While DC was around for many years before Stan Lee started up Marvel Comics, it was Lee and his creations that changed how people looked at superheroes. Gone were the godlike characters of DC, and replacing them were characters that Lee considered more relatable to the young readers picking up his comic books — families, teenagers, and the disabled ended up as superheroes in Lee's comic book universe.
Stan Lee co-created some of the most iconic characters in all of comic book history — his heroes and villains stacked up well against the gods of DC and way above the risque characters of Image that came years later. Here is a look at the 10 most important Stan Lee creations ever.
10 THE FANTASTIC FOUR
It all started with the Fantastic Four. In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this family of superheroes that was the launching point of the Marvel Universe. Fantastic Four was Lee's idea of creating something similar to what DC was doing with the Justice League, but with one significant difference.
Instead of just creating a group of superheroes teaming to battle world-threatening menaces, he created a family, grounding them by giving the real-world problems on top of their occasional globe-trotting adventures. These were superheroes like nothing anyone had seen before.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created a new kind of superhero in 1962 in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. Unlike the godlike heroes of DC Comics and even differentiating him from the more adult-oriented heroes of Marvel to that date, Lee and Ditko created a teenage superhero.
This character wasn't a sidekick like Robin or Bucky Barnes. This was a standalone hero who faced not only a growing collection of supervillains unique to his world but also the struggles of high school life. Peter Parker was not a hero in his secret identity, but a high school nerd who never seemed to win in life. It gave kids who read comics someone that they could instantly relate to.
8 THE INCREDIBLE HULK
In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a superhero based more on the classic Universal Horror monster ideals. While someone like The Thing looks like a monster, he still maintained his intelligence and was a true hero. However, Hulk was like a mixture of Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf-Man.
As a matter of fact, early versions of The Hulk had him only changing at night like the Wolf-Man. Hulk was a monster that the world feared but someone who was a hero at the end of the day — despite the collateral damage he caused. He was so popular that it was Hulk that gave Marvel one of their earliest live-action TV shows.
7 IRON MAN
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Iron Man in 1963 in the pages of Tales of Suspense #39. Based on the real-life inventor Howard Hughes, Tony Stark was a billionaire industrialist who turned his back on weapons manufacturing and sales to become a superhero.
Tony Stark was never perfect, and that was the Stan Lee touch of making all his heroes relatable. He had a damaged heart (literally) and a damaged soul (figuratively), kept alive by his own technology but rarely able to beat his vices. It was Iron Man that started the MCU, showing his importance to Marvel.
6 THE X-MEN
Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men didn't have the best start of most Marvel creations. However, they might have the most important lasting influence of any Stan Lee creation in his career. The team was very different, with the heroes born with their powers and therefore feared and hated by people.
This was Marvel's approach to the prejudice existing in the world with the X-Men standing for people persecuted for who they were when they were born. Through the years, this has been shown similar to racial tensions as well as an allegory for gay rights, and it remains one of Marvel's most important comic books for that reason.
Stan Lee and Bill Everett created Daredevil in 1964, and it was a brand-new character type for Marvel Comics. In the pages of Daredevil, Lee created a disabled hero that overcame all odds to protect his home from all sorts of villains and dangers.
Matt Murdoch lost his sight as a child. Yes, he did have the superpower of his other enhanced senses to make up for his loss of sight, and he was trained by a master ninja to become a great fighter. That does not change the fact that Lee created a character with a real-world disability and made him one of Marvel's most important heroes.
When it comes to supervillains, most at the time Marvel started were mustache swirling over-the-top bad guys who wanted to take over the world of just stealing to get rich. When it came to the pages of The X-Men, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a character that became much more than that.
Magneto was the ruler of his own group of mutants that wanted to reign supreme over humanity rather than live in peace with humans. Over the years, it turned out Magneto was a Holocaust survivor and saw firsthand what evil lies in the hears of humans, and that made him one of Marvel's most nuanced villains.
3 BLACK PANTHER
In 1966, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther and introduced him in the pages of Fantastic Four #52. His importance cannot be overstated. Stan Lee, who added social issues into all his comic book characters, went down in history as the man who created the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comic books.
Falcon appeared three years later, Luke Cage six years later, and DC introduced John Stewart five years later. Unlike Falcon and Luke Cage, who were villains who turned good, Black Panther was the king of Wakanda, who invited super-powered beings to his country to open up his nation to the world.
2 DOCTOR STRANGE
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange allowed Marvel Comics to bring horror and magic into their universe. Appearing first in Strange Tales #110, Stephen Strange was an arrogant surgeon who fell into a depression after an accident cost him his hands. However, when he met the Ancient One, he gained magical powers instead and became a hero.
According to Lee, it was Ditko's idea originally, so he wrote the story of black magic involving the sorcerer, and the rest is history. Through the years, Doctor Strange helped found The Defenders, worked with The Avengers and became one of Marvel's most powerful heroes.
1 THE AVENGERS
To say that The Avengers was the most important Stan Lee creation ever might be an understatement. While the Fantastic Four was an answer to the Justice League but with real-world heroes, The Avengers was clearly Marvel's answer to that DC superteam. Stan Lee took some of his greatest heroes and brought them into one team, and it has remained the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe since.
The Avengers is the most important part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is their work as a team that brought the entire movie world together. Just about anyone who is anyone has been a member of The Avengers in the comic books. They are arguably the greatest group of heroes in Marvel history.