Has any single individual created as many indelible, stand-alone characters as Stan Lee? Yes, George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien created entire universes, and William Shakespeare established a catalogue of near-untouchable archetypes, but Stan Lee’s list of fictional credits is nothing less than staggering. Here are just a few of the writer, editor and entrepreneur’s creations: Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, The X-Men, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Ant-Man…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Stan Lee also created the supporting casts for these top-of-the-line superheroes, the streets on which they fought and the skies through which they flew, as well as many of their respective and equally extraordinary nemeses.
In the world of comic books, Stan Lee has no equal. Characters such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman might be more famous than any created by Stan Lee, but they each came from the minds of different people. For sheer volume – not to mention quality – the Marvel Comics figurehead is in a class of his own. Stan Lee was always a daring and bold creator (who led a fascinating life, as recounted in his excellent autobiographies, Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir and Excelsior. The Amazing Life Of Stan Lee), looking to switch things up and engineer superheroes that were completely different from those that had come before them.
“I had a great meeting with Stan Lee, who said how he’d created Iron Man on a dare,” Robert Downey Jr. told FilmInk upon the release of the first Iron Man film in 2008. “Back in the late ‘60s, there was a big anti-war movement; we were very anti-military and anti-industrial complex for good reason. So Stan figured that he was just gonna go ahead and try to make the least likeable figure, but somehow make him sympathetic. Tony Stark eventually wound up being Marvel’s most sympathetic character, particularly with female readers, probably because he has his heart problem and maybe they could help him not be such a crank, or that type of deal.”
Alternatively, Stan Lee created Spider-Man so his youthful audience would have an instant off-the-page touchstone. “Any young reader could figure, ‘I could be Spider-Man,’” Lee told FilmInk. “Spider-Man could have dandruff or an allergy attack when he’s fighting. So it was easy to empathise with a character like that.”
While not active in recent years in the day-to-day creating and crafting of stories and new characters, Stan Lee remained the face of Marvel up until his death, delighting fans at conventions, signing autographs with gusto despite his advancing years, and dropping in for cameos in most Marvel related movies. And while he might not have been at the steering wheel when it came to the establishment of Marvel Studios, and its many recent triumphs – from Iron Man through to Avengers: Infinity War – Stan Lee certainly helped build the original factory from which it so elegantly roared.
Stan Lee also knew exactly what was important when it came to making movies out of his comic book creations. “A film has to be a good film, whether it’s from a comic or not,” he told FilmInk. “If you’re doing a screen version of a bestselling a novel, the most important thing to think of, is what made it a bestselling book? You make sure you keep that element in the movie. So many times I feel they miss that. A perfect example is when they did a live action Spider-Man series for television years ago. I didn’t think it was good because they omitted everything that made Spider-Man popular. They omitted the humour, the personality. When you ask what makes a good movie based on a comic, the answer is simple: it has to be a good movie by itself.”
Mr. Stan Lee…we salute you and thank you. Excelsior!