Mainstream audiences probably recognize Stan “The Man” Lee as “that guy who makes cameos in every Marvel movie,” but he’s not just some guy that used to work for Marvel comics. Along with artist Jack Kirby, he created nearly every superhero in the MCU, along with most of the villains and supporting characters. He began his career in 1939 filling inkwells and fetching lunch for the employees of Timely Comics (which would eventually rebrand as Marvel).
Rising through the ranks, he was the man who assembled The Avengers, reviving long-forgotten characters from the 1940s like Captain America and Namor the Submariner. Without Stan, we wouldn’t have the modern comic book, we wouldn’t have the modern superhero film, we wouldn’t even have the modern superhero. With that in mind, we take a look back at Stan Lee’s 15 best superhero creations.
15. FANTASTIC FOUR
The Fantastic Four were Stan Lee’s first creation with artist Jack Kirby and they were an instant success for Marvel. With their 1961 debut in “Fantastic Four” #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new level of realism to the comic book genre that would go on to shape the future of comics. Breaking from the traditional superhero archetype, these characters were flawed, argued with each other, dealt with self-doubt and made mistakes.
With the Fantastic Four’s overwhelming success, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were given the go-ahead to create a slew of new heroes and titles that would usher in the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Fantastic Four have spawned four animated series, four live-action films and five ongoing volumes of comics to date. Though “Marvel’s First Family” seemingly ended their 54-year run in 2015, the characters have continued to show up in other series, and while Marvel continues to deny it, comic readers know that no super-group stays gone forever.
Stan Lee created “The Man Without Fear” with artist Bill Everett for “Daredevil” #1 in 1964. He was the first disabled superhero to carry his own solo series and has been an extremely popular character from the very beginning. It wasn’t just the character of Daredevil either. Stan Lee also created his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, who has terrorized many a Marvel hero and the city of New York. Stan Lee was the sole writer for “Daredevil” until issue #50 when he handed over writing duties to his successor, Roy Thomas, who would also later go on to succeed Stan Lee as Marvel’s editor-in-chief.
After a critically-panned live action film in 2003, starring current Batman, Ben Affleck, as the blind hero, Daredevil would finally get a chance to redeem himself with non-comic reading mainstream audiences with an award-winning series on Netflix. As a bonus, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created as a parody of Daredevil and received their mutations in the same accident that blinded Daredevil, so without Stan Lee, we wouldn’t have the Ninja Turtles either.
13. SCARLET WITCH
“He’s fast and she’s weird.” Scarlet Witch and her twin brother, Quicksilver, started off as villains to the X-Men in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but after Magneto is captured by the Stranger, they consider their debt to him paid and go on to fight alongside the Avengers. What many people don’t know is that Stan Lee intended to have the characters leave villainy behind from the start. Villains up until that point were portrayed as bad guys through and through, and he wanted to write bad guys that weren’t really bad deep down.
Scarlet Witch would eventually become one of the most powerful and important characters in the Marvel universe. She warped reality to wipe out nearly all the mutants on Earth with the words “No more mutants,” leading to several major events including “Decimation,” “Deadly Genesis,” “Onslaught” and “Civil War.” Through a different series of events, she was also responsible for the events of “Captain America: Civil War” in the MCU.
The Inhumans spent most of their existence in relative obscurity compared to the rest of the Marvel universe, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced them way back in 1965 in “Fantastic Four” #45. They appeared here and there in different series including a self-titled run that ended in 1977 after 12 issues. After that, the Inhumans would remain in the Marvel vault, mostly forgotten until writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee brought the royal family back for “Inhumans” vol. 2, which ran for 12 issues between 1998 and 1999.
From that point on, they would appear more frequently until becoming a staple in the 2013 “Infinity” event, which created thousands of new Inhumans on Earth. They were introduced to the MCU in season two of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as a kind of surrogate for the X-Men, as licensing issues prevent them from using mutants at Marvel Studios. Later this year, the Inhuman royal family will get their MCU debut in their own live-action series on ABC.
11. NICK FURY
Mainstream audiences know Nick Fury as the man who assembled the Avengers in the MCU, played by Samuel L. Jackson, but he’s been around since 1963 and he started off headlining his own series in “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.” His first book was a World War II combat series, but the character was brought into the “modern day” a few months later in “Fantastic Four” #21, as a CIA agent and spy who would go on to be the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Nick Fury has appeared in dozens of comic series, video games and animated series, and while fans wait patiently for a Nick Fury solo movie in the MCU, after his epic action sequence in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” he actually already had his own solo film in 1998, with Nick Fury played by David Hasselhoff. The character has gone through a lot of changes through the years, most recently becoming “The Unseen” a Watcher-like entity that observes the events in the Marvel universe, but cannot interfere.
