he worked for, ran and loved revolutionized his chosen artform. There was nobody quite like him and there is unlikely to be anyone quite like him in the future.
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