A Tribute: Iconic Superheroes That Changed The Life Of Stan Lee And The World
Stan Lee has indeed ushered in a new era for superheroes—and he did so with much regard for his craft and the needs of the current world.
Born December 28, 1922 as Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee was an American comic book writer, editor, and publisher who will later change the whole superhero and comic book landscape. It did not come as easy for the talented young man, who became the youngest comic book writer and editor at Timely Comics at the age of 17. He would then go on to join and even start one comic book company to another, many of them succumbing to bankruptcy. But this did not deter him. Stan Lee grinded and made his way through the industry, eventually becoming the face and figure of Marvel Comics.
Throughout his career, Stan Lee has given birth to hundreds of superheroes and comic book character, some more iconic and ground-breaking than others, but all of them, nevertheless, part of the new era that he ushered for the comic book world.
Here are some of the most iconic and monumental comic book characters that changed Stan Lee’s life—and the world.
While Stan Lee didn’t create Captain America per se, since the character was started by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, it was the character that launched his career. Still then as a gofer for Timely Comics, Stan Lee made his first comics debut with the text filler for the 1941 Captain America Comics #3, titled “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge.” This particular issue was phenomenal in itself because it was the comic book that introduced Captain America’s trademark ricocheting shield-toss.
When Stan Lee co-wrote this issue, he revealed he was so embarrassed by the low social status of comic books and Captain America at that time compared to DC Comics’ Superman. This was why he then used the pen name “Stan Lee,” which would later become his legal name.
Chris Evans, now the face of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America, gives tribute to Stan Lee:
There will never be another Stan Lee. For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives. Excelsior!!— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) November 12, 2018
Destroyer was the first real co-creation of Stan Lee, who appeared as the cover feature of Mystic Comics #6 titled, “Meet the Destroyer.” Another creation that’s tied to the Nazi-fighting narrative of Captain America, the Destroyer is actually an American newspaperman named Keen Marlow who ingests a special serum made by German scientist Eric Shmitt. The serum then boosts his natural strengths and abilities, giving him the power to overpower their Nazi captors and lock them up in their own cell.
Destroyer became the star of Timely Comics during the Golden Age of Comic Books. The superhero would be so popular that he would continue making cameos in succeeding issues of Captain America, Marvel Presents, and Citizen V and the V-Battalion: The Everlasting until the 2000s.
The success of Destroyer showed the potential of the then young Stan Lee, who was creating comics books at an age far beyond his competitors. It also showed his resilience and hard work, working solely as the editor of Timely Comics during this time.
The Fantastic Four
About 20 years on his job, Stan Lee felt that working with Martin Goodman and working on what he was working on started to grow old on him and he felt he wanted to quit. During this time, DC Comics’ Justice League of America was the most successful superhero group in the market. And yet again tasked by his publisher Goodman to create a comic book hero to rival the Justice League, Stan Lee came to a realization that this time, since he was ready to quit anyway, he would do things his way.
He wrote on his book, Fantastic Four Masterworks Vol. 1, “This was not to be merely another of the hundreds of comic-strip features that I had concocted in my long and lachrymose career. No, this was to be something different—something special—something to stupefy my publisher, startle my public, and satisfy my wife’s desire for me to ‘prove myself’ in my own sphere… For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading... and the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and—most important of all—inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay.”
And so, The Fantastic Four was born. The Fantastic Four would go on to be Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most popular creation, as for the first time, superheroes were not perfect, they had flaws, and people could actually relate to them. They were like a dysfunctional family who would fight over the pettiest things and hold grudges against each other. The Fantastic Four started the era of humane superheroes—individuals who dealt with real-world problems and sometimes even made mistakes. It was, finally, something the public could see themselves in.
The release of The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 was so successful that Lee, who was ready to leave the comics world, started to receive fan mail and revive his own sense of purpose. It was thanks to The Fantastic Four that Lee stayed and continued writing and creating characters that resonated with us, challenged our ideals, and inspired us to overcome our weaknesses to become superheroes in our own rights.
Spider-Man was born shortly after the success of The Fantastic Four. In fact, it was so successful that in a year, it overtook Fantastic Four to become the company’s top seller. There is nothing more iconic than the line: “With great power comes great responsibility,” and to date, Spider-Man continues to be a favorite of superhero and Marvel fans, young and old.
When asked how Spider-Man came to be at the Comicpalooza in 2015, Stan Lee says, “With great difficulty.” Apparently, Spider-Man was an initial concept that got thrown out by his publisher before it became the hit that it is now.