10. BLACK PANTHER
Black Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream American comic book history, first appearing in “Fantastic Four” #52 in 1966. He’s one of the smartest, richest and most deadly humans in the Marvel universe. Though many people associate the character’s name with the Black Panther party, the character’s debut actually predates their founding by three months. Stan Lee has said that the name came from a pulp adventure hero who has a black panther as a helper.
He first appeared in “Fantastic Four” #52, and from there had guest appearances in several books before getting his first starring feature in “Jungle Action” #5. The first arc, “Panther’s Rage” has received widespread critical praise even today, and has been called Marvel’s first graphic novel. Black Panther recently made his live-action debut in “Captain America: Civil War” played by Chadwick Boseman, who will reprise the role in his own “Black Panther” solo film in 2018.
Stan Lee created Hawkeye with artist Don Heck as a villain for “Tales of Suspense” #57 in 1964, going up against Iron Man. Less than a year later, he joined the Avengers in “The Avengers” #16 and has been a prominent member of the team ever since. Hawkeye has been an important character in the Marvel universe as one of the few deaf superheroes in mainstream comics when he lost his hearing in the 1983 four-issue “Hawkeye” miniseries written and drawn by Mark Gruenwald.
Hawkeye has been played by Jeremy Renner in the MCU since his cameo appearance in “Thor” in 2011, but has yet to lose his hearing on-screen. Since Renner has expressed an interest in either a solo movie or a Netflix series, the possibility is still open for the future. In the comics, Hawkeye regained his hearing before losing it again in writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja’s legendary “Hawkeye” run. If you haven’t read it, go pick it up now. It’s one of the best things Marvel has ever put out.
8. DOCTOR STRANGE
Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, was created by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in 1963 as a way to bring a different kind of character and themes of mysticism to Marvel Comics. Stan Lee actually attributes the original creation of Doctor Strange more to Ditko, who wrote and drew a five-page filler story in “Strange Tales” #110. Lee took the character in a slightly different direction, inspired by the 1930s’ “Chandu the Magician” radio program, developing the characters style of magic use, and writing mysterious mystical phrases to accompany his spells like the “Eye of Agamotto” and “Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth.”
Ditko drew increasingly abstract and surrealistic landscapes that he would attribute to the hallucinogenic quality of Salvador Dali paintings. Comics historian Bradford W. Wright wrote that “Dr. Strange remarkably predicted the youth counterculture’s fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia.” Doctor Strange never reached the level of popularity of other Marvel characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man, but the MCU’s “Doctor Strange” in 2016 raked in $677 million worldwide, making it Marvel Studios’ 7th most profitable film ever, and its 2nd most profitable starring unestablished characters after “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Stan Lee created Ant-Man with his brother Larry Leiber and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 for “Tales to Astonish” #27. Ant-Man gets his abilities from the Ant-Man suit, which has been worn by different people throughout the years, but Stan Lee’s original Ant-Man was Hank Pym, who invented the suit and the “Pym Particles” that allow the user to alter their size. Hank Pym was also one of the founding members of The Avengers, though he didn’t appear in the MCU until after the second Avengers movie.
Originally, Ant-Man wasn’t intended to be a superhero though. The first “Tales to Astonish” story he appears in, titled “The Man in the Ant Hill” was originally written as a one-off where a man is shrunk down and chased by ants and bees. Stan Lee said that the story sold so well, that it might be fun to make him into a superhero, so Hank Pym returned as the eponymous Ant-Man in “Tales to Astonish” #35, this time with the ability to control ants through the use of his high-tech helmet.
6. BLACK WIDOW
Natalia “Natasha” Romanova, the Black Widow, made her first appearance in 1964’s “Tales of Suspense” #52, plotted and edited by Stan Lee, scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Don Heck. She was a Russian spy and antagonist of Iron Man. She later defected to the United States and joined S.H.I.E.L.D. in “The Avengers” #29 in 1966, and later became a member of The Avengers.
