In the year since his passing, Stan Lee’s legend has only grown. The man was already beloved and respected for helping create Marvel Comics. Lee helped build Marvel into a powerhouse while setting a new standard for comic writing and presentation. No one can deny his contributions to pop culture. Yet often myth can overtake the man and Lee is no exception. Much of his legacy was ignored in life, but has become clearer today.
There are issues involving his ego and how he needed to present himself as the face of Marvel. There were his long conflicts over just how much credit he deserved for so much of Marvel’s success. There are also problems involving his attitudes on certain issues, not to mention his scores of legal troubles. The bad can’t be ignored even for someone as good a person as Lee. Here are 20 rather shady things about “The Man” that fans may not want to hear, but have to note to understand him better.
20 Abusive To Employees
While Lee presented the image of a nice and jovial guy, behind the scenes was a different story. Many a Marvel writer and artist has talked of hearing Lee break into tirades around the office and berate creators for what he saw as a bad turn. In 2015, an ex-assistant sued, accusing Lee and his daughter of treating him with emotional abuse during his time working for them. It’s a much different view of the smiling Stan fans know.
In the annals of “how did this show ever exist” history, Striperella is one of the most glaring examples. Lee helped create this animated series with Pamela Anderson voicing a pole dancer turned super-heroine. The series pushed the character’s body majorly and only lasted 13 episodes. In an interview with Vulture, Anderson (a woman who has graced Playboy no less than 14 times), stated she refused to have the character bare all while Lee wanted it. This makes Stan look less "visionary" than "creepy old man."
18 Screwing Over Jack Kirby
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby helped create the Marvel universe with a terrific partnership on Fantastic Four. However, they had a massive falling out as Kirby tired of Lee taking so much credit when he would state he did far more writing than Lee ever did. In the 1970s, a new contract would force Kirby to hand over most of his original pages, a key source of artist income, and spark a long legal fight over creator rights. Kirby and Lee would have a feud that lasted all the way until Kirby’s passing in 1994. “The King” was never happy with how Lee treated him.
17 The Lawsuits
Lee needed a lot of help from lawyers throughout his life. Steve Gerber filed a huge lawsuit against Marvel for ownership of Howard the Duck, and he wasn’t the only creator to try the same move. Lee also got embroiled in messes involving Stan Lee Media and Pow Comics, with the former creating a decade long billion-dollar suit. There were also allegations of abuse by former assistants to worry about. His own estate is a nightmare of litigation that would take hours to explain. Lee’s legal problems would challenge even Matt Murdock.
16 Friendship With Bob Kane
When he was alive, Bob Kane was hailed as a comic icon who created Batman. After his passing, it’s come out how Kane stole much of the credit from co-creator Bill Finger. Lee would count Kane as a good friend and, in a “Comic Book Greats” video, perpetuate the myth that Kane came up with Batman and so many of his characters all by himself. Given Lee’s own accusations of stealing credit from others, his friendship with Kane seems more logical, but no less skeevy.
15 He Was Ready To Let Marvel Collapse
In 1995, Marvel had suffered several years of bad management and the collapse of the speculator market hit them hard. The company was forced to file for bankruptcy and came close to being shut down. Instead of stepping up to fight for the company he founded, Lee instead agreed to a buyout that would pay him a million dollars a year and make him “Chairman Emeritus.” Lee seemed to be perfectly fine just sitting back and letting Marvel fall despite everything he’d done for the company and vice versa. That doesn’t sell the “Lee loved Marvel” line well.
14 He Was A Lousy Businessman
When Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion, most assumed that Lee would make a mint off it. How could the founder of Marvel Comics not benefit from this deal? As it turns out, Lee had agreed to a buyout from Marvel some time earlier which gave him a figurehead name on the logo, but had no equity or power. Lee would admit in his autobiography that his biggest regret was not paying more attention to the business end of things. Astounding as it sounds, Lee made almost no money off his characters used in the MCU.
Lee was a product of his time and, sadly, the 1960s were not known for its fair treatment of women. That seemed to rub off on some characters as the Invisible Girl was often a damsel in distress, the Wasp was obsessed with fashion, and Pepper Potts was a secretary smitten with Tony Stark. It may have fit the time, but it doesn't look good today. There were also accusations of Lee's bad behavior with some women– which he would always deny. It may be unfair to say Lee was sexist, but he didn’t always write his best when writing women.
12 Surrounded By Hustlers
Near the end of his life, health problems beset Lee as he confessed that his eyesight was so bad that he never saw his own MCU cameos. Losing his wife, Joan, in 2017 also hit him hard. It would be revealed that Lee was often taken advantage of by people, as a Vulture piece exposed how managers like Keya Morgan were stealing from Lee and misusing his name. In an interview with the Daily Beast just a month before his passing, Lee admitted he’d “trusted the wrong people” yet still faced his coming end with dignity.
