Stan "The Man" Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 New York, New York) is an American writer, editor, Chairman Emeritus of Marvel Comics, and memoirist, who - with several artist co-creators, most notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko - introduced complex, naturalistic characters and a thoroughly shared universe into superhero comic books. He created or co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and many other characters, and led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.
Stan Lee was born at home, in the apartment of his Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents at the corner of West 98th Street and West End Avenue in Manhattan. His father, trained as a dress cutter, worked only sporadically after the Great Depression, and the family moved further uptown to the cheaper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. When Lee was nine, his only sibling, brother Larry Lieber, was born.
Lee attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx, where his family had moved next. A voracious reader who enjoyed writing as a teen, he worked such part-time jobs as writing obituaries for a news service and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center; delivering sandwiches for the Jack May pharmacy to offices in Rockefeller Center; working as an office boy for a trouser manufacturer; ushering at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway; and selling subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. He graduated high school early, at age 16½ in 1939, and joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project.
A text filler in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941) was Lee's first published work. Cover art by Alex Schomburg.With the help of his uncle, Robbie Solomon, the brother-in-law of pulp magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman, Lee became an assistant at the new Timely Comics division of Goodman's company. Timely, by the 1960s, would evolve into Marvel Comics. Lee, whose cousin Jean was Goodman's wife, was formally hired by Timely editor Joe Simon.
Young Stanley Lieber's first published work, the text filler "Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge" in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941), used the pseudonym "Stan Lee", which years later he would adopt as his legal name. Lee explained in his Origins of Marvel Comics (see under References) and elsewhere that he had intended to save his given name for more literary work. He graduated from writing filler to actual comics with a backup feature two issues later. When Simon and his creative partner Jack Kirby left later that year, following a dispute with Goodman, the publisher told Lee, just under 19 years old, to be the interim editor. The youngster showed a knack for the business that led him to remain as the comic-book division's editor-in-chief, as well as art director for much of that time, until 1972, when he would succeed Goodman as publisher.
Lee enlisted in the U.S. Army in early 1942 and served stateside in the Signal Corps, writing manuals, training films, and slogans, and occasionally cartooning. His military classification, he says, was "playwright"; he adds that only nine men in the U.S. Army were given that title. Vincent Fago, editor of Timely's "animation comics" section, which put out humor and funny animal comics, filled in until Lee returned from his World War II military service in 1945.
In the mid-1950s, by which time the company was now generally known as Atlas Comics, a so-called "decency campaign" led by psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham and Senator Estes Kefauver blamed comic books for corrupting young readers with Images of violence and sexuality. Comic-book companies responded by implementing strict internal regulations, and eventually adopted the stringent Comics Code.
During this period, Lee wrote comics in various genres including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. By the end of the decade, Lee, by now living with his family in Hewlett Harbor, New York, on Long Island, had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.
In the late 1950s, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre and experienced a significant success with its updated version of the Flash, and later with super-team the Justice League of America. In response, publisher Martin Goodman assigned Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee's wife urged him to experiment with stories he preferred, since he was planning on changing careers and had nothing to lose.
Lee acted on that advice, giving his superheroes a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teens. His heroes could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and even were sometimes physically ill. Before him, most superheroes were idealistically perfect people with no serious, lasting problems: Superman was so powerful that nobody could harm him, and Batman was a billionaire in his secret identity. As latter-day scribe Alan Moore described the significance of this new approach:
" The DC comics were ... one dimensional characters whose only characteristic was they dressed up in costumes and did good. Whereas Stan Lee had this huge breakthrough of two-dimensional characters. So, they dress up in costumes and do good, but they've got a bad heart. Or a bad leg. I actually did think for a long while that having a bad leg was an actual character trait. "
Lee's superheroes captured the imagination of teens and young adults who were part of the population Spike known as the post World War II baby boom. Sales soared and Lee realized that he could have a meaningful and successful career in the medium after all.
Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), the first appearance of Spider-Man. Cover art by Jack Kirby (penciler) & Steve Ditko (inker).The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the family the Fantastic Four. Its immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel's illustrators to produce a cavalcade of new titles. With Kirby, Lee created the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor and the X-Men; with Bill Everett, Daredevil; and with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man.
