Stan Lee, the colorful Marvel Comics patriarch who helped usher in a new era of superhero storytelling — and saw his creations become a giant influence in the movie business — has died
Kirk Schneck, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, tells CNN the comic giant was taken by ambulance from his Los Angeles home on Monday morning to Cedar’s Sinai Medical Center, where he later died. The cause of death is not yet known, according to Schneck.
Lee began his career at what was then Timely Comics in 1939. Over the years he was a writer, editor and occasional illustrator. But, bored with the output, he was preparing to leave the company when history took a sudden turn.
For many years, the business had been dominated by DC (then National) Comics, creators of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern.
In the late ’50s, DC started reimagining its heroes — kicking off what comics historians call the “Silver Age” of the business — but those figures were still, largely, otherworldly and two-dimensional, living in made-up places such as Metropolis and Gotham City.
In the early ’60s, Lee was asked to come up with a team of superheroes to compete against DC’s Justice League. With the notable help of artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he helped instigate a revolution, though Lee didn’t see it that way at the time.
“If my publisher hadn’t said ‘let’s do superhero stories,’ I’d probably still be doing ‘A Kid Called Outlaw,’ ‘The Two-Gun Kid’ or ‘Millie the Model’ or whatever I was doing at the time,” he told CNN in 2013.
Marvel revitalized the comics business with a series of flawed, more human superheroes. Its figures lived in the real world — a few were based in New York City, with all its dirt and clamor — and struggled with everyday challenges, whether it was paying the rent or wondering about their purposes in life.
First came the Fantastic Four, a superhero team probably most famous for the grumpy, rock-skinned Thing. Following that success Lee and Marvel introduced such characters as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men and Daredevil.
These new superheroes — all created in a burst between 1961 and 1964 — were hugely popular and allowed Marvel to surpass DC in both sales and fashionableness.
Spider-Man, in particular, became the imprint’s signature character: a neurotic photographer named Peter Parker who, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, develops spider-like powers. Parker was forever clashing with newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (an angry, cigar-chomping martinet who was no Perry White), wondering about his relationship with Mary Jane Watson and worrying about his fragile Aunt May. Crime fighting was the least of his concerns.
“I never thought that Spider-Man would become the worldwide icon that he is. I just hoped the books would sell and I’d keep my job,” Lee said in 2006.
Many of the characters were developed for television with varying degrees of success. But it was the emergence of the “Marvel Universe” in the movies, especially with the “X-Men” franchise and the Sam Raimi-directed “Spider-Man” (2002), that truly made the brand ubiquitous. In 2009, the Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment — the licensing arm of the comic-book brand — for $4 billion.