When Stan Lee became the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics (then Timely Comics) when he was barely 20 years old in the early 1940s, Marvel had a reasonably-sized writing staff. That remained the case throughout the decade and even into the start of the 1950s. However, when the company ran into hard times in the late 1950s, Lee had to pretty much take over most of the writing duties himself (he had always written stories, but not he was practically a one-man writing crew). This led to the creation of the “Marvel Method,” where Lee and the artist would come up with a plot, the artist would draw it and then Lee would script it. That saved enough time for Lee to carry a very high writing load.
Lee continued this approach even as the Marvel Age of Comics began and Lee became one of the most famous figures in the comic book industry. It’s been decades since Lee has been a regular comic book writer but he has a whole lot of classic stories to look back upon. However, with him writing so many stories in his career, he’s bound to have some duds, as well. Stories that are either offensive or just overly ridiculous. Here, then, are 15 Marvel Stories Stan Lee probably wishes we could forget about.
15. WHITEWASH JONES
Less than a year after introducing Captain America in the blockbuster debut issue of Captain America Comics, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left Timely Comics due to a contract dispute with publisher Martin Goodman (essentially, he was not interested in paying them any of the royalties that he had initially told them he would pay them). At the time they left for National Comics (now DC Comics), Simon was Timely’s Editor-in-Chief and Kirby was Timely’s Art Director.
It was under their watch that the Young Allies, complete with the ridiculously offensive racial stereotype, Whitewash Jones, was introduced. However, when they left, Stan Lee took over writing duties on the title and he kept Whitewash in the series, so he has to take his fair share of the blame for the character.
14. THE BLACK TALON
Even worse than that was the fact that in his first issue of Young Allies, Lee brought in a character so racist he almost made Whitewash Jones seem reasonable in comparison. Introduced in Captain America Comics #9, Black Talon was an artist who lost a hand and was given a hand transplant from a black killer. The evil black hand corrupted his blood and slowly turned him into a killer, as well (who painted the final moments of his victim’s lives).
Rather than forgetting that that character ever existed, Lee expanded his profile and turned him into an underworld boss working with the Nazis who fought against the Young Allies in Young Allies #2 (art by Al Gabriele). Can you imagine if he had made a Silver Age return?!
13. NAMOR’S NEW POWERS
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought Namor the Sub Mariner back to the Marvel Universe in Fantastic Four #4, they had no real concrete plans on what to do with the character. They were playing things very much fast and loose, and that led to the bizarre Fantastic Four #9 (by Lee, Kirby and Dick Ayers), where Namor becomes a Hollywood film producer who options the Fantastic Four’s life story to make a movie about them.
It’s all a plot to defeat them, of course. In the issue, Lee and Kirby introduce the new twist that Namor has all of the powers of any sea creature. Yes, you’re correct, that makes no sense. Even Roy Thomas (who got rid of this new ability for Namor) noted it was one of their few major mistakes in their Fantastic Four run.
12. FREAKING MAGNETS
It is interesting how certain things that have become almost sacred in the world of comic books were not at all like that to the people who were actually in the business of creating those stories at the time. For instance, fans have long been obsessed with Captain America’s famous unbreakable shield. However, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t think that the shield was unbreakable.
In fact, in Avengers #6 (by Lee, Kirby and Dick Ayers) they cracked it open and put magnets into it so that they could explain just how Cap’s shield always seemed to return to him when he threw it. They quickly realized how silly the idea was and slowly but surely phased it out of the comics when Captain America got his own feature in Tales of Suspense.
11. REED RICHARDS IS THE WORST
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby developed the Fantastic Four, the idea behind the team was that they were like a family, and families, of course, bicker at times. So the Fantastic Four often bickered and it was great. This new wrinkle in their dynamic added a whole new depth to the series that worked really well.
However, in Fantastic Four #23 (by Lee, Kirby and George Roussos), things go a little bit too far when Reed Richards spends the whole issue telling his teammates how they’re just a bunch of morons. They fire him as team leader due to his attitude, but in the end, he saves the day and they put him back in charge without him ever actually apologizing. Mr. Fantastic really is a piece of work sometimes.
10. DAREDEVIL’S TWIN
Sometimes, when you’re writing an ongoing serialized story, you occasionally paint yourself into a bit of corner. That’s what happened to Stan Lee when he started down the road in the pages of Daredevil with Matt Murdock’s secret identity being exposed. Spider-Man had figured out the secret and wrote him a letter about it (a letter that was then intercepted by Karen Page and Foggy Nelson).
Matt’s solution? Pretend to be his identical twin brother, Mike Murdock, and reveal that Mike is secretly Daredevil! It is a very sad statement about Karen and Foggy’s respective cognitive abilities that they actually believed Matt’s outrageously stupid lie. The whole thing was beyond absurd and within a year, Lee “killed” off Mike Murdock and everyone tried to forget he ever existed.
9. GREATEST KARATE MASTER
One of the most difficult supervillains to handle over the years for Marvel writers has been the Mandarin. He has been one of Iron Man’s biggest villains, but at the same time, the guy was introduced as a terribly offensive caricature of an Asian person. So it is hard to go from there to making him into a reasonable villain to keep bringing back in the comics.
In any event, in his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #50 (by Lee and Don Heck), Mandarin also shows off his powerful alien rings… but mostly he just wants to show off how good he is at Karate. Because of course the Asian guy also happens to be a Martial arts expert, right? Sigh. At least Mandarin is still rocking his sweet threads with the big “M” on the chest. So there’s that?
