I will continue to celebrate Stan Lee's legacy in comic books (and more) with this series, The Life and Times of Stan Lee.
I know a reader asked me this, but for the life of me, I can't find the e-mail where they asked me this question. Perhaps it was in a tweet? Or maybe a Facebook comment? That's why, in general, if you want me to look into something, it is always better to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, because I can typically keep track of those e-mails, while a Facebook message or a tweet are harder for me to keep track of your request. Anyhow, long story short, someone wanted to know what was the first superhero that Stan Lee created/co-created.
Tim Webber did a really good article for CBR recently where he estimated exactly how many superheroes and supervillains that Stan Lee created or co-created over the years. That would typically just be the end of this - "Just read Tim's article." However, Tim's article was more of a general thing, just trying to figure out the general amount of heroes and villains that Stan created/co-created and less of a specific chronology, so Tim did not say specifically who was Stan Lee's first creation, so here we are!
Here is the tricky one. There are a lot of sources, including Jim Steranko's classic history of comics from the early 1970s, that credit Stan Lee as the co-creator (along with artist Al Gabriele) of the Black Marvel from late 1940's Mystic Comics #5. It sure opens up with a very Stan Lee-esque opening page, right?
However, as I noted in an oooooooooold Comic Book Legends Revealed (we're talking double digits here), Jess Nevens and Tom Brevoort did some sleuthing and realized that it was not the case...
You'll note that I said that the intro to the Black Marvel's first appearance was very Stan Lee-esque. It is. Trouble is, it may not have been written by Stan Lee. See, Jim Steranko credits the Black Marvel to Stan Lee and Bob Hughes, but Greg Theakston says that Lee's first comic book story was in Captain America Comics #3, cover-dated May 1941. The cover date for Mystic Comics #5, the first appearance of the Black Marvel, was March 1941.
Steranko is partially wrong here; Tom Brevoort said that the folks Steranko talked to while compiling his book misremembered things, and this would seem to be one of them. While it's possible that Lee wrote the text page that introduced the Black Marvel - the "Warning! Don't turn this page!" - the rest wasn't him. The Marvel's firrst appearance was a back-logged story from Funnies, Incorporated, and--
I guess I should explain about Funnies Incorporated. Back in 1939, Lloyd Jacquet, the editor of Centaur Publishing (who produced Amazing-Man Comics), decided to form his own comic company. He left Centaur and took some people with him: Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Paul Gustavson, and Bill Thompson among them. They formed Funnies Incorporated, which was originally supposed to be a comic book publisher, but due to lack of funds became an art packaging studio, creating material for other publishers. The stories in Marvel Comics #1 were created by the Funnies, Inc., stable of talent.
The Black Marvel was one of those characters created by the Funnies, Inc., stable. I say it was "back-logged" because after Marvel Mystery Comics became a success, Martin Goodman hired an in-house staff of his own and began squeezing out the Funnies, Inc staff in favor of his own. The Black Marvel's first story, as best I can figure, is one of those stories Timely had already purchased.
Okay, so no Black Marvel for Stan (fascinating point by Jess, though, that perhaps Stan did the opening page only? As boy, that sure does sound like Stan Lee).
So who is the actual first superhero created/co-created by Stan?