Stan Lee, the Jewish creator of such Marvel comic classics as Spider-Man, died at the age of 95 on Monday.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber in Manhattan to Romanian Jewish immigrants in 1922, Lee sidestepped the horrors of the Holocaust. As a boy, he aspired to be a writer but at the age of 17, with the help of his uncle, he got a job as an assistant at the newly established Timely Comics. Writing text filler for Captain America comics, he began using his now iconic pen-name. He joined the Army Signal Corps in 1942 and wrote training manuals and slogans, made training films, and even penned cartoons.
Lee returned to his job at Timely Comics, which subsequently changed its name to Atlas Comics. In response to the superhero successes of DC Comics, Lee was tasked with coming up with an original line of superheroes. His concept of a superhero was markedly different. Rather than present a superhuman character that transcended everyday life, Lee introduced complex, realistic characters. They displayed flaws and were even worried about mundane concerns like paying their bills and impressing girlfriends. Lee’s superheroes got bored or were even sometimes physically ill.
Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. Lee used comics to address issues of discrimination, intolerance or prejudice. This occasionally set him at odds with the Comics Code Authority (CCA). When Peter Parker’s (aka Spider-Man) friend became addicted to prescription drugs, the CCA refused to grant its seal because the story depicted drug use. Lee had the story published without the seal. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.
Given Lee’s social conscience and personal background, it is not surprising that the Captain America character he helped create got his start in the 1940’s fighting the Nazis. The character was featured in a 1979 issue of titled “From the Ashes”. The story described a Holocaust survivor’s experiences at a fictionalized concentration camp.
Lee was credited with creating Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Black Panther, the X-Men, and — with his brother, co-writer Larry Lieber — the characters Ant-Man, Iron Man, and Thor. Lee was inducted into the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995. Lee made frequent cameo appearances in movies featuring his characters. He received a National Medal of Arts, the highest government award for creative artists, in 2008.