8. REED RICHARDS IS SERIOUSLY THE WORST
One of the downsides of writing the Fantastic Four as a family is that the ideas that people had about families in the 1960s might not necessarily always be good ones. As a case in point, the relationship between Reed Richards and Sue Storm (then Sue Richards) was one that was steeped in institutional sexism.
One of the most shocking examples of Reed’s sexist behavior to Sue occurred in Fantastic Four #65 (by Lee, Kirby and Joe Sinnott). The reason this one stands out the most is because Reed is apologizing to Sue for not paying enough attention to her. While he is in the middle of his so-called apology, he tells her that wives are meant to be kissed, not heard. Damn, Reed, ease it up already!
7. DOCTOR RACIST
Doctor Strange’s origin story sometimes gets criticized because it is the prototypical example of the “white savior” trope, where a white guy travels to Asia and we all find out that the guy that everyone’s been waiting for to save the day just happens to be a white guy. It’s the same problem that people have with Iron Fist’s origins.
However, a few years earlier, Lee did a story even worse than that in Amazing Adventures #1 (art by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) when Doctor Droom heads to Asia and becomes the master of mystic arts like Doctor Strange, only he is literally transformed into an Asian man when he gains his powers. Yes, you read that correctly. Marvel later edited these stories to remove the offensive Asian part and the hero became Doctor Druid.
6. RESPECT THEIR AUTHORI-TAY!
In Tales of Suspense #81 (by Lee, Gene Colan and Jack Abel), Tony Stark finally had to settle up with the Senator who had been hounding him for almost a year about Tony not being willing to reveal the secrets of the Iron Man armor the United States government.
Tony’s attitude here — that everyone basically should do what the government asks of them — might not sound all that controversial, but Stan Lee has specifically noted that he felt embarrassed at this type of writing later on. He noted that in a lot of ways, he wasn’t all that mature politically back in the early to mid 1960s. He too easily bought into the whole “United States is good and everyone else is evil” idea pushed by the government.
5. THAT LOVE TRIANGLE
X-Men seemed to be one of the series that Stan Lee had the hardest time getting a handle on, characterization-wise. Characters were written wildly different from issue to issue (the Beast, for instance, didn’t become his super-intelligent self until a few issues had passed) as Lee tried to find interesting hooks for everyone.
One of the craziest and most embarrassing in retrospect, was the revelation in X-Men #3 (by Lee, Kirby and Paul Reinman) that Professor X was secretly in love with his teenage student, Jean Grey. Note, too, that the reason he gives for not being able to be with her is not that he’s an adult and she’s a teen or that he’s her teacher and she’s his pupil — nope, it’s because he’s in a wheelchair!! Luckily, Lee never went back to this plot point again after this issue.
4. THOR GOES TO VIETNAM
Similar to how Lee later regretted how much he preached a general “trust the government” approach earlier in the 1960s, he also regretted how hawkish that he was on the Vietnam War in the early years of the conflict. He later recalled, “We realized that life isn’t quite so simple and we’ve been trying to extricate ourselves from the tragic entanglement of Indochina.”
However, in Journey Into Mystery #117 (by Lee, Kirby and Vince Colletta), Thor is doing the opposite. He flat out not only ended up invading Vietnam and fighting a Communist soldier, he even specifically vows to return to basically fight the Vietnam War himself! Obviously, Thor does not actually return to Vietnam. He should have never been there in the first place.
3. PROTESTING IS DUMB!
This one is a bit tricky, as by Amazing Spider-Man #38 (Steve Dikto’s final issue of the series), Steve Ditko was dictating the plot of Amazing Spider-Man and Lee was only scripting the book. Therefore, it was Ditko’s negative views of protests that were on display here. Lee was just along for the ride.
However, 30 issues later, long after Ditko had left the book, Lee continued to have Peter Parker espouse a general distaste for campus protests in Amazing Spider-Man #68 (by Lee, John Romita and Jim Mooney). Lee seemed to try to bend over backwards to keep Peter Parker in the middle of any contentious debate and avoid having Peter side with any particular political point of view. They didn’t want to offend readers who think differently, after all.
2. LINCOLN’S MOTHER
Fantastic Four #11 is a fascinating example of both the sheer wonder that is Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, as well as some of the most absurd aspects of their run. The issue (which was inked by Dick Ayers) opens with the Fantastic Four directly answering mail from their fans, a way for Lee and Kirby to directly interact with their audience. A popular question was for them to recap the origin of the team.
However, a common type of letter back in those days was from readers who hated the Invisible Girl. The infamous “Lincoln’s Mother” defense of her inclusion on the team is so hilariously misguided that it is amazing that it ever got written. “She’s here because someone has to inspire the guys to do stuff.” Wow.
In the late 1970s, Marvel tried to cut a deal with a record company where Marvel would introduce a singing character and then the record company would have an actress/singer play that character in real life. It would be a great piece of cross-promotion, sort of like what Archie Comics did with The Archies (of “Sugar Sugar” fame). It did not work out, but Marvel then introduced the character anyways — the Dazzler.
A decade later, Marvel tried again. This time they actually had the actress (Jacqueline Tavarez) and a record company behind Marvel on Nightcat #1 (scripted by Lee), which is a terrible comic about a young woman whose father forbids her to sing, so she comes up with a secret identity, signs a record deal but then gains cat powers. Somehow (despite great Denys Cowan/Jimmy Palmiotti art) there was never a second issue.
What’s the weirdest Stan Lee-written Marvel comic that you’ve ever read? Let us know in the comments!
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