Comics historian Peter Sanderson wrote that in the 1960s,
" DC was the equivalent of the big Hollywood studios: After the brilliance of DC's reinvention of the superhero ... in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had run into a creative drought by the decade's end. There was a new audience for comics now, and it wasn't just the little kids that traditionally had read the books. The Marvel of the 1960s was in its own way the counterpart of the French New Wave.... Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the process keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond. Moreover, among this new generation of readers were people who wanted to write or draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and push the creative envelope still further. "
Stan Lee's Marvel revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. Lee introduced the practice of including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style.
Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel's series; moderated the letters pages; wrote a monthly column called "Stan's Soapbox"; and wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase, "Excelsior!" (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee's success with it, is now known as the "Marvel method" or "Marvel style" of comic-book creation. Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and colouring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.
Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee's comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Although Lee has always effusively praised the Marvel artists, some historians argue that their contribution was greater than for which they are given credit. The dispute with Ditko over Spider-Man has sometimes been acrimonious, although he and Lee are formally credited as co-creators in the credits of the 2000s Spider-Man films.
In 1971, Lee indirectly reformed the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to write a story about the dangers of drugs and Lee wrote a story in which Spider-Man's best friend becomes addicted to pills. The three-part story was slated to be published in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, but the Comics Code Authority refused it because it depicted drug use; the story context was considered irrelevant. With his publisher's approval, Lee published the comics without the CCA seal. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. "Stan's Soapbox," besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance or prejudice. In addition, Lee took to using sophisticated vocabulary for the stories' dialogue to encourage readers to learn new words. Lee has justified this by saying "If a kid has to go to a dictionary, that's not the worst thing that could happen."
In later years, Lee became a figurehead and public face for Marvel Comics. He made appearances at comic book conventions around America, lecturing at colleges and participating in panel discussions. He moved to California in 1981 to develop Marvel's TV and movie properties. He has been an executive producer for, and has made cameo appearances in Marvel film adaptations and other movies.
Lee was befriended by a former lawyer named Peter Paul, who supervised the negotiation of a non-exclusive contract with Marvel Comics for the first time in Lee's lifetime employment with Marvel. This enabled Paul and Lee to start a new Internet-based superhero creation, production and marketing studio, Stan Lee Media, in 1998. It grew to 165 people and went public, but near the end of 2000, investigators discovered illegal stock manipulation by Paul and corporate officer Stephan Gordon. Stan Lee Media filed for bankruptcy in February 2001, and Paul fled to São Paulo, Brazil. He was extradited back to the U.S., and pled guilty to violating SEC Regulation 10(b)5 in connection with trading of his stock in Stan Lee Media. Lee was never implicated in the scheme.
Some of the Stan Lee Media projects included the animated Web series The 7th Portal where he voiced the character Izayus; The Drifter; and The Accuser. The 7th Portal characters were licensed to an interactive 3-D movie attraction in four Paramount theme parks.
In the 2000s, Lee did his first work for DC Comics, launching the Just Imagine... series, in which Lee reimagined the DC superheroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
Lee created the risqué animated superhero series Stripperella for Spike TV. In 2004, he announced plans to collaborate with Hugh Hefner on a similar superhero cartoon featuring Playboy Playmates. He also announced a superhero program that would feature Ringo Starr, the former Beatle, as the lead character. Additionally, in August of that year, Lee announced the launch of Stan Lee's Sunday Comics, hosted by Komikwerks.com, where monthly subscribers could read a new, updated comic and "Stan's Soapbox" every Sunday. The column has not been updated since Feb. 15, 2005.
In 2005, Lee, Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman formed POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment to develop film, television and video game properties. The first film produced by POW! was the TV movie Lightspeed (also advertised as Stan Lee's Lightspeed), which aired on the Sci Fi Channel on July 26, 2006. POW! president and CEO Champion said in 2005 that Lee was creating a new superhero, Foreverman, for a Paramount Pictures movie, in tandem with producer Robert Evans and Idiom Films, with Peter Briggs hired to collaborate with Lee on the screenplay.
Lee in 2005 filed a lawsuit against Marvel for his unpaid share of profits from Marvel movies, winning a settlement of more than $10 million.
