Think Marvel comics, and the first superhero that comes to mind is the inimitable Stan Lee. This Penlighten post salutes the master, and lists out a few of his greatest creations over the last five decades.
What do you think is Stan Lee’s most coveted superpower?
It’s ‘luck’. Yes, the master himself confessed in an interview that the one superpower he values the most happens to be ‘luck’. He went on to add that the only reason we haven’t seen a superhero with this particular power is because it’s hard to make this power ‘visually interesting’.
Stan Lee’s name is synonymous with comic book legends, so much so that he can surely bag a spot in a list of superheroes himself. Larger than life, highly creative, with an unmistakable zest for life, is how his millions of fans see him.
Some of the most iconic and badass of Marvel characters have been created by Mr. Lee, in collaboration with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. These include Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and let’s not forget, Mr. Lee’s personal favorite, Spider-Man.
In this post, we’re saluting the sheer spirit and creative genius of ‘the man’, by listing out some of the most memorable comic book characters created by Stan Lee.
Stan Lee’s Greatest Creations
Before we move on to profiling his greatest characters, let’s bow down before the man himself, Stan Lee. If you’ve been even the tiniest of Marvel fan, you’d know how Mr. Lee plays a cameo in almost every Marvel movie. In fact, his favorite cameo thus far has been the one he’s played in The Amazing Spider-Man, where he plays a librarian who is completely immersed in listening to music on his headphones, and thus, hilariously oblivious to the fight between Spider-Man and the Lizard happening right behind him.
In other roles, he’s been mistaken for Hugh Hefner by Tony Stark in Iron Man; he’s also turned away for being an imposter at Reed Richards’ and Susan Storm’s first wedding in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Fans who are eagerly awaiting the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, will be glad to know that Mr. Lee has already filmed his part in the movie.
The Fantastic Four(1961)
Yeah, we know that this quartet isn’t a ‘character’, but we’re looking at them as an entity, and they deserve a first mention because this was the first superhero group created by Stan Lee, partnering with Jack Kirby. It was with this bunch comprising Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), Invisible Woman (Sue Storm), the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), and the monstrous Thing (Ben Grimm) that Lee decided to go completely experimental with, creating superheroes with real-world problems like temper issues, troubled love lives, and even one with larger than life egos. And we all know how that went … readers had only just begun to see such human heroes, and were actually able to identify with them. This feature went on to become a trademark of sorts, not only for Stan Lee’s characters, but also for superheroes in general.
Or as Bruce Banner calls him, ‘the other guy’. Hulk is the green monster with unspeakable levels of anger management issues, who is the alter ego of the reserved and docile physicist, Robert Bruce Banner. With a back story that combines childhood trauma along with the usual trappings that come with possessing a brilliant mind, Banner’s Hulk is shown to be mindlessly brutal to being a fearless savior. Mr. Lee has gone on record about how much of an influence Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have been in the creation of Bruce Banner and the Hulk. This legendary character went on to become one of the founding member of the Avengers, and as fans will know, has more than a hand in the creation of Ultron, the villain of the upcoming Avengers: The Age of Ultron.
So, what do you do when you wish to create a superhero to trump all superheroes? Why, you turn to the Gods, don’t you? But Stan Lee was only being Stan Lee when he decided than Greek and Roman mythology was much too commonplace, and that he needed to come up with someone who was tad more obscure. He went on to pick the Norse God (Thor), created a planet for him to live on (Asgard), and gave him an infallible weapon (Mjolnir). And if you ever made the mistake of thinking that Thor could get a little insipid, Marvel bosses went on to cast Chris Hemsworth to play him on celluloid. Thunderous applause to that, we say.
Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist―that’s Tony Stark for you, people; and mind you, this is when he doesn’t have his armor on. Mr. Lee had long been toying with the idea of creating a capitalist superhero, and Tony Stark’s unabashed turn as Iron Man fit the bill. With Howard Hughes providing the requisite inspiration, Lee’s Tony Stark was quite the ladies’ man with deep pockets and a sparkling wit to match. Stan Lee is known to have said that Iron Man’s popularity was phenomenal during the early years, but it mainly comprised female readers―an aberration, considering how comic book fans were mainly males. With the movie version being totally nailed by the inimitable Robert Downey Jr., we can totally see how that must have happened.
