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Books Stan Lee was a champion of the silver age of comic books

Stan Lee, former president and chairman of Marvel Comics and co-creator of Spiderman and many other fictional comic book characters, sits in his hotel room in Vancouver, B.C. on Aug. 18, 2010.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Stan Lee, who as chief writer and editor of Marvel Comics helped create some of the most enduring superheroes of the 20th century and was a major force behind the breakout successes of the comic-book industry in the 1960s and early ‘70s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95.

His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, was confirmed by Kirk Schenck, a lawyer for Mr. Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee.

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Mr. Lee was for many the embodiment of Marvel, if not comic books in general, and oversaw his company’s emergence as an international media behemoth. A writer, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive and tireless promoter, he played a critical role in what comics fans call the medium’s silver age.

Mr. Lee was a central player in the creation of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and the many other superheroes who, as properties of Marvel Comics, now occupy vast swaths of the pop culture landscape in movies and on television.

Under Mr. Lee, Marvel revolutionized the comic book world by imbuing its characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, as well an awareness of trends and social causes and, often, a sense of humour.

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

Though Mr. Lee was often criticized for his role in denying rights and royalties to his artistic collaborators, his involvement in the conception of many of Marvel’s best-known characters is indisputable.

He was born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in Manhattan, the older of two sons born to Jack Lieber, an occasionally employed dress cutter, and Celia (Solomon) Lieber, both immigrants from Romania. The family moved to the Bronx.

Stanley began reading Shakespeare at 10 while also devouring pulp magazines, the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mark Twain, and the swashbuckler movies of Errol Flynn.

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He graduated at 17 from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and aspired to be a writer of serious literature. He was set on the path to becoming a different kind of writer when, after a few false starts at other jobs, he was hired at Timely Publications, a company owned by Martin Goodman, a relative who had made his name in pulp magazines and was entering the comics field.

Mr. Lee was initially paid US$8 a week as an office gofer. Eventually he was writing and editing stories, many in the superhero genre.

At Timely he worked with artist Jack Kirby (1917-94), who, with a writing partner, Joe Simon, had created the hit character Captain America, and who would eventually play a vital role in Mr. Lee’s career.

His daughter Joan Celia Lee was born in 1950; another daughter, Jan, died three days after birth in 1953. Mr. Lee’s wife died in 2017. Mr. Lee leaves his daughter J.C. Lee and his younger brother, Larry Lieber, who drew the Amazing Spider-Man syndicated newspaper strip for years.

The quintessential Lee hero, introduced in 1962 and created with artist Steve Ditko (1927-2018), was Spider-Man.

A timid high school intellectual who gained his powers when bitten by a radioactive spider, Spider-Man was prone to soul-searching, leavened with wisecracks – a key to the character’s lasting popularity across multiple entertainment platforms, including movies and a Broadway musical.

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During his final years, Mr. Lee tried to get broadcasters behind a Canadian-set TV series about an Indigenous cop with special powers, says a producer who teamed up with the late Marvel Comics founder to help it take shape.

Kevin Gillis, creator of the animated series The Raccoons, says as recently as a few years ago he was working with Mr. Lee on a live-action version of an unrealized comic book idea “very near and dear to his heart.

The show was called Stan Lee’s The Chosen, and its concept revolved around an Indigenous man who left his reserve behind for a job as a Toronto police officer. When the man’s father dies, he learns that he’s next in line to be a shaman and has powers inherited from his ancestors.

Global TV in Canada said it could only afford the budget if a U.S. broadcaster was on board too – and that never happened, Gillis said. The deal fell apart.

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