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"You know, my motto is ‘Excelsior’” said Stan Lee, who created or co-created some of the most important comic book characters of all time. “That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”

Well, almost nothing. One gets the feeling that the genius of Lee, who on December 28, 2022, would have turned 100, will last a very long time.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee was not opposed to self-promotion. Here he playfully strikes a pose at San Diego's Comic Con in 2013. 

Lee, who died November 12, 2018, at the age of 95, revolutionized the comic book world in the 1960s and had an even greater impact on the pop culture landscape of today thanks in large part to his superhero creations – Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, Black Panther, the Avengers – redefined the blockbuster movie.

From a cluttered office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan in the 1960s, he helped conjure a lineup of pulp-fiction heroes – all properties of Marvel – that has come to define much of pop culture in the early 21st century.

Black Panther

Fantastic Four #52 (Marvel, 1966) introduced the world to Black Panther.

A writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter of Marvel (and of himself), he played a critical role in what comic book fans call the medium’s silver age. So popular is Lee’s work that Marvel’s introduction of Spider-Man to the world in 1962, Amazing Fantasy 15, is now the world’s most expensive comic book, selling for $3.6 million at auction in 2021.

Spider-man first appearance

Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) offers the origin and first appearance of Spider-man, Stan Lee's most popular character.

Lee transformed the comic book world by giving superheroes the same self-doubts and neuroses of average people, making them much more relatable. His characters were aware of trends and social causes and often displayed a sense of humor. Spider-Man, a teenage superhero, is funny, shy, insecure and a smart-aleck to his foes. In essence, a typical teen who just happened to be bit by a radioactive spider and given super powers.

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk #1 (Marvel, 1962).

In humanizing his heroes, giving them character flaws and insecurities that belied their supernatural strengths, Lee tried “to make them real flesh-and-blood characters with personality,” he told The Washington Post in 1992.

Iron Man Tales of Suspense

The introduction of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense (Marvel 1963).

“That’s what any story should have, but comics didn’t have until that point,” he said. “They were all cardboard figures.”

As a writer, editor and publisher, Lee shaped not only Marvel but the comics industry. More than anything, Lee understood the importance of comics.

Fantastic Four #1

Fantastic Four #1 (1961) was Marvel's first superhero team, featuring Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Human Torch and Invisible Girl.

“My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales,” he said. “Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: Giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older, and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them.”

Or, it seems, the love of Stan Lee.

Excelsior!

X-Men #1

X-Men #1 was released by Marvel in 1962. This key issue features the origin and first appearance of the X-Men (the Angel, the Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl), plus the first appearances of their mentor Professor X and arch-nemesis Magneto.

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