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Lee, Stan

Entry updated 23 December 2023. Tagged: Author, Comics, Editor.

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(1922-2018) US Comic-book writer, editor and executive, born Stanley Martin Leiber; his name was legally changed to Lee. Before World War Two he began to establish himself in the New York comics publishing world, in 1939 joining Timely Comics, Inc, the firm for which Jack Kirby invented Captain America in 1941. Lee remained with Timely – which soon became Atlas Comics, then Marvel Comics in 1963, without changing its corporate identity – for the whole of his career, serving as its editor 1942-1972, and as its publisher and editorial director from 1972, concentrating on film productions after 1978. His career was not of particular importance for the student of sf until 1961, when – with Kirby, who had spent many years away from Marvel – he began to create a new type of comic-book Superhero, with titles like The Fantastic Four (from 1961) and The Incredible Hulk (from 1962); other comics created at this time included Spider-Man (initiated in Amazing Fantasy in 1962) by Steve Ditko, whose angular, repressed style greyly evoked the pedestrian urban life which the hero tried to transcend. Over the next half decade Lee (usually with Kirby) initiated a number of similar comic books including The Avengers (from 1963), into which Kirby reintroduced his Captain America, X-Men (from 1963) and Thor (separate comic from 1966, character introduced in Journey into Mystery in 1962).

These comics, most of which Lee claimed to have scripted – according to the "Marvel Method", which involved much initial collaboration between artist and writer – were remarkable for eschewing the template structures of previous work in the field (characters neither ageing nor suffering significant change). Marvel's protagonists grew up, aged, suffered, exhibited human frailties and changed their minds about things; their Superpowers were often explicitly seen as compensatory wish-fulfilments, allowing them – though never permanently – to transcend their personal problems. In hindsight, Lee had a significant creative input in the 1960s, and – at some remove, as he was no longer an active editor – on the creation of the Graphic Novel in the 1980s. It was a period during which his continuing storylines began to develop Space-Operatic complexities; most memorable were those episodes of The Fantastic Four in which the heroes became involved in intergalactic disputes with the planet-devouring (but rather sympathetic) Galactus and his moody sidekick, the Silver Surfer, a nonhuman rider of space imprisoned by Galactus within Earth's atmosphere where, misunderstood and reviled, he time and again (as featured in The Silver Surfer 1968-1970) saved humanity from itself.

The above account should be read in the context of Ditko's and Kirby's repeated claims during the 1980s and since, that Lee was less than the full author of these stories. Lee went on record as saying he often allowed his artists to come up with the bulk of the plots of many of their stories, to which he added dialogue after the comic books had been drawn. The artists have often contended that this makes them the "creators" of the stories and the concepts therein.

In 1970 Kirby left Marvel; though he would return later, it is arguable that Lee's domination of the comic-book world, as both editor and writer, began to slip from about this time. For instance, it was Roy Thomas who fruitfully introduced into Marvel's generic mix a number of themes and characters from Heroic Fantasy (including Robert E Howard's Conan in Conan the Barbarian from 1970), and though Marvel Comics featured ever more spectacular and sf-like situations, there was a sense of decreasing ebullience; routine situations began to predominate. During this period, Lee became more of a figurehead for Marvel, acting as the public face of the company for the company's readers and the media, particularly in regards to the many movie adaptations of the characters he created or co-created.

In 1998, Lee lent his name and public face to an Internet startup, dubbed Stan Lee Media. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company for stock fraud by its primary investors and it filed for bankruptcy in 2001. It was later acquired at auction by a group of copyright trolls who filed a string of lawsuits trying to profit off the Stan Lee name, even though he had not been involved in the company for more than a decade.

In later years, Lee lent his name to a long line of comics, film, television and multimedia projects of varying though usually lesser quality. He actually wrote very few of these projects, instead providing springboards for other authors to build their scripts, and none of the projects have enjoyed the same longevity as the work Lee created in the 1960s. He received sole editorial credit for all but two volumes in a sequence of anthologies centred on Marvel characters, beginning with The Ultimate Spider-Man (anth 1994), and had star billing in several fiction collaborations including the Zodiac Legacy trilogy with Stuart Moore, opening with Convergence (2015); it may be conjectured that this Superhero fantasy for Young Adults, featuring Superpowers linked to the Supernatural Creatures of the Chinese zodiac, was chiefly written by Moore.

Lee was more recently Chairman and Chief Creative Office of POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment Inc, another company he co-founded in 2005 to capitalize on his name and ideas. But so far as it is known, he did not provide the story for or write a comic at any point during the last 46 years of his life. His lifetime achievement was Stan Lee. He entered the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994, received an Eaton Award for sf life achievement in 2012 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2017. Many of the Comics characters and storylines credited to him have attained new levels of worldwide fame through the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. [JC/JP/DRL]

see also: Superman.

Stan Lee [born Stanley Martin Lieber]

born New York: 28 December 1922

died Los Angeles, California: 12 November 2018



Stan Lee's Riftworld

Other titles are by Bill McCay solo.

Zodiac Legacy

individual titles


works as editor


Marvel Universe: Ultimate

  • The Ultimate Spider-Man (New York: Berkley Books, 1994) [anth: Marvel Universe: Ultimate: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]
  • The Ultimate Silver Surfer (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 1995) [anth: Marvel Universe: Ultimate: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]
  • The Ultimate Super-Villains (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 1996) [anth: Marvel Universe: Ultimate: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]
  • The Ultimate X-Men (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 1996) [anth: Marvel Universe: Ultimate: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]
  • The Ultimate Hulk (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 1998) with Peter David [anth: Marvel Universe: Ultimate: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]

Marvel Universe

  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 1997) with Kurt Busiek [anth: Marvel Universe: pb/Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman]
  • X-Men Legends (New York: Berkley/Boulevard, 2000) [anth: Marvel Universe: pb/Vince Evans]
  • Five Decades of the X-Men (New York: Simon and Schuster/BP Books, 2002) [anth: Marvel Universe: pb/Tristan Schane]

individual titles

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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