The Comic Book History of the (Fictional) Stan Lee

Stan Lee - Lee Weeks-Marvel Entertainment-Publicity-H 2016
Lee Weeks/Marvel Entertainment
Even before the new movie deal for his life rights, Marvel's onetime head honcho had quite the fictional alter ego.

If the news that Fox is planning a fictional action-adventure movie based on the life of former Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee seems ridiculous, it's worth pointing out that Stan has been a fictional character for decades — and not just in his part-time career doing cameos in any number of Marvel superhero movies.

Indeed, one of Lee's genuine strokes of genius was to make himself (and other Marvel creators, to a lesser extent) as recognizable to Marvel readers as the fictional heroes whose stories he helped create; not only did "Stan the Man" write the letters columns and editorials in each and every issue the company put out for more than a decade after the creation of the Fantastic Four — although there's reason to believe that much of that work was actually ghostwritten by others — he also appeared in the comics themselves, going on to become such a fan-favorite that he'd continue to show up, written by others, long after his hands-on association with Marvel's comic output had finished.

Here, then, are some of Stan Lee's greatest comic appearances — including at least one he'd rather not remember …

Fantastic Four No. 10 (1963)

Lee's first appearance in the Marvel Universe came in an early issue of Fantastic Four, in which a story conference with artist Jack Kirby was interrupted by Doctor Doom himself, who demanded that Stan call the Fantastic Four and lure them into a trap. Of course, he did as he was told; after all, what kind of a fool defies Doom?!

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 1 (1964)

The self-depreciating "Stan the Man" schtick began to take shape in a backup story in the first Amazing Spider-Man annual, purporting to tell the real-life details about how an issue of the comic was created. In a moment perhaps more true than fans at the time believed, Stan was portrayed by himself — although the plot for the three-page story likely came from artist Steve Ditko — as a mercurial character oblivious to the amount of work his artists had to do to make the comics happen.

Fantastic Four Annual No. 3 (1965)

Lee developed his lovable loser persona in the third Fantastic Four annual, which featured a who's who of the Marvel Universe invited to the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Everyone who was anyone was there — with the exception of Stan and Jack Kirby, who showed up at the very end of the story, turned away by security for not being important enough to be allowed in.

Fantastic Four Annual No. 5 (1967)

Although reportedly frayed by the time this story saw print, the bond between Lee and Kirby was strong enough for a five-page short showing an over-the-top plotting session for a future Fantastic Four comic that had the two bouncing ideas between each other while avoiding over-eager fans and angry villains, upset at their treatment in earlier stories.

Daredevil No. 79 (1971)

Something that's notable about Lee's appearance in this story — a two-panel cameo unrelated to the main plot — is that it's not written by Lee himself; instead, the issue was co-written by Gerry Conway and Gary Friedrich. Perhaps that's why it seems so unusually respectful toward Lee. Although Stan is getting nagged by his wife, Daredevil happily calls him "Fearless leader." (Although, Joan, did you have to make an "I see it" joke in a comic about a blind superhero?)

Mister Miracle No. 6 (1972)

Technically, Stan Lee doesn't show up in this DC-published issue. But "Funky Flashman" — a shameless, morally bankrupt huckster created by writer and artist Jack Kirby after he had left Marvel the year before — was famously based on Lee, with his hapless servant "Houseroy" similarly based on Lee's second-in-command at Marvel, Roy Thomas. Kirby, whose work traditionally reveled in a more optimistic, upbeat mood, was uncommonly bitter and caustic in his treatment of Funky.

What If? No. 11 (1978)

Years later, and Kirby was back at Marvel. One of the results of his return was this uneven celebration of the way things were, in which Kirby reimagined the Fantastic Four as being made up of Marvel's own staff. While the book is, for the most part, cuddly and on-brand, it's worth noting that Lee still comes across as perhaps a little more irritable than he might have appreciated.

Marvel's Flashback Month (1995)

By the 1990s, Lee was little more than a figurehead at Marvel — he lived on the West Coast and was as known for his voiceover work introducing the company's animated series on TV than his comic book work for an entire generation of readers. The sense that he was Marvel's mascot as much as a real person was underscored when he appeared as the host of a month of special issues that took place before the launch of each comic book series, with each appearance written and drawn independent of Lee's direction.

Stan Lee Meets… (2006)

To celebrate 65 years of Lee's connection to Marvel, the company released five special issues in 2006 that saw him revisit some of his favorite co-creations — the Thing, the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange — while contemporary writers and artists paid tribute to his work in additional stories in each issue. The results were impressive, at least on Lee's contributions: funny, irreverent and wonderfully dismissive of his own legend and that of his characters, readers got to enjoy seeing Stan remind Spider-Man that he couldn't quit because of his responsibility to the companies producing Spider-Man merchandise, irritate Doctor Doom with his disinterest in international politics, and complain about how overly verbose the Silver Surfer really is. It was an unexpected, wonderful puncturing of multiple myths.

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir (2015)

Of course, Lee couldn't help but fall victim to his own ego when it came to last year's comic book autobiography — co-written with Peter David, with art from Colleen Doran — which offers a version of events sure not to disappoint those who've bought into the Stan Lee myth that he and others had spent decades building, or who just knew him through his Marvel Studios appearances. Less amusing than the Stan Lee Meets…  books, it's nonetheless more instructive about the real man — and, potentially, the basis for the new movie deal.