Stan Lee IS Silver Age Marvel. Not only was he the editor, but he wrote almost every book, and was the creator for the vast majority of their superhero properties. And today, he turns 90. So, in celebration of the great man, let’s take a look at some of the great moments in his early career.

Back in 1961 Stan Lee was editor and Head Writer at Marvel. They mostly produced anthology titles in the sci-fi and adventure genres. After their competitor DC had found success in a revival of superhero properties in the late 1950’s, Lee created several new superhero properties at Marvel. The aim was not simply to get a bite of the superhero cherry (although that was no doubt a big reason to do it), but to also make these fantastical characters more relatable for the readers. Instead of being unattainable paragons of virtue and strength, these new characters would be flawed, and more sympathetic.  In Stan’s own words:

[quote]“For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading…. And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles, they’d be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they’d still have feet of clay.”[/quote]

 

They would deal with real world problems such as family, money worries, and the day to day realities of life as well as the more fantastical aspects of superheroing. The first in this wave of new properties saw Stan Lee and Jack Kirby embark on a run of 102 issues that still stands today as one of the most highly regarded and important eras in comic history. This series was an unprecedented success, and it became the book that gave birth to a Universe: The Fantastic Four’ #1

Fantastic Four #1 Cover

 

What’s It All About?
There’s a mysterious new team of heroes in New York: The elastic genius Mr Fantastic, the elusive Invisible Girl, the scorching Human Torch, and the monstrous Thing. When atomic plants all over the world come under attack from a monstrous subterranean creature, the team are dragged into their first battle, a desperate struggle against the underground army of The Moleman!

Creatives
Script –  Stan Lee
Art      - Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four #1 Sample Panel 1

“How do they get the letters in to the cloud?!”

What’s Good
This is the beginning of a new era. Great barmy sci-fi concepts. Jack Kirby is always great

What’s Bad
The characters don’t have well defined individual ‘voices’. It’s also a bit sexist by today’s standards.

Why You Should Pick This Up
Because it’s the start of something very special. The Marvel Universe that we all love can be traced back to this moment. This is the point of origin. The subsequent run of Lee and Kirby basically had them build the Marvel universe out of nothing with this book as the cornerstone. This issue is one of the most important moments in comic book history, the precursor of everything we as Marvel fans know and love.

Fantastic Four #1 Sample Panel 2

Collectively, the Fantastic Four have the power to generate straight lines above their heads.

Next up, a book to bring us firmly full circle. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ saw it’s final issue this week, bringing and end to an era in the life of what is perhaps Stan Lee’s most well-loved creation. Spider-Man has been a constant in the Marvel Universe since his exception, considered to be the unofficial flagship character of the company. Back in the early days of Marvel, the majority of published books were anthology titles. Issues that contained three or four short stories from genres such as sci-fi, horror, western or even romance. After the success of ‘Fantastic Four’, Stan Lee began to incorporate superhero stories into the sci-fi/adventure anthology books, ‘Tales of Suspense’, Tales to Astonish’, Journey Into Mystery’, ‘Strange Tales’, and ‘Amazing Adult Fantasy’. Eventually, these anthology books would be completely taken over by their superhero features, incurring title changes, or the characters would spin out of these books into their own titles. ‘Amazing Adult Fantasy’ had already seen a title change from ‘Amazing Adventures’ with #7, and #15 saw the title change once again to ‘Amazing Fantasy’, along with the introduction of a superhero feature: Spider-Man.
Publisher Martin Goodman was wary about allowing Stan Lee to introduce a teen superhero who wasn’t a side-kick, and would be suffering from high-school problems as well as the challenges of superheroics. However, ‘Amazing Fantasy ‘ #15 proved a massive sales hit, and so the decision was made to cancel the book and give Spider-Man his own series. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Amazing Fantasy #15 Cover Art

What’s It All About?
Teenager Peter Parker has a hard time at Midtown High, but when he is bitten by a radioactive spider whilst attending a science exhibit, he finds himself imbued with the powers of a Spider: he is faster and stronger, can climb on any surface, and sense danger before it happens. How will he use his newfound power? For the good of all, or simply the good of himself?

Creatives
Script – Stan Lee
Art    - Steve Ditko

Amazing Fantasy #15 Sample Panel 1

When Stan forgets the hyphen in ‘Spider-Man’, I like to think I’m reading ‘Harvey Spiderman: Attorney at Law’

What’s Good?
Peter Parker is fantastic creation. A great origin tale of a truly flawed super hero. Steve Ditko’s wiry figures are a pleasing contrast to the bulkier style of the time.

What’s Bad?
There’s one panel in which Spider-Man’s eyes on his mask have pupils and it’s creepy as hell.

Why You Should Pick This Up
Spider-Man’s origin story is a classic. All three of the issues that we’re looking at here are pieces of comic book history, but Spider-Man was a true game changer. A Sympathetic, relatable, and above all flawed character. It’s brilliant, A true Silver Age classic.

Amazing Fantasy #15 Sample Panel 2

SPOILERS: Uncle Ben Dies

Finally, we come to a book that has lead to the creation of a multi billion dollar film franchise with this past summer’s release of ‘The Avengers’. Superhero team books were a proven seller. DC had seen success with ‘Justice League of America’ and Marvel had also kicked off their new push into the superhero genre with ‘Fantastic Four’. However, one team was not enough for Stan Lee, and the decision was made to combine thier popular heroes into one team, and thus were ‘The Avengers’ created. They haven’t always enjoyed the popularity they do now, experiencing a dip particularly in the early 90’s, but in the 60’s they were, as they are now, the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe.

Avengers #1 Cover Art

What’s It All About?
Loki, imprisoned after his defeat at the hands of his brother, Thor, seeks revenge by manipilating the Incredible Hulk into a battle with the God of Thunder. However,
the Hulk’s rampage also draws the attention of Iron Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp, and they join forces  to try and stop this menace, for the first time bringing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together: The Avengers!

Creatives
Script – Stan Lee
Art – Jack Kirby

Avengers #1 Sample Panel 2

The very first Comic-Con cosplay parade.

What’s Good?
Lee and Kirby’s trademark wackiness. The Hulk in clown make-up. Jack Kirby’s weird and wonderful art. Stan Lee’s wonderful hyperboly.

What’s Bad?
The way The Avengers defeat Loki comes out of nowhere. It’s not quite the Hulk we’re used to in terms of characterisation.

Why You Should Pick This Up
Because it’s the Avengers! It’s great fun, a bit mad (in true Lee/Kirby style), colourful, odd, lively… It’s a condensed version of everything that’s great about silver-age marvel, and a fitting testament to the work that Stan Lee did to build, from the ground up, a universe full of characters that so many of us, even people who have never even read a comic book, still love today.

Avengers #1 Sample Panel #1

Reasons I love Silver Age Marvel #4852: The Hulk, dressed as a clown, juggling circus animals. Thank you Stan and Jack, Thank You.