Stan Lee died today at the age of 95, leaving behind one of the biggest legacies in comics.
The year 1939 brought Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, into the comics world, starting out as a gofer at Timely Comics for $8 a week. After being promoted to interim editor at the age of 19, he joined the U.S. Army and served in the Signal Corps until 1945, upon which he resumed his former editorial duties.
Timely would transform into Marvel Comics by the 1960s, when Lee was tasked with creating a team of superheroes to compete with DC Comics' Justice League. He did what DC didn’t want to: showing the heroes as flawed, as human-like.
An impressive résumé followed: Lee was responsible for co-creating the characters of the Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Thor, and Ant-Man. He pioneered the concept of comic continuity, and the idea of an interrelated common universe for all of Marvel’s characters. Because of his hard-hitting look at life, in the mid-’70s he was asked by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to pen a comic showing the dangers of drug abuse.
He did a three-part Spider-Man story involving Harry Osborne almost dying of an overdose, on which the Comics Code Authority (CCA) refused to grant its seal—because it forbade the depiction of drug use. With Marvel’s support, it was published anyway, receiving acclaim and ultimately forcing CCA to change its policy.
Long before his creations made it to the silver screen, they made it to the small screen through Lee’s role as publisher. He doggedly promoted the Marvel brand and himself, becoming synonymous with Marvel, the face of the brand, while making a spate of cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe starting in 2000 as a After he retired from Marvel, he did a series for DC titled reimagining some of its most-famous characters as Lee would have written them.
In 2009, the Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, garnering the company top-grossing superhero movies. Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a “Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.” Like his creations, he will live on, a kind of immortality that plebs can only hope to emulate.