Stan Lee was responsible for creating a pop-culture franchise with unforgettable iconic characters. On Monday, Lee died at the age of 95 in a Los Angeles hospital. The cause of death has yet to be determined.
Born in the New York borough of Manhattan in 1922, Lee got his first job at Timely Comics as an assistant, later becoming editor. After a stint in the military during World War II, Lee returned to what would be renamed Atlas comics (and later Marvel), but the company had to adhere to a strict code enacted by the Comics Code Authority (similar to today’s Parents Television Council) as comic books were the subject of Senate hearings as they were accused of corrupting youth. During this time, Lee wrote numerous comics in a variety of genres , including romance, horror, science fictions, and westerns, among others.
As he was contemplating leaving the comics business, Lee was asked to develop a new superhero team in response to DC Comics’ success with the Justice League. Lee developed with artist Jack Kirby The Fantastic Four in 1960, giving them numerous flaws as opposed to the “perfect” traits DC characters would have. In other words, Lee’s characters were more “human”. This led Lee and Kirby to develop other Marvel mainstays including The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Iron-Man, and the Incredible Hulk.
While television wouldn’t deal with social issues until the 1970s (thanks to the success of All in the Family), Lee and Kirby did so beforehand in the 1960s, dealing with racism, the Vietnam War, student protests, and others. Lee also broke the color barrier by creating Luke Cage and Black Panther, comics’ first African-American characters – the former turning into a Netflix show and the latter becoming a box-office sensation in 2018. Lee also had a monthly “soapbox” section in his comics, with one 1968 piece decrying racism and antisemitism.
When ABC was looking for programming to fill their Saturday morning lineup, they turned to Marvel. The first Marvel series developed for TV debuted in 1967: Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man, albeit produced by different animation companies. Although the crackdown on cartoon violence in 1969 led to both series’ cancellations, new episodes of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man would return to Saturday mornings several years later.
While Lee stopped writing comic books in 1972 to concentrate on being publisher at Marvel, he continued to develop shows for television. Although Marvel struck out with a live-action Amazing Spider-Man series for CBS in 1978, Lee would have better luck with Universal Television’s The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (Lee often clashed with producers over the CBS version of Spider-Man, saying it was “too juvenile”.)
In 1981, Lee moved to the West Coast to run Marvel’s animation studio and production company, producing animated series for for NBC, CBS, and syndication based on Marvel and Hasbro characters. New World Entertainment (who would switch their TV stations’ affiliations to Fox in the mid-1990s) bought Marvel five years later. Lee sued the company for $10 million for cheating him out of profits related to his characters.
In a move akin to a Cubs player joining the White Sox (or vice versa), Lee jumped ship to rival DC in 2000, and helped re-develop their classic stable of characters, including Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Also during this time Lee created Stan Lee Media, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after principals behind the company were involved in a check cashing scheme as Lee was never implicated. Lee formed another new company in 2001, called POW! Entertainment which still exists today.
As Marvel was sold to The Walt Disney Company in 2009, Lee returned “home” to help develop the company’s movie and TV slate, receiving an “executive producer” credit. Marvel had a resurgence in the last decade, thanks to successful movie franchises featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers. The imprint expanded to television in 2013 with the debut of ABC’s Agents of Shield as Lee would make cameo appearances in the show and film properties, not to mention The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.
Lee is also listed in the credits for the Marvel Netflix Universe shows, though he only appeared in the shows through stock photographs. He did however, appear in Hulu’s Runaways and Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger through cameos.
Lee traveled the country in recent years, making appearances at conventions and at San Diego Comic-Con. Lee made numerous visits to the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (known as C2E2) at McCormick Place, with his last Chicago appearance taking place at a panel packed with fans in April 2017. Earlier this year, reports surfaced Lee was the victim of elder abuse from a memorabilia collector, isolating him from his family and friends. A judge issued a restraining order, as Lee regained control of his social media accounts.
Among his accolades include an induction into the Will Eisner Hall Of Fame in 1994 and The Jack Kirby Hall Of Fame in 1995; A National Medal Of Arts award in 2008; a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in 2011; and a Vanguard Award in 2012 from the Producers Guild Of America.
Certainly, Stan Lee was one of a kind. Excelsior!