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Stan Lee, Marvel Comics’ Real-Life Superhero, Dies at 95

Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics whose superhero creations endeared him to comic-book lovers everywhere has died.

He was 95.

The illustrator, who started in the business in 1939, created or co-created Black PantherSpider-ManX-MenThe Mighty ThorIron ManThe Fantastic FourThe Incredible HulkDaredevilAnt-Man and other characters.

Stan Lee poses for a portrait in 2011, the beloved creator of Marvel Comics has died at 95. Picture: AP

According to the Hollywood Reporter Lee died early on Monday morning (local time).

He was declared dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Kirk Schenck, an lawyer for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee.

Lee revolutionised the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in superheroes.

“With a heavy heart, we share our deepest condolences with his daughter and brother,” said Marvel Comics and its owner The Walt Disney Company in a statement.

“We honor and remember the creator, voice and champion of Marvel… Every time you open a Marvel comic, Stan will be there.”

‘WE ALL GREW UP WITH GIANTS, OGRES AND WITCHES’

As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee was widely considered the architect of the contemporary comic book.

He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.

Millions responded to the unlikely mix of realistic fantasy, and many of his characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk and X-Men went on to become stars of blockbuster films.

Stan Lee is the creator of comic-book franchises such as “Spider-Man.” Picture: AP

Recent projects he helped make possible range from the films “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange” to such TV series as “Agents of S.H. I. E. L. D” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“I think everybody loves things that are bigger than life. … I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups,” he told The Associated Press in 2006.

Taken 1988, Stan Lee, center, poses with Lou Ferrigno, right, and Eric Kramer who portray The Incredible Hulk and Thor. Picture: AP

“We all grew up with giants and ogres and witches. Well, you get a little bit older and you’re too old to read fairy tales. But I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for those kind of things, things that are bigger than life and magical and very imaginative.”

‘NEW COMIC EVERY DAY FOR TEN YEARS’

Lee considered the comic-book medium an art form and he was prolific: By some accounts, he came up with a new comic book every day for 10 years. “I wrote so many I don’t even know. I wrote either hundreds or thousands of them,” he told the AP in 2006.

He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the HulkSpider-ManIron Man and numerous others to life.

Stan Lee in 1976 discusses a “Spiderman” comic book cover with artist John Romita at Marvel headquarters in New York. Picture: AP

“It was like there was something in the air. I couldn’t do anything wrong,” he recalled.

His heroes, meanwhile, were a far cry from virtuous do-gooders such as rival DC Comics’ Superman.

The Fantastic Four fought with each other. Spider-Man was goaded into superhero work by his alter ego, Peter Parker, who suffered from unrequited crushes, money problems and dandruff. The Silver Surfer, an alien doomed to wander Earth’s atmosphere, waxed about the woeful nature of man. The Hulk was marked by self- loathing. Daredevil was blind and Iron Man had a weak heart.

Stan Lee arrives at the premiere of “The Avengers” in Los Angeles in 2011. Picture: AP

“The beauty of Stan Lee’s characters is that they were characters first and superheroes next,” Jeff Kline, executive producer of the “Men in Black” animated television series, told The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, in 1998.

‘CREATOR OF SOCIAL CHANGE’

Some of Lee’s creations became symbols of social change — the inner turmoil of Spider-Man represented ‘60s America, for example, while The Black Panther and The Savage She-Hulk mirrored the travails of minorities and women. Lee scripted most of Marvel’s superhero comics himself during the ‘60s, including the Avengers and the X-Men, two of the most enduring. In 1972, he became Marvel’s publisher and editorial director; four years later, 72 million copies of Spider-Man were sold.

Stan Lee onstage. Picture: Getty

“He’s become our mickey mouse,” he once said of the masked, web-crawling crusader.

Lee also published several books, including “The Superhero Women” in 1977 and “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” the following year, when he was named publisher of the year by the Periodical and Book Association of America.

CBS turned the Hulk into a successful TV series, with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno portraying the doomed scientist from 1978-82.

Spider-Man series ran briefly in 1978. Both characters were featured in animated TV series as well. The first big-budget movie based on Lee’s characters, “X-Men,” was a smash in 2000, earning more than $US130 million at North American theatres. “Spider-Man” did even better, taking in more than $US400 million in 2002.

STAN LEE: A NAME FOR ‘SILLY LITTLE COMICS’

Stanley Martin Lieber was born Dec. 28, 1922, in New York. He grew up a fan of “Hardy Boys” adventure books and Errol Flynn movies, and got a job at Timely Comics after graduating from high school.

Known for his distinctive tinted glasses and impish grin, he ended up in the comics business by accident, thanks to an uncle who got him a job when he was a teenager filling artists’ inkwells and fetching coffee.

