I will continue to celebrate Stan Lee's legacy in comic books (and more) with this series, The Life and Times of Stan Lee.
Earlier this year, Steve Ditko passed away. When he passed, I wrote about how Steve Ditko defined Spider-Man for a whole generation of fans. That is certainly true, but it was Stan Lee who ended up fighting to keep Spider-Man as an "everyman," which, in turn, defined the characters for even more generations of fans. Both versions of the character have their merits, so I say this not as a claim that Stan Lee improved on Steve Ditko's ideas, just noting that the portrayal of Spider-Man as an "everyman" over the years was something that occurred due to Lee's efforts.
While Stan Lee was certainly a proponent of having the Marvel heroes deal with "real life" problems, the thing that really made Spider-Man stand out from the others is that things very often went wrong with him, despite him typically saving the day. After all, his very origin story involves him stopping a murderer, but only after he allowed the murderer to escape earlier in the comic and then the murderer kills Spider-Man's beloved Uncle Ben!
Spider-Man was so distinctive that when Marvel decided to give Spider-Man his own title, the first page of the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man outright bragged how different Spider-Man was from other heroes...
And when the first story in the issue ends, look how miserable Spider-Man is! He saved J. Jonah Jameson's son, but Jameson has still turned the public against poor ol' Spidey!
In those early issues, Lee went way overboard with the idea that Spider-Man was different from other comic book superheroes. Check out the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #7...
It's almost too much, really, as a character's novelty sort of loses the, well, novelty if you keep telling the audience how novel the character is. Still, Lee and Ditko managed to keep up with the very high expectations that they made for themselves (well, that Lee made for themselves, that is).
In the early days, Lee and Ditko collaborated on the plots for the stories, but Lee deferred to Ditko on most topics, as Lee really respected Ditko as a creator. When Lee wanted to make the Vulture a large, Sidney Greenstreet-type, he deferred to Ditko's view of the Vulture as a skinny, gaunt looking fellow (of course, soon after Ditko left the series, Lee introduced, what else, a large, Sidney Greenstreet-type in the Kingpin). Ditko would then draw the stories based on the plot and Lee would then add dialogue to Ditko's drawn pages, sometimes making Ditko make changes to the art to match Lee's script (annoyingly, Ditko would only be paid for the accepted pages and not anything that he had to re-draw).
Lee and Ditko were in sync early on, with one issue, Amazing Spider-Man #18, really showing how the two were of one mind in how Spider-Man should be presented. In the issue, Spider-Man decided to quit before he ultimately decided to stick it out (his sense of responsibility was always strong enough to make Peter make the right choice in the end, but it is important to note that Peter was always someone who struggled with doing the right thing). The issue was an especially big deal because it showed just how popular the personal life of Spider-Man was, as Spider-Man fought no supervillains the entire issue (Sandman tries to fight him but he just runs away from the fight)...
In 1965, Esquire magazine polled college students and found that Spider-Man was just as popular to them as other generational talents like Bob Dylan. One pollee brilliantly explained Spider-Man's appeal, "beset by woes, money problems, and the question of existence. In short, he is one of us."
The problem was, though, that Steve Ditko was beginning to think that that was not a good thing.