Stan Lee Wasn’t a Saint… But He Wasn’t a Villain

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There’s a new biography about Stan Lee hitting the market, True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman, and it has got a lot of people talking about Stan the Man, and especially about his relationship with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the co-creators with Stan of a lot of Marvel’s most famous characters.

The general tone of the articles is “Stan Lee was actually a glory hog who did a lot less work than Kirby and Ditko and took all the credit and they both hated him.” As I understand it, that’s not exactly the picture the book paints of Lee and it’s not exactly the truth, either.

Stan’s relationship with Ditko and Kirby did indeed deteriorate over the 1960s and Stan does bear a lot of the blame for that, especially with Kirby (Ditko was also pretty difficult to work with).

It’s really easy to see how this happens, as even today the writers of American comics can become superstars and household names while the artists get very little credit. Think about it; who was the artist for Watchmen or The Walking Dead? Alan Moore and Robert Kirkman didn’t draw those comics.

Dave Gibbons drew Watchmen and Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard were the artists for The Walking Dead.

People gave Stan the lion’s share of the credit for Marvel’s output and Stan was happy to take that credit. This particularly bothered Jack Kirby, who co-created such notable Marvel properties as The Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers. As Jack was doing more and more of the work, Stan would get more and more of the credit and limelight until Jack eventually went across town to DC to create The New Gods.

And a lot of the time, that turns into “Stan didn’t really do anything, Ditko and Kirby did everything and Stan just took the credit.”

That’s not true, either, though. Stan Lee did a lot of work in the early days of Marvel, including having a hand in creating almost all of Marvel’s most popular characters aside from Wolverine and Deadpool. Stan was writing all the dialogue in a dozen comic books every month for years.

And frankly, it’s Stan Lee’s voice and ability as a promoter that made Marvel the cool, counter-culture force it was at one point. Yes, Stan took more credit than he deserved, but it was because of how famous Stan became that Marvel had the success it did.

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