The superhero whose comics took over the world

Stan the man: Lee used to tell fans that the greatest superpower was luck. “I’ve been lucky.”

What did Stan Lee teach us about life? The mastermind behind Marvel’s success has died aged 95. From Spider-Man to the Hulk, he helped to create many of the world’s most beloved superheroes.

When Stan Lee was around 40 years old, he was fed up with writing comics. He had been at the same company for two decades, where he was known as “the ultimate hack”, churning out stories with no real interest.

But in 1961, that company changed its name to Marvel Comics — and Lee (along with the artist Jack Kirby) launched The Fantastic Four.

Unlike other superhero stories, Lee had written characters who acted like ordinary people. They were misfits who bickered and doubted themselves. They also changed the comics industry forever.

On Monday, Lee died aged 95. “He changed the way we look at heroes,” tweeted rival publisher DC Comics.

Indeed, after the success of The Fantastic Four, Lee continued creating more relatable characters. Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther — he was behind them all.

Not every venture was a success; he became embroiled in copyright issues, and he launched an online business that ended with his partner being jailed for fraud.

But his stories endured. And in the 2000s, Marvel began making the big-budget superhero movies that dominate cinema today. The 20 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made over £11.5 billion worldwide.

What is Lee’s enduring message?

Stan, a legend

Some say it is the message he gave in a cameo at the end of Spider-Man 3: “I guess one person can make a difference.” Superheroes remind us that extraordinary people really do exist — and the outpouring of grief after Lee’s death proves that one life can touch millions.

What made his characters shine was their ordinariness, say others. He once defined a hero as “someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being and will go out of his or her way to help them [...] who helps others simply because it should or must be done.” That could be any of us.

You Decide

  1. Are comic books art?

Activities

  1. As a class, brainstorm all of the characteristics that you think make someone a hero.

Some People Say...

“If you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”

Stan Lee

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Stan Lee was born Stanley Lieber. He initially used the pen name “Stan Lee” so that he could save his real name for more serious writing. He legally changed it in the 1970s.
What do we not know?
His exact contribution to Marvel, while large, is hard to pin down. Although he said he came up with characters himself, sometimes artists accused him of taking credit for their ideas.

Word Watch

Died
He was taken to a Los Angeles medical centre on Monday and declared dead soon after.
Copyright issues
Jack Kirby’s family spent years fighting for royalties from his artwork. The family eventually settled for an unknown amount in 2014.
Jailed
The company, Stan Lee Media, almost went bankrupt in 2000. Its co-founder, Peter F. Paul, went to prison for securities fraud.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
The shared world of The Avengers movies and their characters.
Cameo
Lee was known for his small cameo appearances in most Marvel movies. His next has already been filmed.

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