Marvel Comics -inspired media has found success on the screen for nearly twenty years, since the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies hit the big screen. The comic book universe has lost one of its founding fathers. Stan Lee, founder of Marvel Comics, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, Nov. 12. He nearly quit his job as an editor and writer at Timely Comics in the 1960s after having worked there most of his adult life. It wasn’t fulfilling, and his wife suggested he make a comic the way he wanted to. The result was the Fantastic Four, which he co-created with Jack Kirby. The rest, as they say, is history.
As the world mourns the huge loss of Stan Lee, we take a look at 15 characters he created:
Spider-Man is Marvel’s most successful character of all time and the most profitable comic book character ever. With comic book sales, film deals, animated shows, video games, merchandise and clothing sales, Spider-Man pulls in around $1 billion a year for Marvel, and he’s been a smash hit ever since his debut in 1962 with the now legendary “Amazing Fantasy” #15. With the growing teenage comic book audience, Stan Lee wanted to create a character that teenagers could relate to, dealing with the problems of adolescence.
According to Lee, who helped create the character alongside artist Steve Ditko (who is said to have had at least equal input into his creation), he was trying to think of a unique kind of hero that hadn’t been seen before when he saw a spider crawling up his wall. Initially, Marvel’s publisher, Martin Goodman, was hesitant to try out Spider-Man, but because “Amazing Fantasy” was set to be canceled with issue #15, he agreed to give the character a shot with the final issue. When the sales figures came in, Goodman was shocked to find that it had been one of Marvel’s highest-selling comics and a solo ongoing series, “Amazing Spider-Man”was immediately commissioned, which would quickly become Marvel’s top-selling series.
2. The Hulk
Bruce Banner has been hulking out for a long time—since 1962, when the character’s first comic debuted. And although the transformations are never pleasant for him, he has earned the distinction of being one of the most instantly recognizable comic characters of all time. He’s had a TV series, videogames, multiple film adaptations—the works. Most recently, he’s been portrayed by Mark Ruffalo.
3. Iron Man
Before he was played by Robert Downey Jr., this playboy mogul and his super-suit first appeared in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963. The character has been adapted for a variety of media, but his biggest claim to fame is as the lynchpin of the M.C.U.—and the persona who revitalized Robert Downey Jr.’s film career.
Stan Lee created Ant-Man with his brother Larry Lieber and artist Jack Kirby in 1962 for “Tales to Astonish” #27. Ant-Man gets his abilities from the Ant-Man suit, which has been worn by different people throughout the years, but Stan Lee’s original Ant-Man was Hank Pym, who invented the suit and the “Pym Particles” that allow the user to alter their size. Hank Pym was also one of the founding members of The Avengers, though he didn’t appear in the MCU until after the second Avengers movie.
Originally, Ant-Man wasn’t intended to be a superhero though. The first “Tales to Astonish” story he appears in, titled “The Man in the Ant Hill” was originally written as a one-off where a man is shrunk down and chased by ants and bees. Stan Lee said that the story sold so well, that it might be fun to make him into a superhero, so Hank Pym returned as the eponymous Ant-Man in “Tales to Astonish” #35, this time with the ability to control ants through the use of his high-tech helmet.
5. Black Panther
In addition to his distinction as king and foremost warrior of Wakanda, the Black Panther—also known as T’Challa—was also the first superhero of African descent in the comics world when he debuted in 1966. Now, he’s a box-office legend as well.
6. The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four were Stan Lee’s first creation with artist Jack Kirby and they were an instant success for Marvel. With their 1961 debut in “Fantastic Four” #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new level of realism to the comic book genre that would go on to shape the future of comics. Breaking from the traditional superhero archetype, these characters were flawed, argued with each other, dealt with self-doubt and made mistakes.
With the Fantastic Four’s overwhelming success, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were given the go-ahead to create a slew of new heroes and titles that would usher in the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Fantastic Four have spawned four animated series, four live-action films and five ongoing volumes of comics to date. Though “Marvel’s First Family” seemingly ended their 54-year run in 2015, the characters have continued to show up in other series, and while Marvel continues to deny it, comic readers know that no super-group stays gone forever.
