Stan Lee, the father of Marvel Comics’ most beloved superheroes, has died. He was 95.
The co-creator of comic book legends like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men, Stan Lee is credited with popularizing the flawed hero, or characters with complex, human personalities. This came in stark contrast to the superhero archetypes of the Golden Age of comics, who were typically flawless muscle-bound god-like figures.
Stan’s imagination, business acumen and innovative storytelling propelled Marvel Comics from a small subset of a larger publication company, into a multimedia conglomerate purchased by The Walt Disney Company for $4 billion in the year 2009.
His death comes just under a year and a half after his wife Joan Lee died in July 2017 at the age of 93. They had been married for 69 years at the time she passed away.
Born Stanley Lieber to immigrant Jewish parents in New York City during the Great Depression, Lee grew up idolizing the heroic, swashbuckling roles of Errol Flynn. He enjoyed writing from an early age, and when he was 17 he got a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, where he came up with stories for two artists named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who would later help co-create some of his most famous characters.
Lee married a beautiful, redheaded model named Joan Clayton Boocock in 1947, and three years later, the couple had a daughter, Joan Celia “J.C.” Lee. His wife is rumored to be the inspiration for Mary Jane, the redhead model girlfriend of Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s alter-ego). Boocock is also credited with encouraging Lee to give his superheroes more human qualities. In 1953, they had another child, Jan Lee, who died three days after delivery.
Early Comics Success
Teaming back up with Kirby in the late 1950s, Lee created the Fantastic Four as a response to DC Comics’ success with the Justice League of America. The Fantastic Four were an instant hit, and showcased Lee’s preference for vulnerable, relatable superheroes. The comic’s immediate popularity gave way to a slew of new series, like Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Daredevil, which skyrocketed sales. Lee’s idea of the shared comic universe, where all his characters coexisted and sometimes bumped into each other, led to the creation of super groups like The Avengers.
Lee was always a firm believer that comic books could provide an outlet for social commentary. His monthly column, Stan’s Soapbox — which he always ended with his catchphrase, “Excelsior!” — often addressed issues of racism, discrimination and intolerance. He also helped ease censorship from the Comics Code of America by publishing a mini-series dealing with drug abuse in a 1971 issue of the The Amazing Spider-Man. The CCA forbade depiction of drugs, but with the backing of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Lee published the series without their approval. The CCA ended up loosening its regulations when the comic sold well and garnered approval for its social consciousness.