Stan Lee: Comic legend, inspiration to many, including Kent Justice

Marvel Comics publisher died Monday at age 95

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, Nick Jones - Digital producer, AP Author

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, died Monday. He was 95.

As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee was widely considered the architect of the contemporary comic book. He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.

Millions responded to the unlikely mix of realistic fantasy, and many of his characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk and X-Men went on to become stars of blockbuster films. He won the National Medal of Arts in 2008.

He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and numerous others to life. "It was like there was something in the air. I couldn't do anything wrong," he said in 2006.

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After it's debut in 1962, Spider-Man became Lee's most successful comic book creation.

"Spider-Man is my favorite because he's the most popular. He's known and loved worldwide," Lee said. "I'm pretty proud of the fact that some of the stories that I wrote so many years ago are still being read and enjoyed by the public."

When the heroes hit the silver screen – Lee made cameos in almost every Marvel film. He also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Recent projects Lee helped make possible range from the films "Avengers: Infinity War," ''Black Panther" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" to such TV series as "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and "Daredevil." Lee was recognizable to his fans, having had cameos in many Marvel films and TV projects, often delivering his trademark motto, "Excelsior!"

Inspiring others

Lee was known for being accessible to fans. As a youngster, News4Jax Anchor Kent Justice collected comic books – and before turning his attention to sports in junior high, he was sure he would become a comic book artist.

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In 1980, Kent saw an advertisement for a comic book convention called "PhringeCon" in Phoenix. While spending the summer with his grandparents in a town about an hour south of Phoenix, he found a way to go.

While attending, Kent entered an art contest. After the convention, he received a check for two of the four pieces he submitted.

Along with the check, came a note from Stan Lee himself. It read in part, "I love the work. Send me your portfolio."

The early years

Stanley Martin Lieber was born Dec. 28, 1922, in New York. He grew up a fan of "Hardy Boys" adventure books and Errol Flynn movies, and got a job at Timely Comics after graduating from high school.

Within a few months, the editor and art director quit, leaving the 17-year-old Lee with creative control over the company, which grew and was renamed Atlas Comics and, finally, Marvel. Lieber changed his name, thinking Lee would be used for "silly little comics" and his real name would be reserved for novels.

His early work largely reflected popular movies - westerns, crime dramas, romance, whatever was the rage at the time. He worked for about 50 cents per page.

After a stint in the Army during World War II, writing for training films, he was back at Marvel to begin a long and admittedly boring run of assembly line comic book production.

The later days

As sales of comics declined, Marvel was forced into bankruptcy proceedings that meant it had to void a lifetime contract prohibiting Lee from working for anyone else. Lee later sued Marvel for $10 million, saying the company cheated him out of millions in profits from movies based on his characters.

In 2000, Lee agreed to write stories for DC Comics, reinventing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other signature characters for Marvel's one-time rival. DC Vice President and Publisher Paul Levitz had nothing but praise when the agreement was made.

"With his artistic collaborators at Marvel, Stan co-created the richest imaginary universe a single comics writer has ever built," he said.

The dapper, friendly comic book genius continued to work into his 90s on numerous projects, including comics, films and DVDs.

In the late 1990s, he looked to capitalize on the Internet craze, offering animated "Webisodes" of comic-like action. Stan Lee Media also sought to reach out to Web-savvy youth through deals with pop artists the Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige.

The company went bankrupt, and three men were indicted for allegedly defrauding the business in a check kiting scam. Lee wasn't implicated.

After that initial failure, Lee formed the successful Pow! Entertainment company to launch animated Internet-based projects.

Lee's wife and partner in nearly everything, Joan Lee, died on July 6, 2017, leaving a void that made her husband, by then in mental and physical decline, vulnerable to hangers-on who began to surround him. Lawsuits, court fights and an elder abuse investigation all emerged in the fight over who spoke for the elderly Lee.

Lee is survived by his daughter, Joanie, and a younger brother who also worked in comics, Larry Lieber.

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