(1922- ) US Comic-book writer and executive, born Stanley Leiber; his name has been legally changed to Lee. Before World War Two he began to establish himself in the New York comics publishing world, in 1939 joining Timely Comics, Inc, the firm for which Jack Kirby invented Captain America in 1941. Lee remained with Timely – which soon became Atlas Comics, then Marvel Comics in 1963, without changing its corporate identity – for the whole of his career, serving as its editor 1942-1972, and as its publisher and editorial director from 1972, concentrating on film productions after 1978. His career was not of particular importance for the student of sf until 1961, when – with Kirby, who had spent many years away from Marvel – he began to create a new type of comic-book Superhero, with titles like The Fantastic Four (from 1961) and The Incredible Hulk (from 1962); other comics created at this time included Spider-Man (initiated in Amazing Fantasy in 1962) as drawn by Steve Ditko, whose angular, repressed style greyly evoked the pedestrian urban life which the hero tried to transcend. Over the next half decade Lee (usually with Kirby) initiated a number of similar comic books including The Avengers (from 1963), into which Kirby reintroduced his Captain America, X-Men (from 1963) and Thor (separate comic from 1966, character introduced in Journey into Mystery in 1962).
These comics, most of them scripted by Lee – according to the "Marvel Method", which involved much initial collaboration between artist and writer – were remarkable for eschewing the template structures of previous work in the field (characters neither ageing nor suffering significant change). Lee's protagonists grew up, aged, suffered, exhibited human frailties and changed their minds about things; their Superpowers were often explicitly seen as compensatory wish-fulfilments, allowing them – though never permanently – to transcend their personal problems. In hindsight, Lee's 1960s work was a major influence on the creation of the Graphic Novel in the 1980s, especially perhaps the work from about 1965 on, when his continuing storylines began to develop space-operatic complexities; most memorable were those episodes of The Fantastic Four in which the heroes became involved in intergalactic disputes with the planet-devouring (but rather sympathetic) Galactus and his moody sidekick, the Silver Surfer, a nonhuman rider of space imprisoned by Galactus within Earth's atmosphere where, misunderstood and reviled, he time and again (as featured in The Silver Surfer 1968-1970) saved humanity from itself.
The above account should be read in the context of Ditko's and Kirby's repeated claims during the 1980s and since, that Lee was less than the full author of these stories. Lee has gone on record as saying he often allowed his artists to come up with the bulk of the plots of many of their stories, to which he added dialogue after the comic books had been drawn. The artists have often contended that this makes them the "creators" of the stories and the concepts therein.
In 1970 Kirby left Marvel; though he would return later, it is arguable that Lee's domination of the comic-book world, as both editor and writer, began to slip from about this time. For instance, it was Roy Thomas who fruitfully introduced into Marvel's generic mix a number of themes and characters from Heroic Fantasy (including Robert E Howard's Conan in Conan the Barbarian from 1970), and though Marvel Comics featured ever more spectacular and sf-like situations, there was a sense of decreasing ebullience; routine situations began to predominate. During this period, Lee became more of a figurehead for Marvel, acting as the public face of the company for the company's readers and the media, particularly in regards to the many movie adaptations of the characters he created or co-created.
In 1998, Lee lent his name and public face to an Internet startup, dubbed Stan Lee Media. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company for stock fraud by its primary investors and it filed for bankruptcy in 2001. It was later acquired at auction by a group of copyright trolls who have filed a string of lawsuits trying to profit off the Stan Lee name, even though he has not been involved in the company for more than a decade.
In recent years, Lee has lent his name to a long line of comics, film, television and multimedia projects of varying though usually lesser quality. He has actually written very few of these projects, instead providing springboards for other authors to build their scripts, and none of the projects have enjoyed the same longevity as the work Lee created in the 1960s.
Lee is currently Chairman and Chief Creative Office of POW! (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment Inc, another company he co-founded in 2005 to capitalize on his name and ideas. He received an Eaton Award for sf life achievement in 2012. [JC/JP]
see also: Superman.
born New York: 28 December 1922
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