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Stan Lee dead; Marvel Comics writer, Spider-Man creator was 95

The creative dynamo, a former LI resident, revolutionized comics by introducing superheroes including Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk.

Stan Lee at the 2017 Los Angeles premiere

Stan Lee at the 2017 Los Angeles premiere of "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Photo Credit: AP / Invision / Jordan Strauss

Comic book genius Stan Lee, a former Long Island resident who was considered the architect of the contemporary comic book, has died. He was 95.

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

As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee  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. Recent projects he helped make possible range from the films "Avengers: Infinity War," ''Black Panther" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" to such TV series as "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and "Daredevil." Lee was recognizable to his fans — he had cameos in Marvel films and TV projects — his hair gray and his glasses slightly tinted.

"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 a 2006 interview. "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."

Lee  hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and numerous others to life.

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.

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.

The first big-budget movie based on Lee's characters, "X-Men," was a smash in 2000, earning more than $130 million at North American theaters. "Spider-Man" did even better, taking in more than $400 million in 2002. A Marvel movie empire would emerge after that, one of the most lucrative mega-franchises in cinema history, with the recent "Avengers: Infinity War" grossing more than $2 billion worldwide. In 10 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film shave netted over $17.6 billion in worldwide grosses.

Stanley Martin Lieber was born Dec. 28, 1922, in New York and got a job at Timely Comics after graduating from high school.

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 changed his name, thinking Lee would be used for "silly little comics" and his real name would be reserved for novels.

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.

"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 Amazing Spider-Man" followed in 1962 and before long, Marvel Comics was an industry behemoth.

Lee's direct influence faded in the 1970s as he gave up some of his editorial duties at Marvel. But with his trademark white mustache and tinted sunglasses, he was the industry's most recognizable figure. He lectured widely on popular culture.

Lee lived in two different homes on Long Island soon after his marriage to Joan Clayton Boocock. In 1949, he bought a three-bedroom house on Broadway in Woodmere, where Lee’s teenaged brother, future Marvel writer-artist Larry Lieber, also lived with them for a time. In 1952, Lee, Joan, and their toddler Joan Celia moved to a larger place, a former caretaker's cottage on Richards Lane in Hewlett Harbor.

"I lived in a place called Hewlett Harbor, on the South Shore,”  he told Newsday in 2007. "It was one of the things called the Five Towns: Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood, Woodmere and Hewlett. And we had our own little duck pond, and it was so nice and suburban and kids used to come and feed the ducks, and it was lovely. We hated moving away.” 

He recalled in an interview elsewhere that when working from home in Hewlett Harbor some days each week, "I used to type my (Marvel Comics) stories on the patio standing up. During my years there I helped create Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, among others. All our neighbors were wealthy business people, and I was a guy writing comics. No one quite understood us."

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.

Lee continued to work into his 90s on numerous projects, including comics, films and DVDs.

In the late 1990s, he looked to capitalize on the Internet craze, offering animated "Webisodes" of comic-like action. Stan Lee Media also sought to reach out to Web-savvy youth through deals with pop artists the Backstreet Boys and Mary J. Blige.

The company went bankrupt, and three men were indicted for allegedly defrauding the business in a check kiting scam. Lee wasn't implicated.

After that initial failure, Lee formed the successful Pow! Entertainment company to launch animated Internet-based projects.

Lee's wife and partner in nearly everything, Joan Lee, died on July 6, 2017, leaving a void that made her husband, by then in mental and physical decline, vulnerable to hangers-on who began to surround him. Lawsuits, court fights and an elder abuse investigation all emerged in the fight over who spoke for the elderly Lee.

Lee is survived by his daughter, Joanie, and a younger brother who also worked in comics, Larry Lieber.

"I miss him already,”  Larry Lieber, 87, who recently retired from drawing the “Spider-Man” newspaper comic strip, told Newsday. Living in Manhattan, "I haven't seen Stan in a long time but I spoke with him often and I was sorry to see him deteriorating physically. His death was not unexpected to me, but I feel a great sense of loss.”

With Frank Lovece

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