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The controversial legend of Stan Lee, creator of the Hulk and the X Patrol, celebrates a century


The writer and editor, born 100 years ago, co-created Marvel's most celebrated superheroes and led them to stardom. Millions of fans celebrate his myth, but there are those who question his biography and merits

The origin of Spiderman has been told a thousand times.

He always comes out a radioactive spider.

Never, however, is Romania mentioned.

To its northeast, specifically.

Despite the fact that right there, somehow, the story of Peter Parker began.

As well as that of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man or the X Patrol. Celia Solomon grew up in the small town of Huși.

In the nearby town of Boto


lived Jack Lieber.

Both ended up fleeing to the US, where they met.

And on December 28, 1922, his modest apartment at 777 West End Avenue in New York welcomed a third tenant, a newborn: Stanley Martin Lieber.

Or, as everyone knows him, Stan Lee.

More information

Stan Lee, creator of Marvel's Hulk, Spiderman, Avengers and Fantastic Four, dies

It is, therefore, a century of one of the greatest icons of popular culture.

They have compared him to Walt Disney, to the Beatles, even to God.

And, of course, with the superheroes he brought to life.

Although also, once, with the SS.

Millions of followers call it a myth.

Federico Fellini, Alain Resnais, Ronald Reagan or George RR Martin are among his admirers.

But there are those who consider him a villain at the level of the Green Goblin or Kingpin.

A bad guy who also stole the merits and creations of the presumed good guys, the cartoonists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.






And some hate.

The perfect ingredients to forge a legend.

With real elements, yes, and other more doubtful ones.

Or even fictional.

Not even his death, at the age of 95, on November 12, 2018, has silenced the debate about Stan Lee.

On the contrary, he continues and becomes polarized.

And more so now that the Panini publishing house rescues in Spain the first numbers of the most famous series, precisely the most controversial, under the heading of the Marvel Library.

The years go by, but not the contrasts: Romanian roots remain one of the few indisputable facts in Stan Lee's biography.

Stan Lee, poses in his Los Angeles studio in November 1998. Kim Kulish (Corbis via Getty Images)

“Her story is the place where objective truth goes to die,” writes journalist Abraham Riesman in

True Believer.

The rise and fall of Stan Lee

(Es Pop), perhaps the biography that has explored the shadows of the character the most.

"A man of superhuman contradictions," says

The Amazing Life of Stan Lee

, by Danny Fingeroth (Dolmen), former Marvel writer and editor, a story that pursues a balanced vision of the symbol.

Although the reader who wants to dive deeper into the matter has an ocean of books before him: from his main authorized biography,


(Atria Books), which Lee himself co-signs with George Mair, to

Amazing, fantastic, incredible.

A Wonderful Memories

(Planet), a graphic novel by Peter David and Colleen Doran, whose title suggests where the shots are going;

going through one of the first deep inquiries,

Stan Lee and the Rise and the Fall of the American Comic Book

(Chicago Review Press), by Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael.

The list seems much longer, and it is presumable that it will be extended as a result of the centenary of the author.

Such an occasion serves to celebrate, of course, the undeniable achievements of Stan Lee.

“He brought Marvel comics to the world.

They never would have gotten off the ground without him, his ability to pool talent and connect with readers.

Perhaps not even the comics industry itself would have emerged from the sixties ”, defends Riesman by video call.

"We owe him the survival of the superhero comic as it is today," adds David Macho, a cartoonist agent, who works on both sides of the pond and met Lee on three occasions.

"He elevated it from a fast-food product to a work of art," insists Alejandro Martínez, editor of Panini.

Cover of the first issue of 'The Fantastic Four', by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, drawn by the second, and edited by Panini.Marvel

Those who collaborated with him often highlight his enormous kindness and creative enthusiasm.

“Even those who criticized him for my book never disowned him,” Reisman explains.

Lee's outbursts imitating how Thor should hit his opponent or getting on a table to interpret the cartoon he imagined belong to the true part of the legend.

"He was a milk motivator," summarizes Macho.

But there is much more: anyone recognizes a superheroic promotional effort.

By dint of touring universities across the US, he managed to win over students and retain them.