In the MCU, Black Widow is played by Scarlett Johansson and has appeared in five films, more than any character except for Captain America, Nick Fury and Iron Man. In the comics, she has been the love interest of Hawkeye, Captain America, Winter Soldier and most notably, the on-again, off-again girlfriend of Daredevil. She’s not just the token girlfriend, though. Black Widow has headlined dozens of specials, mini-series and ongoing comics since her debut, and there are rumors that her own solo film is finally close at hand.
5. THE HULK
Stan Lee created the Hulk with artist Steve Ditko for his own solo series “The Incredible Hulk,” in 1962, which was canceled after just six issues. However, Stan Lee liked the character so much that Hulk began appearing in “Tales to Astonish” frequently until the series was renamed to “The Incredible Hulk” with issue #102. Stan Lee has stated that the character was inspired by a combination of “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” both stories which also feature a brilliant scientist who creates a monster.
The Incredible Hulk has been one of Marvel’s most popular characters for years, spawning their longest running live-action series, “The Incredible Hulk,” which ran for five seasons and spawned three live-action spin-off films. The character has had two modern solo films and co-stars as one of the founding Avengers in the MCU. The Hulk is one of the original founding members of The Avengers in the comics as well and considered an American pop culture icon.
Before the commenters get upset, no, Stan Lee was not the original creator behind the Norse mythological deity whose earliest records date back to the 2nd century. The guy’s only 94 after all. Stan Lee was the creator of Marvel’s version of the God of Thunder though, along with his brother Larry Leiber and artist Jack Kirby. His first appearance was in “Journey into Mystery” #83 in 1962 and he went on to become one of the founding members of the Avengers.
After a huge success with the creation of The Hulk, Stan Lee wanted to create a character “stronger than the strongest person,” and realized that the only way to do that was to make him a god. He stated that readers were already familiar with gods of Greek and Roman mythology, so he thought it would be more fun to delve into Norse legends, eventually deciding on Thor for his iconic hammer and power to control lightning.
3. IRON MAN
Iron Man has an interesting history among fans. These days, thanks to the MCU and Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man is one of the most popular superheroes in the world, known for his snarky humor and quick wit, but before “Iron Man” in 2008, the character was a lot more serious and reserved. Stan Lee initially created him as a vehicle to explore Cold War themes, such as the role of American technology and business in the fight against communism.
Since then, Iron Man has been used to explore more contemporary themes, such as corporate crime and terrorism. He was a founding member of the Avengers in the comics, the first hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and ranked high on most Best Comic Book Heroes lists throughout the last 20 years. Stan Lee has stated about the character, “I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him.”
The X-Men are possibly the most widely recognized superhero team among any age group in the world. With the success of heroes like Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee said that he wanted to create a new group of superheroes, but didn’t want to explain how they got their powers, so as he stated, “Why don’t I just say they’re mutants. They were born that way.” The original group started off with just Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel and Iceman, but that small roster soon grew to include hundreds of new mutants often splintered into different sub-teams of the X-Men in different titles.
Stan Lee liked to use comic books as a way to express commentary on social issues, and the X-Men — and mutants in general — have always been a way to parallel racism and prejudice in our society. These were human beings trying to live their lives and help out wherever they could, living in a world populated by “normal people” who hate and fear them. Ten live-action films have been released in the X-Men universe to date, all of them box office successes.
Spider-Man is Marvel’s most successful character of all time and the most profitable comic book character ever. With comic book sales, film deals, animated shows, video games, merchandise and clothing sales, Spider-Man pulls in around $1 billion a year for Marvel, and he’s been a smash hit ever since his debut in 1962 with the now legendary “Amazing Fantasy” #15. With the growing teenage comic book audience, Stan Lee wanted to create a character that teenagers could relate to, dealing with the problems of adolescence.
According to Lee, who helped create the character alongside artist Steve Ditko (who is said to have had at least equal input into his creation), he was trying to think of a unique kind of hero that hadn’t been seen before when he saw a spider crawling up his wall. Initially, Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, was hesitant to try out Spider-Man, but because “Amazing Fantasy” was set to be canceled with issue #15, he agreed to give the character a shot with the final issue. When the sales figures came in, Goodman was shocked to find that it had been one of Marvel’s highest-selling comics and a solo ongoing series, “Amazing Spider-Man” was immediately commissioned, which would quickly become Marvel’s top-selling series.
Which one of Stan Lee’s (co-)creations do you love most? Let us know in the comments!