Marvel, in 2006, commemorated Lee's 65 years with the company by publishing a series of one-shot comics starring Lee himself meeting and interacting with many of his creations, including Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, The Thing, Silver Surfer and Dr. Doom. These comics also featured short pieces by such comics creators as Joss Whedon and Fred Hembeck, as well as reprints of classic Lee-written adventures.
Lee's favorite authors include H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Harlan Ellison.
Stan Lee has received several awards for his work, including being formally inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995.
See also: List of comics creators appearing in comics
Jack Kirby, during his years of working for DC Comics in the 1970s, created the character Funky Flashman as a blatant parody of Stan Lee. With his hyperbolic speech pattern, gaudy toupee, and hip '70s-Manhattan style beard (as Lee sported at the time) this ne'er-do-well charlatan first appeared in the pages of Mister Miracle.
Kirby later portrayed himself, Lee, production executive Sol Brodsky, and Lee's secretary Flo Steinberg as superheroes in What If #11, "What If the Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?", in which Lee played the part of Mister Fantastic. Lee has also made numerous cameo appearances in many Marvel titles, appearing in audiences and crowds at many character's ceremonies and parties, and hosting an old-soldiers reunion in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #100 (July 1972).
In Alan Moore's satirical miniseries 1963, based on numerous Marvel characters of the 1960s, Moore's alter ego "Affable Al" parodies Lee and his allegedly unfair treatment of artists.
The "Young Dan Pussey" stories by Daniel Clowes, collected in Pussey!, feature an exploitative publisher who relies on Lee's gung-ho style and "Bullpen" mythology to motivate his stable of naïve and underpaid creators; the stories mainly satirize the state of mainstream comics in the 1990s, but also the subculture of young superhero fans that Lee helped to create.
In Marvel's 1991 comic book adaptation of game Double Dragon, a character modeled after Stan Lee was specifically created for the comic and is introduced as the father of the protagonists, Billy and Jimmy Lee. The character is only referred by his first name, Stan, although the play on his name is obvious when one considers the Lee brothers' surname.
In X-Play on the cable network G4, the character Roger, dubbed "the fifth-best-thing next to Stan Lee", is a foul-mouthed, perverted stand-up comic parody of Lee. Roger's segments normally consist of him describing details of numerous unspeakable adult encounters, usually involving the wife of another Marvel veteran, Jack Kirby, with each encounter somehow leading to the creation of a well-known Marvel character.
Lee appeared, unnamed, as the priest at Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' wedding in New Avengers Annual #1. He also appears to pay his respects to Karen Page at her funeral in the Daredevil "Guardian Devil" story arc.
In Marvel's July 1997 "Flashback" event, a top-hatted caricature of Lee as a ringmaster introduced stories which detailed events in Marvel characters' lives before they became superheroes, in special "-1" editions of many Marvel titles. The "ringmaster" depiction of Lee was originally from Generation X #17 (July 1996), where the character narrated a story set primarily in an abandoned circus. Though the story itself was written by Scott Lobdell, the narration by "Ringmaster Stan" was written by Lee himself, and the character was drawn in that issue by Chris Bachalo. Bachalo's depiction of "Ringmaster Stan" was later used in the heading of a short-lived revival of the "Stan's Soapbox" column, which evolved into a question & answer format.
In his given name of Stanley Lieber, Stan Lee appears briefly in Paul Malmont's 2006 novel "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril".
Lee and other comics creators are mentioned in Michael Chabon's 2000 novel about the comics industry The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Film and television appearances
Marvel film properties
Lee as Willie Lumpkin in Fantastic FourWith the exception of X-Men 2, Stan Lee appears in every Marvel Comic movie based on characters he helped create. He did not appear in Elektra, The Punisher, Blade or Ghost Rider due to the fact that he never helped create those characters.
In the TV-movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989), Lee's first appearance in a Marvel movie or TV project is as jury foreman in the trial of Dr. David Banner.
Lee has cameo roles in the Fox Broadcasting Company telefilms Generation X (1996) and Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (1998)
In X-Men (2000), Lee appears as a hotdog vendor on the beach when Senator Kelly materializes naked onshore after escaping from Magneto.
He narrated the Troma film Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part IV (2001) under the pseudonym "Peter Parker".
In Spider-Man (2002), he appeared during Spider-Man's first battle with the Green Goblin, pulling a little girl away from falling debris.
