Without Stan Lee, Marvel Comics wouldn't exist. During his decades with Marvel, the late writer and editor wrote thousands of stories that spanned genres and generations. With visionary collaborators like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and dozens of others, he helped lay the foundation for the modern Marvel Universe and anchored its fantastic ideas with deeply human heroes and villains.
Even after Stan stepped away from a creative role to become Marvel's chief ambassador to the world, the company continued to add new stories to its "House of Ideas" with the characters that he helped establish.
Now, in celebration of his life's work, CBR takes a chronological look back through Lee's Marvel work to see just how many Marvel Universe characters he co-created. While he didn't create any of these characters without a few collaborators, Lee played a meaningful role in bringing all of them to life, weaving them into the tapestry of the Marvel Universe.
Given the age and availability of these comics, this number should be treated more of an estimate rather than a precise figure. To keep things manageable, we won't be counting incidental characters in our final estimate. In between the superhero booms of the 1940s and the 1960s, it's worth noting that Lee spent years working on romance, western, horror, humor and science-fiction anthology comics.
While some of these characters were later folded into the fabric of the Marvel Universe, others feature characters who only existed for a handful of pages. A lot of these comics have tenuous connections to the modern Marvel Universe at best, so we'll be taking a conservative approach with these titles and only including characters who are explicitly parts of Marvel continuity.
When Stan Lee started working for Timely Comics, Marvel's predecessor, the first generation of Marvel superheroes was already in full swing. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had already created Captain America, Carl Burgos had already created the original Human Torch, and Bill Everett had already created Namor the Sub-Mariner. Stan Lee's first published work for Timely was a prose story about Captain America in 1941's Captain America Comics #3.
After Simon and Kirby left the publisher in 1941, the 18-year-old Lee was promoted to editor-in-chief, where he continued to work across Timely's titles. Heroes like the icy Jack Frost, who Lee created with Charles Nicholas, and the super-strong Destroyer, who Lee created with Jack Binder, were fairly successful and joined Captain America in battling the Axis powers, along with roughly 60 other Lee-created characters of note from this era.
In order to keep up with the ever-changing tastes of post-WWII readers, Timely changed its name to Atlas and achieved varying degrees of success with humor, western, romance, war, horror, fantasy and science-fiction comics as interest in superhero comics died out. Since we're mainly focusing on characters as they relate to the Marvel Universe, a lot of these comics aren't terribly relevant here.
Still, a few supporting characters that Lee co-created from Marvel's definitive, long-running romance comic, Millie the Model, and the teen comedy Patsy Walker eventually became minor parts of the Marvel Universe.
On the westerns front, Lee also co-created the second Two-Gun Kid, with Jack Kirby, and the Rawhide Kid, with Bob Brown, which both lasted well into the 1970s. Eventually, about 40 Lee-created characters from this era interacted with the Marvel Universe.
In the early 1960s, Marvel published several anthologies built around bizarre monsters. While some of these characters were only around for one story, roughly 90 of these monsters and their related characters seemingly have some place in the Marvel Universe. However, characters like Lee, Larry Lieber and Kirby's Groot, and Lee and Kirby's Fin Fang Foom sat unused for decades before re-emerging in Marvel continuity.
In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby kicked off one of the most famous runs in comics history with Fantastic Four #1. Over most of the next decade, the iconic pair worked together for 102 issues and a few specials, where they created the worlds of the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, Black Panther and laid out the framework for Marvel's cosmos.
Lee also worked with Dick Ayers on the Human Torch's solo adventures in Strange Tales, and had a two-year run with John Buscema on Fantastic Four after Kirby left. Between all of those runs, Lee and his collaborators created approximately 210 characters.