Stan Lee, a writer and editor often credited with helping American comics grow up by redefining the notion of a superhero, including the self-doubting Spider-Man, the bickering Fantastic Four, the swaggering Iron Man and the raging Incredible Hulk, died Nov. 12 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 95.
The Associated Press reported the death, citing an attorney for Lee’s daughter. The cause was not immediately available.
Lee’s name became synonymous with the company that would become Marvel Comics, which he joined as a teenage assistant and stayed with for much of his adult life.
After toiling in comics for 20 years as a self-described hack, on the verge of quitting the business, he was ordered by his boss to emulate a line of superheroes done by rival DC comics.
Lee’s full-colour, morally complex heroes helped foster a revival in a largely moribund profession.
Comics had entered a dark age after Senate hearings in the early 1950s that condemned the trade for contributing to juvenile delinquency.
What followed was a comics code to monitor standards and ban content deemed immoral and unsuitable for children.
In the ’60s, Lee took a distinctly new approach to characters and setting, as well as to the very interaction with readers who had grown used to comics that were aimed solely at a younger audience and that featuring flawless, square-jawed heroes who had uncomplicated morals.
Lee told The Post in 2012: “All of our characters were freaks in their own way. The greatest example was with X-Men – they were hated because they were different. The idea I had, the underlying theme, was that just because somebody is different doesn’t make them better. … That seems to be the worst thing in human nature.”
Much of Lee’s success was indebted to his Marvel partnership with artist and frequent co-creator Jack Kirby. Their first superheroes, appearing in 1961, were the Fantastic Four.
They were unlike the perfectly genial Superman, a DC Comics character. Fantastic Four were constantly at odds with one another. Mr Fantastic was a boring scientist whom the rest of the group constantly interrupted. One of the Four, the Thing, looked like a monster and often acted like one, and he hated the powers that made him look that way.
Other heroes came with their own weaknesses, such as the Jekyll-and-Hyde-like Incredible Hulk, who could not control the anger that gave him his strength; Daredevil, whose blindness helped develop other heightened senses.
Iron Man was a billionaire industrialist modelled after Howard Hughes; his weakness was a piece of shrapnel dangerously close to his heart, acquired on a trip to Vietnam to inspect the weapons he produced for the war.
(Lee wrote in his 2002 memoir, “Excelsior!”: “Due to his injury, he always had to either wear the iron armour or an iron chest plate he had fashioned for himself, to keep his heart beating. If that explanation doesn’t sound medically correct, hey, he’s a comic book hero and I’m not a cardiologist.”)
Lee, who has had cameos in many Marvel-based films, was known for an economy of humility. As a teenage boss at Marvel, he would sit on a file cabinet and yell, “I am God!” at his artists sitting below. In his memoir, he said, “If I may be totally candid, I’m my biggest fan.”
by Alexander F. Remington and Michael Cavna for The Washington Post