Stan Lee, who was almost certainly the most famous man in comics, has died at 95, according to reports from the Associated Press. Over the course of his life, Lee worked as a writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel Comics and became the face of the company. He created or had a hand in creating titles like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Incredible Hulk among countless others.
Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City in 1922, a first generation son of Romanian Jewish parents. In 1940 he entered the comics business by going to work at Timely Publishing. There, he met and worked alongside the artist Jack Kirby, another son of New York City and Jewish immigrant parents whose name would become legendary among followers of comic books and American popular culture.
After serving in the Signal Corps during WWII, Lee returned to Timely, which was renamed Marvel Comics in 1961 after one of the titles put out by the publisher. At Marvel, Lee was rejoined by Kirby and together the two of them created some of the most iconic superhero teams in the industry.
Lee’s signature style blended a humanizing element that brought superheroes down to earth, as in Spider-Man’s anxious and nerdy alter-ego, Peter Parker. The pages in Lee’s comics blended wisecracking attitude, campy dialogue, out-of-this-world adventure, and human fragility, and became hallmarks of the new 1960s comics style.
Lee and Kirby’s relationship soured over money—Kirby claimed that Lee had held out on royalties in a long-running dispute that wasn’t settled until 2014. But the style and stories the two men developed together would go on to take over Hollywood in recent decades with a near endless spate of films based on the characters and stories they created.
In the late 1990s, Mr. Lee was named chairman emeritus at Marvel and began to explore outside projects. While his personal appearances (including charging fans $120 for an autograph) were one source of income, later attempts to create wholly owned superhero properties foundered. Stan Lee Media, a digital content startup, crashed in 2000 and landed his business partner, Peter F. Paul, in prison for securities fraud. (Mr. Lee was never charged.)
Over the past year, Lee was drawn into legal disputes between his daughter and business associates. Allegations of “elder abuse” surfaced but were never proven.
Lee’s Jewishness wasn’t an explicit theme in his work but some readers, nevertheless, found a religious resonance.
Jacob Siegel is Senior Editor of News and The Scroll, Tablet’s daily afternoon news digest, which you can subscribe to here.