Stan Lee shares that when he was asked to create a new superhero, he went back home and thought, “What new superpower would I give a guy? And I saw a fly crawling on the wall. And I said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be something to have a hero that could stick to walls like an insect?’ I didn’t like Fly-man, Insect-man, Mosquito-man, nah. And then I got to Spider-Man. Ooh, it sounded so good! And just to make him more different, I’d make him a teenager and then I’d give him a lot of personal problems like all teenagers have—not enough money, can’t get the girlfriend. So I ran into my publisher and told him about it, I was so excited about it. And my publisher said to me, ‘Stan, that is the worst idea I have ever heard.’”
In the 1960s, you had a trope for superheroes. Teenagers were just for sidekicks. Superheroes don’t have personal problems. But thanks to Stan Lee’s hard-headedness, he thought of throwing Spider-Man into the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, a book that they were about to kill off at that time. A month later, after the sales came in, the Spider-Man cover turned out to be the best-selling book of that month. And so, The Amazing Spider-Man was born.
Spider-Man then went on to become historical. In the comics, the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy changed the course of comic book history. It was the first time a superhero couldn’t save the day. And it allowed other writers to experiment and be bolder with their stories. The readers could no longer predict whether the superhero can win. And this set the tone for the many superhero stories that would come to be.
The success of Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four brought about succeeding successes of Stan Lee in the form of Iron Man, Thor, and The Hulk. But during this time, there was one particular comic book series that initially received lukewarm feedback from the audience, before becoming one of today’s biggest blockbuster hits.
The X-Men #1 which was released in 1963 and was dubbed as the “strangest super-heroes of all time.” According to Stan Lee in an interview with The Rolling Stone, his first ideas of the X-Men all started with a guy who shoots lasers from his eyes, a telekinetic teenage girl, and a telepath in a wheelchair. But his biggest dilemma: how do they get their powers? During this time, all superheroes were either exposed to some kind of radioactive accident or injected with some serum. “I took the cowardly way out,” he says. “I figured, hey, the easiest thing in the world: They were born that way. They were mutants!”
But what set the X-Men apart was the message that Stan Lee wanted the comics to deliver: “The main objective was to show that bigotry is a terrible thing.” The conflict between mutants and normal humans in The X-Men mirrored real-world conflicts experienced by minority groups such as African Americans, Jews, and even LGBT members. Racism became a huge theme for the comics as Professor X was seen to be civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., while the villain Magneto was the more militant Malcolm X. And many of the X-Men comics depicted the mutants experiencing mob violence, right at the time when the civil rights movement in the United States was at full peak.
It was, finally, a comics that wanted to speak about the unspeakable, and tackle issues that the real world was tackling. It was a comics that resonated with the oppressed, and inspired those with a voice to use what they have to fight and speak for those who can’t.
Classic Stan Lee! https://t.co/e2mpZ6L0Sj— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) November 13, 2018
Although X-Men did not fly as much as its counterparts during its time, ending publication with The X-Men #66, the superhero group would then start the huge superhero industry in movies. The first X-Men movie released in 2000 came in during the time when all the superhero movies that came after the first Superman movie didn’t click. But with a modest $75 million budget, X-Men would then gross nearly $160 million in the US alone, and start a whole new wave of superhero movies that would go on until today.
Stan Lee’s name has really become synonymous to the success of Marvel superheroes, and it’s a title and legacy that was hard-earned. In his passing, we will never forget the countless stories and adventures that he took us on, and we will continue living the many ideals and honorable goals that he has set for us, may it be on print or in the big screen. Like his characters, may we all be heroes in our own right, and use what power or strength that we have to fight and speak up for those who can’t.
His contribution to Pop Culture was revolutionary & cannot be overstated. He was everything you hoped he would be & MORE. I loved this man & will never stop missing him. They say you should never meet a childhood idol. They are wrong. #RIPStanTheMan pic.twitter.com/6OKH07ahJg— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) November 12, 2018
Damn... RIP Stan. Thanks for everything. pic.twitter.com/TMAaDJSOhh— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) November 12, 2018
At age 7, I drew this weird portrait of Stan Lee and asked my Mom to send it to him. Thankfully she didn't because 30+ years later, I got to give it to the great one in person. Thanks for all the fun Stan #Excelsior pic.twitter.com/IpfYBSjWyf— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) November 12, 2018
Sad, sad day. Rest In Power, Uncle Stan. You have made the world a better place through the power of modern mythology and your love of this messy business of being human... pic.twitter.com/x6yZ6ClNSX— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) November 12, 2018
Photo from @jscottcampbellfanpage