By Jonathan Kandell and Andy Webster
New York Times News Service
Stan Lee, who as chief writer and editor of Marvel Comics helped create some of the most enduring superheroes of the 20th century and was a major force behind the breakout successes of the comic-book industry in the 1960s and early ‘70s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95.
His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, was confirmed by Kirk Schenck, a lawyer for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee.
Lee was for many the embodiment of Marvel, if not comic books in general, and oversaw his company’s emergence as an international media behemoth. A writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter (of Marvel and of himself), he played a critical role in what comics fans call the medium’s silver age.
Many believe that Marvel, under his leadership and infused with his colorful voice, crystallized that era, one of exploding sales, increasingly complex characters and stories, and growing cultural legitimacy for the medium.
Lee was a central player in the creation of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and the many other superheroes who, as properties of Marvel Comics, now occupy vast swaths of the pop culture landscape in movies and on television.
Under Lee, Marvel revolutionized the comic book world by imbuing its characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, as well an awareness of trends and social causes and, often, a sense of humor.
In humanizing his heroes, giving them character flaws and insecurities that belied their supernatural strengths, Lee tried “to make them real flesh-and-blood characters with personality,” he told The Washington Post in 1992.
“That’s what any story should have, but comics didn’t have until that point,” he said. “They were all cardboard figures.”
Energetic, gregarious, optimistic and alternately grandiose and self-effacing, Lee was an effective salesman, employing a Barnumesque syntax in print (“Face front, true believer!” “Make mine Marvel!”) to market Marvel’s products to a rabid following.
Though Lee was often criticized for his role in denying rights and royalties to his artistic collaborators during the silver age, his involvement in the conception of many of Marvel’s best-known characters is indisputable.
He was born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in Manhattan, the older of two sons born to Jack Lieber, an occasionally employed dress cutter, and Celia (Solomon) Lieber, both immigrants from Romania. The family moved to the Bronx.
Stanley began reading Shakespeare at 10 while also devouring pulp magazines, the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mark Twain, and the swashbuckler movies of Errol Flynn.
He was set on the path to becoming a different kind of writer when, after a few false starts at other jobs, he was hired in 1940 at Timely Publications, a company owned by Martin Goodman, a relative who had made his name in pulp magazines and was entering the comics field.
Eventually Lee was writing and editing stories, many in the superhero genre.
At Timely he worked with artist Jack Kirby (1917-94), who, with a writing partner, Joe Simon, had created the hit character Captain America, and who would play a vital role in Lee’s career years later.
His daughter Joan Celia Lee was born in 1950; another daughter, Jan, died three days after birth in 1953. Lee’s wife died in 2017. He is survived by J.C. Lee and his younger brother, Larry Lieber, who drew the “Amazing Spider-Man” syndicated newspaper strip for years.
The quintessential Lee hero, introduced in 1962 and created with artist Steve Ditko (1927-2018), was Spider-Man.
A timid high school intellectual who gained his powers when bitten by a radioactive spider, Spider-Man was prone to soul-searching, leavened with wisecracks — a key to the character’s lasting popularity across multiple entertainment platforms, including movies and a Broadway musical.