7. The X-Men
This group of mutants made their debut in 1963, complete with their leader, Professor X, and their most formidable enemy, Magneto. They may be mutants only because their creator didn’t want to come up with a more elaborate backstory—but then again, is that not the most relatable origin of all?
8. Black Widow
Natalia “Natasha” Romanova, the Black Widow, made her first appearance in 1964’s “Tales of Suspense” #52, plotted and edited by Stan Lee, scripted by Don Rico and drawn by Don Heck. She was a Russian spy and antagonist of Iron Man. She later defected to the United States and joined S.H.I.E.L.D. in “The Avengers” #29 in 1966, and later became a member of The Avengers.
In the MCU, Black Widow is played by Scarlett Johansson and has appeared in five films, more than any character except for Captain America, Nick Fury and Iron Man. In the comics, she has been the love interest of Hawkeye, Captain America, Winter Soldier and most notably, the on-again, off-again girlfriend of Daredevil. She’s not just the token girlfriend, though. Black Widow has headlined dozens of specials, mini-series and ongoing comics since her debut, and there are rumors that her own solo film is finally close at hand.
9. Thor and Loki
He might be a demigod, but Thor is actually about the same age as the rest of Stan Lee’s best known characters. He first debuted in 1962, and has since appeared in both a TV movie (in 1988) and, most notably, multiple times in the M.C.U., as portrayed with infectious glee by Chris Hemsworth. While the modern incarnation of Thor’s adopted younger brother, Loki, appeared two issues after Thor did in 1962, an earlier version of him actually first appeared in Venus #6, in 1949.
He’s been saying “I am Groot” since 1960—and doing so in Vin Diesel’s voice since 2014. This tree-like being branched out of his comfort zone to help the Guardians of the Galaxy keep the people of the universe safe.
This guy has come a long way since 1964: multiple animated series, that Ben Affleck Movie and, perhaps most notably, a starring role in Netflix’s first Marvel series—which made way for Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and many more.
12. Scarlet Witch
Although she’s a part of the M.C.U. now, Scarlet Witch made her debut in an X-Men comic back in 1964. She and her brother Quicksilver are actually at the center of what turned out to be a fascinating rights agreement between Fox and Marvel, as both studios lay claim to the characters: Marvel cannot call Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver “mutants” or allude to their father, Magneto. Elizabeth Olsen currently plays the character in the M.C.U.
13. Doctor Strange
The Sorcerer Supreme first appeared in Strange Tales #110, and got a live-action TV movie in 1978. Now, however, most people associate the character with Benedict Cumberbatch, who has played the mage in three Marvel Studios films and counting.
The Inhumans spent most of their existence in relative obscurity compared to the rest of the Marvel universe, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced them way back in 1965 in “Fantastic Four” #45. They appeared here and there in different series including a self-titled run that ended in 1977 after 12 issues. After that, the Inhumans would remain in the Marvel vault, mostly forgotten until writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee brought the royal family back for “Inhumans” vol. 2, which ran for 12 issues between 1998 and 1999.
From that point on, they would appear more frequently until becoming a staple in the 2013 “Infinity” event, which created thousands of new Inhumans on Earth. They were introduced to the MCU in season two of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as a kind of surrogate for the X-Men, as licensing issues prevent them from using mutants at Marvel Studios. Later this year, the Inhuman royal family will get their MCU debut in their own live-action series on ABC.
Stan Lee created Hawkeye with artist Don Heck as a villain for “Tales of Suspense” #57 in 1964, going up against Iron Man. Less than a year later, he joined the Avengers in “The Avengers” #16 and has been a prominent member of the team ever since. Hawkeye has been an important character in the Marvel universe as one of the few deaf superheroes in mainstream comics when he lost his hearing in the 1983 four-issue “Hawkeye” mini series written and drawn by Mark Gruenwald.
Hawkeye has been played by Jeremy Renner in the MCU since his cameo appearance in “Thor” in 2011, but has yet to lose his hearing on-screen. Since Renner has expressed an interest in either a solo movie or a Netflix series, the possibility is still open for the future. In the comics, Hawkeye regained his hearing before losing it again in writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja’s legendary “Hawkeye” run. If you haven’t read it, go pick it up now. It’s one of the best things Marvel has ever put out.
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