In Daredevil (2003), the blind child, Matt Murdock, stops Lee from crossing the street and getting hit by a car.
In Hulk (2003), he appears walking alongside former TV-series Hulk Lou Ferrigno in an early scene, both as security guards at Bruce Banner's lab.
In Spider-Man 2 (2004), Lee again pulls an innocent person away from danger during Spider-Man's first battle with Doctor Octopus.
In Fantastic Four (2005), Lee appears for the first time as a character from the comics, in a role credited as Willie Lumpkin, the mail carrier who greets the Fantastic Four as they enter the Baxter Building elevator.
In X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), Lee and Chris Claremont appear as two of Jean Grey's neighbors in the opening scenes set 20 years ago. Lee, credited as "Waterhose man," is watering the lawn when Jean telekinetically lifts the water from the hose into the air.
In the original broadcast airing of the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Apokolips... Now! Part 2", Stan Lee is visible mourning the death of Daniel "Terrible" Turpin, a character based on Lee's collaborator Jack Kirby. The scene as well included such Marvel characters as the Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, and Peter Parker, as well as such Kirby DC characters as Big Barda, Scott Free, and Orion. This shot does not appear in the series' DVD.
Other film, TV and video
One of Lee's earliest contributions to animation based on Marvel properties was narrating the 1980s Incredible Hulk animated series, always beginning his narration with a self-introduction and ending with "This is Stan Lee saying, Excelsior!"
Lee was executive producer of a 1990s animated TV series, titled Spider-Man: The Animated Series. He appeared, as animated character (and with his voice), in the series finale episode titled "Farewell, Spider-Man" . Spider-Man was teleported into the "real" world where he is a comic book hero. He swings Stan Lee around and drops him off on top of a building.
He also voices the character "Frank Elson" in an episode of Spider-Man: The New Animated Series series, broadcasted by MTV in 2003, and titled "Mind Games" (Parts 1 & 2, originally aired in Aug. 15 & 22, 2003).
Lee has an extensive cameo in the Kevin Smith film Mallrats. He, once again, plays himself, this time visiting "the" mall to sign books at a comic store. Later, he takes on the role of a sage-like character, giving Jason Lee's character, Brodie Bruce (a longtime fan of Lee's), advice on his love life. He also recorded interviews with Smith for the non-fiction video Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels (2002).
Lee appears as himself in writer-director Larry Cohen's The Ambulance (1990), in which Eric Roberts plays an aspiring comics artist.
In The Simpsons episode "I Am Furious Yellow" (April 28, 2002), Lee voices the animated Stan Lee, who is a prolonged visitor to Comic Book Guy's store ("Stan Lee came back?" "Stan Lee never left.") He asks if Comic Book Guy is the stalker of Lynda Carter the star of the 70s show Wonder Woman and shows such signs of dementia as breaking a customer's toy Batmobile by trying to cram a The Thing action figure into it, and claiming that he "made it better", hiding DC comics behind Marvel comics, and believing that he is the Hulk (and fails trying to become the Hulk, while Comic Book Guy comments he couldn't even change into Bill Bixby). In a later episode, Lee's picture is seen next to several others on the wall behind the register, under the heading "Banned for life".
Lee also appears as himself in the Mark Hamill-directed Comic Book: The Movie (2004), a direct-to-video mockumentary primarily filmed at the 2002 San Diego Comic-Con. He appeared in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) as the "Three Stooges Wedding Guest", a Spaniard who learns English from watching Three Stooges shorts.
Stan Lee narrates the 2000 video game Spider-Man and the 2001 sequel Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro.
Lee was producer and host of the reality-TV show Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, which premiered on the Sci Fi Channel July 27, 2006.
Lee has made two appearances as a subject on To Tell the Truth: first in 1970, and again in 2001.
Lee also made an appearance on December 21, 2006, on the NBC game show Identity.
Stan Lee made a cameo in episode #16, "Unexpected", of the NBC TV series Heroes, speaking one line as a bus driver.
Stan Lee made an appearance in the cartoon movie Stan Lee Presents Mosaic. In it, he voices the security guard named "Stanley" at Interpol, who issues a keycard. Stanley quite resembles Lee himself. (Original Date March 10, 2007)
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