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Legendary Marvel Comics Creator Stan Lee Has Died at Age 95

Stanley Lieber was only 17 in 1939 when he started working at Timely Comics, a New York comics bullpen owned by his cousin’s husband, publisher Martin Goodman. Before long, Timely would be known as Marvel Comics and Stanley would be known as Stan Lee, one of the most prolific creators not just in comics but in any medium.

In the early 1960s, super hero comics were basically a relic of the past, left behind in the aftermath of World War II. Super heroes were almost inextricably linked to WWII, as many of the comics of the day had set aside their normal plots to show all the heroes pitching into the war effort. When the war ended, super heroes and their black and white morality ended with it. In the 50s westerns, romance, war and crime stories ruled the comics landscape. But when cross-town rivals DC Comics introduced a new version of The Flash, Marvel wanted to test the waters for a super hero revival, and Stan Lee was put in charge.

Stan worked with artist Jack Kirby, himself already a heavyweight in the comics world, to create a super hero comic like no other. Unlike the distinctive costumes of earlier comics, The Fantastic Four wore low-key jump suits and the first issues played down the super hero aspect, looking more like the monster comics Marvel published at the time.

The Fantastic Four was different than older super hero comics in other ways, as well. Instead of the infallible heroes from previous decades, they were flawed people with struggles. They were also a family, and the book had all the drama that came with being a family. Lee would apply this principle to the other heroes he created during this period, most famously Spider-Man, who he co-created with Steve Ditko. Lee and Ditko’s The Amazing Spider-Man was more about the life of Peter Parker, who began as a high school student but quickly went to college, where he’d spend the rest of Lee’s run on the book. Stan chronicled young Peter’s struggles to make ends meet and the stress being Spider-Man put on his academic life and his relationship with his girlfriend Gwen Stacey.

Lee would have a hand in creating most of Marvel’s most iconic characters during this period, mostly working with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. The three of them would give life to Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Black Panther, The X-Men and The Avengers. Lee also pioneered idea of a shared super hero universe that would become the key to the success of Marvel Studios nearly 50 years later.

By the 1970s, Stan Lee had become publisher and turned Marvel into an international brand and household name. The decade would see Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk as live-action television shows in addition to a slew of animated programs featuring Marvel characters. Spider-Man was also a regular feature on the children’s educational show The Electric Company. Overseas, Marvel and Toei would produce an off-the-wall Spider-Man series featuring a giant robot and a show based on Captain America called Battle Fever J. A smashing success, it spawned the Super Sentai franchise (an update of the older Himitsu Sentai Goranger) that would come to be know in the West as Power Rangers.

Stan never stopped creating new properties. Writer Mark Millar shared an exchange he had with Lee on the subject on Twitter. “I told him I was loving writing all his old characters and he told me pop-culture stagnates unless new ones are created. He convinced me I had it in me and I started Wanted next day.” In his later years Stan Lee was even working with Japan’s biggest comic publishers to create Karakuri Dôji Ultimo for Shonen Jump publisher Shueisha and Heroman for Square Enix’s Monthly Shonen Gangan.

Stan met his wife Joan in 1947 while she was still married to her first husband. Lee proposed to her just two weeks after he met her, and the two wed mere minutes after her divorce became official. The two remained married for 69 years until Joan’s death in 2017. On their meeting, Stan told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 “Any kid who draws, if he’s a guy and he isn’t gay, he draws beautiful women. There was one girl I drew: one body and face and hair. It was my idea of what a girl should be. The perfect woman. And when I got out of the Army, a cousin of mine said, ‘Stan, there’s this really pretty girl named Betty. I think you’d like her. Why don’t you go over and ask her to lunch?’ I went up to this place. Betty didn’t answer the door, but Joan did. I took one look at her. She was the girl I had been drawing all my life. She said, ‘May I help you?’ I think I said ‘I love you.’ I proposed to her at lunch.” Lee later based Gwen Stacy, the love interest of his favorite character Spider-Man, on his wife Joan.

Stan Lee passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on November 12th, 2018 at age 95. He is survived by his daughter J.C. Lee and he leaves behind a legacy that will never be matched. Stan wanted to be a writer his whole life, and he took a job in field that no one respected and turned it into one of America’s most beloved art forms. The stories he wrote and the characters he gave us will be inspiring children and adults to create their own characters and worlds for generations to come. Smilin’ Stan Lee is gone, but the world will never forget him.

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