Stan Lee obituary: The genius of the superhero creator

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American comic book writer Stan Lee was the human behind the superheroes.

Many marvel at the man who gave his characters extraordinary powers and everyday headaches – a formula which revolutionised comics.

The Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four all sprang from his fertile imagination and spilled onto the page.

But while his career may have started in pen and ink, it grew and evolved into much more.

From digital graphic novels to blockbuster Hollywood films; leading Marvel Comics from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation; Stan Lee was prolific.

Born in 1922 to poor working-class Jewish immigrants from Romania, Stan Lieberman got a job in Timely Publications – that would eventually become Marvel Comics – a company owned by a relative.

He was assigned to the comics division and – thanks to the reach of his imagination – rose to editor by the age of 18.

For more than 20 years, he was “the ultimate hack” – knocking out crime stories, horrors, westerns, anything to sate the appetite of his juvenile readership.

Words of more than two syllables were discouraged. Characters were either all good or all bad, with no shades of grey.

So embarrassed was Lieberman by much of what he was writing that he refused to put his real name on the by-line. He assumed the “dumb name”, Stan Lee, which he later legally adopted.

By the time he was 40, Lee had decided he was too old for the comic game. His British-born wife, Joan, suggested he had nothing to lose and, for his swansong, should write the kind of characters he really wanted to create.

After a rival comic had come up with a superteam consisting of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Timely needed to respond.

Lee’s answer, in 1961, was the Fantastic Four – a team of astronauts who gained super powers after being bombarded with cosmic rays.

They were to change Lee’s life, and the comics industry, forever.

Lee gave each character individual, everyday teenage problems such as dandruff, ingrown toenails and acne. They would frequently fall out with their parents and each other.

The fan letters poured in. Without immediately knowing it, Stan Lee had ushered in the golden age of comics, and his imagination was rekindled. His Marvel universe spawned the new title of Marvel Comics.

Soon after, nerdy Peter Parker was transformed – after a bite from an irradiated spider – into someone who could crawl up the sides of New York’s skyscrapers. Spider-Man was born.

 

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