And, still today, it could well give a master class to so many companies that seek to engage the young public.

“When he asked people who had grown up reading Marvel what kept them coming back, the most common answer was: 'The letter page,' Reisman explains.

There, Lee personally responded to fans, creating the feeling of one big "family," as Fingeroth writes.

"He adored the fans just like they adored him," Macho says.

And then, or above all, there are the ideas.

Because Lee was a salesman and a manager but, especially at the beginning of his career, he also wrote.

“He had a vision that superheroes were real, with flaws and weaknesses.

And also that they lived in the real world, in Manhattan or Chicago”, summarizes Martínez.

Which led to another intuition that today is also fully exploited by Marvel cinema: if Iron Man flies through New York, sooner or later Spiderman will have to see him.

The encounters between disguised types were served.

What a pride it would be, for his creative father, to see his children all together in some cartoon.

Detail of the cover of 'Marvel Premiere.

The Avengers 1', by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness, edited by Panini.Marvel

Because it is also undoubtedly that Lee contributed to creating The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Ant-Man, Spiderman, Thor, The Avengers, Patrol X or Black Panther in the sixties.

Here, however, the problems begin.

And the discrepancies.

He always defended that they all came out of his mind.

And that an idea belongs to the first to conceive it.

But Kirby and Ditko, also deceased, thought otherwise: Lee gave them little or no clues.

And, in any case, the one who draws the character, elaborates the course of the story and puts it on the page is, at least, another parent.

“Kirby did a lot more than he was originally credited with.

Until 1999, the Marvel materials cited Lee as the sole creator," denounces Reisman.

And he exposes in his book how Lee's story about the origin of the characters varied and contradicted itself, like other aspects of his biography.

He even rescues a phrase of his from 1965: “There are cartoonists, like Kirby, who don't need you to give them any argument.

[...] He is practically the one who invents the plots of those stories.

All I do is supervise him a bit”.

“That Lee did nothing and stole is a lie.

That he did it all, too.

Each one did their part, and he not only took care of writing but also the editorial side, fighting with those at the top, promoting comics… ”, affirms Macho.

One of Fingeroth's conclusions is that each genius brought out the best in the other and contributed to the birth of those myths.

In this undated photo released by Titan Books.AP, Jack Kirby, left, and Joe Simon.

But to the shock for recognition is added the economic one.

While Lee struck gold, the two cartoonists lamented that they barely saw the crumbs.

So much so that Kirby's heirs sued Marvel years ago, who preferred to close the case with an out-of-court settlement, a lot of money and a change: the cartoonist now regularly appears as co-creator of the characters.

Ditko did not go to court, but he did go on record several times about his anger.

He was outraged that Lee took credit for the occurrence of Spiderman number 33, considered one of the best in history, and that the cartoonist included in his own harvest.

And perhaps even more annoyed that, in 1999, the publisher wrote in a letter: "I have always considered Steve the co-creator of Spider-Man."

The nuance that infuriated the artist was in the verb: it was not a fact,

but solely from a perception of Lee.

Perhaps the only thing that everyone agrees on is that no documentary evidence has been found so far.

It is a question, then, of believing the most convincing version.

Instead, a certain consensus surrounds the increasingly close relationship Lee created with the Marvel brand: as he promoted his company, he also sold himself.

One myth fed the other.

And vice versa.

Everyone will have their vision about it, but, for Reisman, there was a more general problem.

Because Lee's other steps also have a double interpretation: it was he, for example, who devised the unprecedented posters that at the beginning of each comic highlighted the artists involved and helped make them visible.

But, of course, in those boxes the writing of the comic was always attributed solely to Lee himself.

The journalist also denounces that the publisher promoted the so-called Marvel method: as he explains in his book, the scriptwriter and cartoonist proposed and debated a plot in broad strokes.

Then, the second one elaborated, painted and completed it.

And the first finished off the job with the dialogues and the texts.

An unprecedented creative freedom for the artist, which probably favored the great successes of the publisher.

Also, however, a huge task that remained obscure, also when it came to charging.

