Stan Lee

Stan Lee by Gage Skidmore 3.jpg


“The Man” needs no introduction. If you’ve ever read a comic book or seen any of the multitude of Marvel movies, you know the name Stan Lee.

But there’s a great deal about Stan you probably don’t know.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber to Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents, the Lieber’s were a lower middle class family in Manhattan. Stan grew up with the silver age of cinema, and was heavily influenced by the heroic roles of Errol Flynn. So much so, he later created the Warriors Three character, Fandral, based on Flynn. As a teenager, Stan’s family moved to a one bedroom apartment in The Bronx, described by Lee as “a third-floor apartment facing out back”.

Stan attended the prestigious DeWitt Clinton High School (class of 1939) with fellow alumnist Will Eisner (class of 1936) and was preceded by Batman creator, Bob Kane (class of 1933). Lee had an insatiable thirst for writing, and he took jobs writing obituaries and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center as a young man. In 1939, the young Stanley Lieber was hired as an assistant at the newly formed Timely Comics under publisher Martin Goodman. As an assistant, his tasks were usually very menial. “In those days, the artists dipped the pen in ink, so I had to make sure the inkwells were filled. I went down and got them their lunch, I did proofreading, I erased the pencils from the finished pages for them”. In August 1941, Stan made his comic book debut with Captain America #3. Although the issue was only a filler, Stan introduced the now trademark, shield ricochet. It was also the introduction of the pseudonym “Stan Lee”. The young Lieber wished to reserve his name for more literary work and aspired to write the Great American Novel. Later that same year, with the departure of then editor, Joe Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby, the 19 year old Stan was named interim editor. This was the position he would hold until early 1942 when Lee joined the United States Army. Stan served in the military until 1945. Initially in the signal corp, Stan repaired telegraph poles and communication equipment. He was later transferred into the training film division where he wrote manuals, training films, slogans, and occasionally did some cartooning. In 1945, Stan returned from World War II and resumed his duties as editor-in-chief and art director.

In the mid-50’s the company was commonly known as Atlas Comics. The superhero genre had become a stale market and was nearly abandoned. Most comic book writers were getting by with sci-fi, romance, horror, and western comics. Stan was one of the many that took to these genres. By the end of the decade, Stan had grown very disappointed in his career and was heavily considering quitting comics altogether. At the same time, the rival DC had just updated one of their older superhero characters, The Flash, with great success. DC followed that success with The Justice League of America. A group of DC’s biggest superhero characters gathered together on one team. Stan’s publisher, Martin Goodman, was obsessed with doing what the competition was doing. This usually was done very quickly and poorly and resulted in a series of low selling parodies of the competition’s original. Goodman was determined to have a super team of his own and pressured Lee into creating a team to compete with the JLA. Stan teamed up with Jack Kirby and put together the Fantastic Four. But Stan’s team was different. They weren’t perfect, they fought, they worried about bills, they had rent to pay, and they got angry with one another. The characters were real people with real problems and real flaws. This, at the time, was unheard of in comics. Lee had taken a huge gamble……and won. The Fantastic Four experienced immediate popularity and cemented Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as the standard of comics. The two poured out new titles and characters. The Hulk, Thor, Iron-Man, and the X-Men soon followed with the same success. Stan also teamed up with the legendary Steve Ditko to create Doctor Strange and Marvel’s biggest success, Spider-Man. Kirby and Lee would create a new team of superheroes made up of already existing characters, The Avengers. Stan would go on to put new life into older heroes from the 40’s and 50’s such as Captain America and the Sub-Mariner. Stan’s great shared universe renewed the entire genre of comic books on all sides of the fences. Stan has even written a few books for DC as well.

It’s important to note, that in the early 60’s, Stan Lee nearly quit comics all together to pursue his Great American Novel. If he had, we would have missed so much. Comics wouldn’t be popular again. The X-Men wouldn’t be around, nor would many of the other heroes we know and love so much. His work has frequently mirrored the world around us, and given us a moral compass in times of uncertainty. X-Men was a literary commentary on the racism of the 1960’s, Fantastic Four illustrated the struggles that can be overcome by anyone. Spider-Man showed us what all a person can endure, and still be a hero. Stan has inspired us all for generations. He’s shown us exactly what we can do.

Unfortunately, in Stan’s old age, his eyes have deteriorated to far to read comics. He’s given us all a few scares due to his health. However, he still manages a cameo in nearly every Marvel movie so far. Of course, there’s the fan theory that he is actually playing the character Oatu, The Watcher. As comic book fans, we all hope to see that theory play out. At 92 years old, it’s hard to admit, as fans, that Lee is in his twilight years. But it’s a truth we must all accept. Rest assured, Stan will almost certainly surprise us all a few more times.



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