The true life of Stan Lee, the most celebrated Marvel figurehead of all time

Even those that haven’t read a comic book in their entire life and have only watched a few superhero movies are familiar with a name that has been forever chronicled in Marvel history – Stan Lee.

by Vineet Gaikwad

Known as the creator of most of the superheroes we know today, such as Hulk, Spiderman, the X-Men, etc., Stan Lee’s legacy is revered by a large number of fans. However, this legacy has its own shade of black that most people don’t associate with the pure white saintly image Stan Lee conjures up. 

Stan Lee might be one of Marvel’s most important figureheads and creators, but his entire life has been riddled with stories that prove he might not be the ever-smiling wholesome comic-loving grandfather figure he showed out to be. 

In this article, we will be going over the “true” life of Stan Lee – a story about a morally gray man, just like us, who found his way to the top of the comic industry. 

Stan Lee’s ambitious and nepotistic beginnings

Stan Lee’s original name was Stanley Martin Lieber, the offspring of two Romanian immigrants who met and married in New York City. Since childhood, Stan Lee always had an innate desire to be creatively free. He dreamt of becoming a writer and creating his own “Great American Novel” one day. Apparently, his high school book quote was, “Reach the top – and STAY There.” 

Ambition ran in Stan Lee’s veins. While he struggled as a teenager managing multiple jobs to earn some extra money, his entry into the world of comic writing was actually quite nepotistic.

Stan Lee’s uncle helped him land a job as an assistant in 1939 at the new Timely Comics division, which belonged to a comic-book publisher named Martin Goodman. After running menial errands for other writers for a while, Joe Simons, the then editor of Timely Comics, gave Stan Lee his first real writing gig, which was drafting a two-page–text story for an issue of Captain America.

It was in this issue that he wrote his name as Stan Lee instead of his actual name because he was ashamed of it and didn’t want to continue using his original name when he would eventually publish his great novel. 

Stan Lee quickly rose through the ranks of Timely Comics, and by 19, he was already the editor of a company that would go on to become Marvel Comics. 

An unconventional way of comic creation and stolen credit 

For most of his 20s and 30s, Stan Lee led a very conventional American Life by marrying his wife in 1947, getting a house on Long Island, and having a daughter three years later. 

He was still writing comics for kids, and his internal desire for freedom led him to try his hands at launching a textbook company, freelance in broadcasting and work on newspaper comic strips. 

Nothing truly stuck.

Instead, his desire for change came in the form of comics, where he entirely transformed how people perceived superheroes. Instead of morally upright super-perfect idols that existed before Lee’s era, Marvel published Fantastic Four #1 – a story of four superheroes who got their powers without them asking for it and their relatable struggles with life. 

The new superheroes had qualities that made them more humanlike and more relatable to the average public. 

Stan Lee pioneered the Marvel Method – a comic creation method where the writer and artist brainstormed together to create characters and a plot. The artist then draws the story and passes it off to the writer so that he can add dialogue and narration. 

As you can guess, this method really blurs the line between who should get the main credit for creating a comic. In Stan Lee’s case, his partnerships with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko resulted in him getting all the credit while his partners were left out of the spotlight. 

Stan Lee tried his best to give them their due credit, creating an entirely new system for crediting everyone who worked on the comics on the front pages of the issue. Nonetheless, According to Jpost, while Stan Lee went on to become Marvel’s center of attention, others, including his own brother, struggled to pay rent.     

Greed, failed prospects and downfall 

Lee’s own creativity led him to try his luck in Hollywood, but he faced several difficulties breaking into it. Most of his ideas at the time, which were actually great, didn’t come through. This includes a pitch to adapt a Japanese TV show about a team of acrobatic heroes – which later happened anyway and got huge success under the name ‘Power Rangers.’  

Even the ideas that were released, like the Hulk TV show and Japanese Spider-man, didn’t get much success. In the 90s, Marvel Productions also terminated the contract with Stan Lee as their creative director. However, he instantly managed to negotiate with them to hire him as their figurehead – the rest is history. 

Around the same time, Stan Lee also launched an internet start-up on the side called Stan Lee Media with a man named Peter Paul. It was a disastrous failure causing Lee to lose millions of dollars. On top of that, Peter Paul also committed investment fraud which brought the company under legal scrutiny.  

He then tried to release another company called POW Entertainment which was again caught up in a web of illegal activities that Stan Lee may or may not have himself partaken in.  

To toil for love till death

In the aftermath of his failed financial and creative investments, Stan Lee found himself in a dark hole of debt. This was the same time he was doing cameos in Marvel movies, evoking screams of excitement each time he was shown on the big screen in theaters. 

Even when his life was well into his 90s, Stan Lee still did menial jobs to get extra cash so that he and his family could survive financially. One of the main motivations behind Stan Lee’s struggle to earn more was not his own greed but the need to satiate his wife Joan’s and his daughter JC’s careless expenditures. 

According to the recordings that his ex-manager exposed to the public, Stan Lee can be heard saying that his daughter has Bipolar and she made him want to kill himself. Brad Herman, Lee’s former assistant, also witnessed JC losing it on her 64th birthday (yes, her 64th birthday) when she discovered that the Jaguar her parents gifted her was not purchased but leased. Allegedly, she then hit both her parents, slamming Stan Lee’s head on a chair. 

Stan Lee’s story comes to a finale with a disappointing monotony where he toiled for the family he loved till his final breath.  


In the end, almost no human is purely evil or purely good. No matter how great Stan Lee is to the average public eye, there is little doubt that he had his own dark side, but that takes away nothing from what the man managed to accomplish in his lifetime.

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