(RNN) – Stan Lee, who was the genius creator or co-creator of Spider-Man, The Hulk, Black Panther and many more Marvel superheros, has died at age 95.
Lee has dealt with some illness over the past year, including pneumonia and some vision issues. He was declared dead at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, told the Associated Press.
Born Stanley Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, in New York City, Lee served as the head of Marvel Comics, and helped create most of the company’s famous characters, including the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Deadpool and the third highest grossing movie of all time - “Black Panther.”
He started working while still in high school, taking jobs as an office assistant, an usher, and as a writer of celebrity obituaries.
Lee hoped to make a career as a full-time writer, and decided to save his real name for more serious work. He adopted a pseudonym after he took a job as an editorial assistant for Timely Comics, which later became Marvel.
He became an editor for the company in the early '40s before becoming art director and later publisher by the 1970s. He began to conceive characters shortly thereafter. One of his first creations was the character "The Destroyer."
After his work became famous and he advanced through the ranks, he legally changed his name to his pseudonym to capitalize on his fame.
But first, he took a hiatus from the comics industry to join the U.S. Army during World War II. He served from 1942 to 1945, writing manuals and scripts for training films, and achieving the rank of sergeant.
After the war, in the 1950s, Marvel found itself losing to rival DC Comics and its popular characters Superman, Batman and the Flash, members of the Justice League of America.
Lee was assigned to create a similar team of characters to rival them. In direct contrast to DC's morally superior characters, Lee – along with a team of collaborators – introduced figures with more human characteristics and sometimes glaring character flaws. The result was the Fantastic Four, who were instantly popular with readers in the early '60s.
That success was followed by the creation of Marvel's more famous characters, who were grouped together to form the X-Men and The Avengers, using the latter to re-launch the popularity of Captain America, who had been scrapped as a regular character a decade before due to several failed attempts to develop a fan base. Lee and his creative team accomplished this in part by giving him a more relatable and conflicted persona.
Prior to creating the Fantastic Four, Lee was disillusioned by typical comic book storylines, and considered changing careers. He revealed to Playboy in its April 2014 issue that he wasn't proud of his work for most of his life, calling his career an embarrassment due to the relatively low prestige of comic books.
Tributes to Lee, poured in upon news of his death.
Ryan Reynolds, who played the Marvel character Deadpool, tweeted, " Damn... RIP Stan. Thanks for everything."
Comic book writer Fred Van Lente said, “RIP Stan Lee. The impact he has had on my life is immeasurable and undeniable.”
And, from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “@TheRealStanLee was a true New Yorker whose limitless imagination helped create some of the most beloved characters in popular culture and made NYC just as big of a character. Excelsior! Mr. Lee and condolences to his many fans on behalf of the New York Family.”
Kevin Feige, a producer form the movie “Black Panther,” paid his respects on Twitter.
He was encouraged by Joan, who died in July 2017, to write the types of stories he wanted to see rather than leaving the field, and the result revolutionized the medium.
Lee introduced a more conversational tone to the comics and encouraged readers to be more directly involved and view the characters more like friends, which was the motivation behind creating characters who were more like real humans who struggled with everyday problems, and tackled social issues like racism and drug addiction. In this vein, Lee co-created Black Panther, the first mainstream African-American superhero.
He also developed what became known as the "Marvel Method" of storytelling, which had artists illustrate the storyline without dialogue so the writers could expand on the story and accentuate the plot after the fact.
However, that process led to disputes over creative ownership between Lee and some of Marvel's artists, particularly with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Both Ditko and Lee claimed at various times to have been the sole creator of Spider-Man.
Lee had wanted a more relatable teenage character. He gave the assignment to illustrate the character to Kirby, but was unsatisfied with the artist's rendition. The assignment then went to Ditko. Though each person received credit in the comic books, the dispute over authorship of the creative process led to considerable controversy that still isn't resolved.
Even though Lee was involved in creating the characters, he never owned the rights to them, and didn't personally receive any money from Marvel's $4 billion acquisition by Disney in 2009.
Still, Lee appeared in several of Marvel's movies in cameo roles as well as in other films and TV shows, including an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" centered around the characters seeking his autograph at the comic book store they frequently visit.
A running joke throughout the episode is Lee's fondness for using alliteration in his characters' names (among the characters singled out in the episode are Peter Parker, Silver Surfer, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Matt Murdock, Pepper Potts and J. Jonah Jameson Jr).
When Lee reached his mid-90s, he unfortunately found himself mired in ugly legal battles.
At the age of 95, Lee squabbled with his daughter Joan over her inheritance, according to the Hollywood Reporter in an April 2018 article.
In June 2018, Lee filed a temporary restraining order against Keya Morgan, a man who claimed to be Lee's caretaker. A petition for the order said Morgan was "unduly influencing Mr. Lee and isolating him" after the death of Lee's wife.
Several years before, in an interview with Playboy in 2014, Lee was asked about his mortality and said: "I know [my obituary] is already written. It's sitting there in the New York Times computers somewhere. It's all ready to go. You can't stop it. I've had a happy life ... You know, my motto is 'Excelsior.' 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."