Stan Lee’s Spider-Man was a ground breaking character in so many ways. For starters, here was an ordinary teenager with limitless intelligence who was blessed with superpowers in the most accidental manner. Unlike Robin from the DC universe, who was mentored by Batman, our dear Spider-Man had no one to depend on but himself. What’s more, this boy wonder was almost always pitted against the most intense antagonists every time, be it the eccentric Doc Ock or the ruthless Green Goblin. Peter Parker was a puny, geeky teen who struggled to get the girl of his dreams, sustained on a meagerly paying job as he grew up, but turned into a formidable force to reckon with once he donned the spidey suit. If that isn’t a true superhero, I don’t know who is.
It’s impossible to keep the Green Goblin out of this list now that we’ve mentioned Spider-Man. These two arch rivals are yin and yang kind of combination, and one can’t really imagine one without the other. Green Goblin is a one-of-a-kind villain who relies on his sheer intelligence and cunning to go one up on his enemies. His array of gadgets can probably make Batman envious, and prove how technology can wreak havoc when it falls into the wrong hands. Norman Osborne has mainly been connected with this alias, however, there have been several other characters who have made use of the getup as well. Keeping in line with the Marvel trademark of making their characters’ stories extremely personal, Goblin and Spider-Man too go a long way back, providing interesting dynamics to their relationship.
If you’re looking for the most complex character with the most simple, unassuming past in the Marvel universe, look no further than Jean Grey. She’s got an eidetic memory, can read minds, alter them, create cosmic fires, manipulate timelines and any form of matter, is an Omega-level mutant, and yes, also resurrect herself from the dead, because, duh, she also happens to be the Phoenix. Quite easily, she’s the one who lends the ‘man’ bit to the X-Men, and really, we just can’t help gaping at her with wide-eyed wonder. And while there will be other drool-worthy female characters in all of comicverse, Jean Grey with her layered persona will always be legions ahead of the very best.
While the X-Men of today have drastically changed from what they were during the Lee-Kirby era, Magneto is one character who has managed to escape the great change. He still retains his whimsical persona which makes him quite the bundle of surprise. Knowing his past, it almost makes one feel that his extremist views are justified, making him one of the rare villains readers identify with. His radical personality is often pitted against Professor X’s equally balanced one, which leads to some interesting consequences.
Daredevil is another superhero doing the vigilante act in New York City. He was left blind following a childhood accident, which actually ended up amplifying the rest of his senses. He is an avid follower of the martial arts, and combined with his heightened senses, it does transform him into ‘ The Man without Fears’. His day job as Matt Murdock involves a lot of do-gooder work as a lawyer, lending a helping hand to the needy.
The founder of the X-Men has to receive a place of honor in a list of Stan Lee’s greatest work. A master mutant himself, Professor Charles Xavier harbors a singular dream of being able to live in a world where mutants and humans coexist happily. And speaking of dreams, fans ought to know that Stan Lee drew his inspiration for this character from none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. He is a visionary who runs a training school for mutants, teaching them how to understand and handle their unique powers. Keeping in line with all Marvel characters, Professor X also has a dark side to him, especially when he sees no harm in indulging in actions which can be detrimental to even his closest allies.
In a career spanning over 5 decades, Stan Lee conceptualized over 300 characters. And while it would be impossible for us to profile all of them, it would be equally unjustified to limit the list to just 10. Therefore, here’s a list of some more legendary characters from the Marvel stables.
- Ant-Man (1962)
- Black Widow (1964)
- Iceman (1963)
- Silver Surfer (1966)
- She-Hulk (1980)
- Doctor Strange (1963)
- Hawkeye (1964)
- Nick Fury (1963)
- Cyclops (1963)
- Doctor Doom (1962)
This list of fictional characters created by Stan Lee features some of his best works over the past half a century or so.