Along with the concept of "work for hire" —any collaboration with the publisher would belong exclusively to the company, with all its rights to the characters—,

Steve Ditko in a file photo.EL PAÍS

Lee's defenders point out that he did not charge royalties either and that he was not the owner, but one of those responsible for the seal.

But Reisman shares what several of Lee's former associates told him: “He wasn't fighting for the others, for the artists, or for anyone who was struggling at the company.

He didn't like conflicts, he tended to take a step back”.

Although he, at the same time, he emphasizes: “Many publishers of those years were real gangsters and villains.

Stan wasn't like them in a lot of ways."

It seems relatively established, yes, that Lee did not do everything desirable for his troops from the labor point of view.

But Macho rejects that he exploited them: “I deny the biggest.

They were workers like him, at a very specific time.

He had to run all the series at once, apart from editing and keeping the company alive."

He cites Lee's efforts to present Kirby with a very good offer to win him back from the competition and also the last meeting between the two: "They spent two hours talking like nothing happened."

The pension that Marvel decided to grant to the cartoonist's widow can also be added to the list.

Cover of number 33 of the 'Spiderman' series, edited by Marvel, considered one of the best in history and whose authorship caused confrontations between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.EL PAÍS

Friendships, breakups, shocks, crises, triumphs and panic.

Following Lee's story, deep down, is also going through his middle.

The first golden age of superheroes, after the birth of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the rival publisher, DC;

the difficulties of the fifties, with accusations of promoting immorality, the denunciations of the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham and the code of conduct that forced the industry to self-censor;

the new wave of heroes of the sixties, the silver age;

a notable collapse in the nineties and the last boom, that of the big screen.

Although, precisely as a result of the success of the films, Lee ended up facing Marvel in court.

In 2005, a deal sealed the end of the conflict, with the company paying the publisher $10 million.

But Lee thus gave up 10% of the income from each televised or cinematographic work that corresponded to him, and that would have brought him infinitely more benefits.

Which serves his defenders to point out that he himself was a victim of the seal's voracity.

In reality, the myth also ended in court with the other two companies in which he worked: there was a time when Stan Lee Media (created in 1998 to launch audiovisual works on the internet) fought in court against the guy who gave his name to the company.

Lee was investigated by the police, and his partner, Peter F. Paul, ended up behind bars for fraud.

And the judicial disputes, like the doubts of legality, also rocked Pow Entertainment, his latest business venture.

Still from the first movie of the series 'The Avengers'.

For Reisman, the failure of these two companies marks the beginning of Stan Lee's darkest days: "He was besieged by horrible people who tried to squeeze the most out of a depressed and sick nonagenarian."

The legend's final years weren't exactly memorable: fights in his inner circle, reports suggesting he was being deceived and manipulated, not-so-flattering private videos of Lee that Reisman watched and described in

True Believer.

The decline, for many, began with the death of his wife, Joan Boocock, in 2017, after an idyll of more than six decades.

With his daughter, JC, on the other hand, the deal was always much more complicated.

Although perhaps the debate that most ignites fans affects another relationship of Lee: with the comics themselves.

Because the young man who devoured movies and read Shakespeare apparently dreamed of becoming a respected playwright or poet.

And Reisman collects phrases from Lee himself over several decades, confessing that the job that fell to him was not his passion: "I never felt a particular compulsion to write comics."

At the same time, the reporter lists the repeated attempts, to a large extent and unsuccessful for a long time, by the writer to conquer other creative fields: newspaper strips, television, theater... "I limit myself to pointing out what he said," he adds. Reisman.

But both Macho and Martínez offer a different version.

"He had 20,000 chances to do something else if he wanted to," says the first.

"When the Marvel universe begins, he falls in love with his own creation," adds the second.

Once again, the answer will never be known.

Paradoxically, the man who made superheroes real and gray is doomed to a black and white story.



He was, however, human.

As Fingeroth writes: “Stan Lee's real problem was that people invariably compared him to… Stan Lee.

And that's an even tougher competition to win."

Stan Lee, during an interview near the França station in Barcelona, ​​on May 8, 1998.MARCEL.LÍ SÁENZ

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2022-12-28

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