11 Pitching To Playboy
Stan’s cameo in the first Iron Man movie is fun. Tony Stark passes by him while Lee's in a robe and says “good to see you, Hugh,” thinking Stan is Hugh Hefner. It’s an interesting touch given that back in 1975, Lee actually pitched a comic to Playboy magazine. It would have reunited him with artist John Romita and taken place in a wild fantasy setting with names that can’t be reprinted. It never came to be, but the idea of Lee working on that infamous magazine is wild.
10 He (Unwittingly) Was The Face Of A Scam
This wasn’t Lee’s fault, but it still has to be considered. In 1998, Lee joined with Peter F. Paul to create Stan Lee Media, one of the many “dot com era” start-ups. It looked to be doing well with The 7th Portal an early webisode hit. But then word came that Paul was using the entire thing to bilk investors out of millions. The company went bankrupt in 2000 and the legal aftermath lasted for years while Lee had to apologize for his part in things.
9 Messing With Readers
While Stan claimed to love the fans, he could mess with them as well. Tony Stark was meant to be a character fans would hate due to his millionaire arms dealer only for Lee to “trick them into liking him.” He could also play around in other ways. In 2000, Lee worked with Wizard Magazine to reveal a long-lost hero he helped create called the Sentry. It was after the character had his own series that Lee revealed the whole thing was a massive hoax. Stan would get kicks tricking his readers.
8 His Lousy Memory
Marvel fans note how many characters have alliterative monikers: Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange, Matt Murdock, etc. Lee laughed the reason was that “I have a bad memory so this was the only way to remember the names!” As it happens, Lee’s memory was a constant issue as he would claim not to recall anything, from a past meeting to who created a plot point. That became a problem with some writers and artists, contending Lee used it as an excuse to not give proper credit when it was due.
7 His Viewpoints
Lee was seen as a man ahead of his time on social issues, thanks to creating characters like the Black Panther. Yet his viewpoints could be a bit troublesome, as he stated in a 2015 interview with Newsarama that he wasn’t quite a fan of the Miles Morales' Spider-Man. “We originally made Peter Parker white. I don’t see any reason to change that.” Rumors abound Lee wasn’t happy with how the movies changed some characters like the Ancient One. The Man could be rather strict in his views in his later years.
6 Pow Comics Bankruptcy
In 2001, Lee started up POW (Purveyors of Wonder) Entertainment, a new multi-media company meant to create some great comics. From day one, the company was in some trouble with financial issues and crazy ideas, like a comic starring Ringo Starr. The company was soon mired in troubles with bankruptcy and Lee hit them with a billion-dollar lawsuit just before his passing. While it’s technically still around, POW stands as a serious misfire for Lee’s legacy.
5 That Time He Worked for DC
We have always known Lee as “Mr. Marvel,” but it’s often ignored that he did go over to the enemy. In 2000, “Just Imagine Stan Lee Creates the DC Universe” was published as a series of specials. Each one had Lee putting his spin on a different DC hero. Superman was an alien cop stranded on Earth, Batman an ex-con turned pro wrestler, and Wonder Woman was an Inca goddess. The books aren’t regarded as Lee’s best work and even he seemed to brush off his brief stay with DC.
4 The Marvel Method
Lee crafted what we now call “The Marvel Method.” This has the writer craft a basic plot, so the artist can do the work, and then the writer can wrap it up with dialogue. It was a big time saver and helped create great stories. Yet it’s also allowed the writers (not just Lee) to take scores of credit for stuff the artists came up with. Many a prominent writer/artist team (like Chris Claremont and John Byrne on X-Men) has fallen apart over who truly drove the story. To several artists, the “method” just lets writers like Lee get the lion’s share of fan adulation.
3 Taking All the Credit
Open any Marvel comic and you’ll see the line “Stan Lee Presents.” Lee has been slammed quite a lot by various creators for hogging all the credit on various characters. Steve Ditko helped create Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but was angered with how Lee acted like he was solely responsible for both. Granted, Lee gave Spidey his voice, but Ditko crafted the look that became an icon. Then, there is his famous beef with Jack Kirby as even Stan’s biggest supporters acknowledge that it’s not like he created the entire line on his own.
2 A Weak Editor-in-Chief
Lee was Marvel’s first modern editor-in-chief and presented himself as a good guy handling control over the books. However, many who worked for him contend that Lee was less interested in the books and more on just showing up to the office, making nice, and then doing interviews playing himself up. He also seemed to do little to help the staff out with basics like medical care, good pay, or allowing creators a cut of the company's merchandise. Several books on Marvel history illustrate that while Lee was a good writer, his skills as EIC were very lacking.
1 The Endless Self-Promotion
By his own admission, Lee was never a humble guy. But it’s still notable how he took self-promotion to new levels. As early as the late 1960s, Lee was making himself a bigger deal than Marvel with talk show appearances, acting like he was the only person behind the company's success. This continued with his many appearances at conventions, in animated shows, the movie cameos, and more. Mark Evanier stated that while the real Lee was a humble man, his “obsession” with being famous was troubling.
Sources: Theverge.com, esquire.com, comicsalliance.com, ranker.com