Within a few months, the editor and art director quit, leaving the 17-year-old Lee with creative control over the company, which grew and was renamed Atlas Comics and, finally, Marvel.

Lieber then changed his name, thinking Lee would be used for “silly little comics” and his real name would be reserved for novels. His early work largely reflected popular movies — westerns, crime dramas, romance, whatever was the rage at the time. He worked for about 50 cents per page.

Stan Lee waves to the audience after being introduced onstage at the “Extraordinary: Stan Lee” tribute. Picture: AP

After a stint in the army during World War II, writing for training films, he was back at Marvel to begin a long and admittedly boring run of assembly line comic book production.

Comics in the 1950s were the subject of Senate hearings pushed by the Comics Code Authority, which frowned on gore and characters that questioned authority.

Major comic book companies adopted the code as a form of self-regulation to avoid sanctions.

Lee said he was also working for a publisher who considered comics as fare only for children.

“One day I said, ‘This is insane,”’ Lee told the Guardian in 1979.

“I’m just doing the same type of stories as everybody else. I wasn’t taking pride in my work and I wanted to quit. But my wife said, ‘Look, why don’t you do the kind of comics you want for a change?”’ The result was the first issue of “The Fantastic Four,” in 1960, with the characters, plot and text from Lee and the illustrations by famed Marvel artist Jack Kirby.

The characters were normal people changed into reluctant superheroes through no fault of their own.

Stan Lee places his hands in cement during his hand and footprint ceremony in Hollywood, California. Picture: AFP

Writing in “Origins of Marvel Comics,” Lee described the quartet this way: “The characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to; they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles, they’d be fallible and feisty and — most important of all — inside their colourful, costumed bootees they’d still have feet of clay.” “The Amazing Spider-Man” followed in 1962 and before long, Marvel Comics was an industry behemoth.

DOING THINGS DIFFERENT

Lee knew his work was different, proudly noting that stories were drawn out over several issues not to make money but to better develop characters, situations and themes.

He didn’t neglect his villains, either. One, the Moleman, went bad when he was ostracised because of his appearance, Lee wrote, adding it was “almost unheard of in a comic book” to explain why a character was what he was. Lee’s direct influence faded in the 1970s as he gave up some of his editorial duties at Marvel. But with his trademark white moustache and tinted sunglasses, he was the industry’s most recognisable figure. He lectured widely on popular culture.

Stan Lee became a widely recognised figure as the face of comics, with his trademark white moustache and tinted sunglasses. Picture: Getty

Lee moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to head Marvel Productions, an animation studio that was later purchased, along with Marvel Comics, for $50 million by New World Entertainment.

As sales of comics declined, Marvel was forced into bankruptcy proceedings that meant it had to void a lifetime contract prohibiting Lee from working for anyone else. Lee later sued Marvel for $10 million, saying the company cheated him out of millions in profits from movies based on his characters.

In 2000, Lee agreed to write stories for DC Comics, reinventing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other signature characters for Marvel’s one-time rival. DC Vice President and Publisher Paul Levitz had nothing but praise when the agreement was made.

TROUBLES IN LATER LIFE

In more recent years, the illustrator had endured a difficult run. After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, he sued executives at POW! Entertainment — a company he founded in 2001 to develop film, TV and video game properties — for $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion) for fraud, before dropping the lawsuit just six weeks later.

Stan Lee’s wife of 69 years, Joan, died last year. Picture: Getty Images

Lee, who was said to be worth $A96 million, also sued an ex-business manager and filed a restraining order against a man who had been looking after his affairs.

Then, in June 2018, it was revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating reports of elder abuse against him.

THE HERO OF COMICS

“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger.

“A superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect.”

“My youth wouldn’t have been the same without him. So grateful to have met the guy, and told him how thankful I was for his work,” tweeted Australian filmmaker James Wan.

Edgar Wright, the British director of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Baby Driver” used Lee’s catchphrase in his eulogy: “Thanks for inspiring so many of us to pick up a pen or pencil and put your dreams onto paper.”

Marvel film stars also were quick to pay tribute to their hero.

Hugh Jackman, known for his starring role as Wolverine in “X-Men” tweeted “we’ve lost a creative genuis.”

“Stan Lee was a pioneering force in the superhero universe. I’m proud to have been a small part of his legacy and …. to have helped bring one of his characters to life,” he wrote.

Captain America Chris Evans wrote “there will never be another Stan Lee.”

“For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives. Excelsior!!”

Iron Man Robert Downey Jnr said “I owe it all to you, rest in peace Stan.”

Tech tycoon Elon Musk also paid tribute to the king of comics saying: “Rest in peace, Stan Lee. The many worlds of imagination & delight you created for humanity will last forever.”

Actor Seth Rogen thanked Lee for “making people who feel different realise they are special.”

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