The creative genius of American writer, Stan Lee, who was born in 1922, brought us 'Spider Man', 'X-Men' and 'The Hulk'. They climbed tall buildings and fought the bad guys, but had normal worries too, about love, acceptance and family. Readers loved them and Marvel Comics, with Lee at the helm, went on to become hugely successful. In 2010 the Stan Lee Foundation was founded to focus on literacy, education and the arts. On January 4, 2011 Lee received the 2428th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
While I was working for Marvel, the first 20 years or so I was just doing regular comics. Then after a while I really wanted to quit, 'cause I felt while Martin Goodman was a great guy and a good publisher, I didn't like really what he wanted me to do. He kept… he… he felt comics were just for young kids or stupid adults, and he used to say to me: ‘Remember Stan, don't use words of more than two syllables, don't have too much dialogue. Get a lot of action and don't worry about characterization’. And that was fine. I was doing it and the books were doing well, and I had a steady job, but it wasn't satisfying, 'cause I really think of myself as a reasonably good writer. I like to write. So I really wanted to quit and to try something else, and I remember Joan said to me: ‘You know Stan, if you want to quit, before you do why don't you do one book the way you would like to do it. The worst that happens is Martin will fire you, and so what? You want to quit anyway’.
So coincidentally, at that time he had found out that our competitor, DC Comics — which called itself National Comics in those days — they had done a book called The Justice League of America — a group of superheroes — and it was selling very well. And he said to me: ‘Stan, why don't you do a book about a group of superheroes’. So I figured this is my chance to do it my way. So I came up with something I called The Fantastic Four about four superheroes, but instead of making them heroes who wore costumes I figured, I'm not going to give them costumes, 'cause I always felt if I had a superpower, why would I want to put on a costume? First of all, I'm too much of a show off. I'd want everybody to know it's me I would never wear a mask. And why would I need a costume? If I could jump over a building, I don't have to wear a colorful costume I'll just jump over the building. At any rate, I didn't give them costumes and I tried to make them real characters living in the real world. The hero wasn't just a perfect guy; he was a fellow like me. He talks too much. He's a scientist — quite boring — he was always boring the others 'cause when he explained anything he went on forever, and one of the other guys was always saying, ‘Will you shut up’. And the obligatory teenager in the group, instead of just… like Robin with Batman who just runs around and fights the bad guys with him, I made this teenager a guy who didn't want to be a super hero particularly. He wanted… he was like I would have been when I was a teenager. He wanted to go out with girls and ride a sports car and so forth. And the… and the girl, instead of an obligatory female who always has to be rescued and doesn't know who the hero really is, she was the hero's fiancée. She knew who he was, the all knew who they were, and she also had a superpower that was as good as anyone else's, so she was a fighting member of the team. And the fourth guy was a monster. They… something had happened to him and he became very ugly and incredibly strong, and I used him for both pathos and humor 'cause he was always fighting with the others — not physically but verbally. Always insulting them and yelling at them, and he was hot-tempered, and he was always picking on The Human Torch — that was the teenager — who was always picking on him, and I got a lot of comedy out of them. I called him The Thing, and he became by far and away the most popular member of the group. Well at any rate… Oh, and another thing, Instead of having them live in a… fictional place like Metropolis or Gotham City, I plonked them right down in New York City and… 'cause I knew New York City, I could write about New York City and I figured, why not let them live in a real place? And instead of driving a car like an 8-cylinder Whizz-bang, I had them drive… I had Johnny drive a Chevy Corvette, and I had them live on the East Side, and the… I forget where, near Madison Avenue. And when they went to a theater they didn't go to The Bijou, they went to The Radio City Music Hall. Tried to keep everything as realistic as possible, even though it was just a comic… superhero comic. Well the book did wonderfully. It sold great, but a funny thing happened. I got a lot of fan mail, and we had almost never gotten fan mail before. And all the letters said essentially the same thing. ‘We love the book, it's the greatest, we'll keep buying it forever, you're the greatest writer, Jack is the greatest artist, it's terrific. But, if you don't give them costumes we'll never buy another issue’. Now I'll never understand why. I will never understand why but for some reason, people who like superhero stories like their superheroes to wear costumes. Okay, I'm not going to go against that.
Leo Bear is a Hollywood-based features writer. Her background is in news and features writing. Leo spent five years on the entertainment newsdesk at BBC Worldwide before going freelance and moving out to Los Angeles. She specialises in writing lifestyle features, celebrity interviews, health stories and travel features for publications including Eve Magazine, OK! Magazine, Total Film, TV Hits and Conde Nast Gourmet Travel Guide.
New York, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, National Comics, The Thing, The Human Torch, Justice League of America, The Fantastic Four, Richard Reed, Sue Storm, Radio City Music Hall, Martin Goodman