The Most Memorable Stan Lee Super Hero Debuts
Looking back at the first appearances of Stan's mightiest Marvel mega stars.
It's safe to say that, without Stan Lee, the Marvel Universe would not exist as we know it today. Along with a plucky crew of artists, editors, inkers, colorists, letterers, and other key individuals, he took a company that had focused its output on horror anthologies, romance books, and westerns, and brought the Super Hero back to prominence with a crop of characters who continue to thrill audiences to this day.
To celebrate the life of Stan Lee, it seems fitting to look back at some of his greatest stories, starting with a few fantastic first appearances featuring some of the world's most famous fighters.
The Fantastic Four - FANTASTIC FOUR #1
In 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby changed the game when they introduced the world to Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, soon to become the famous Fantastic Four! By giving Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, and the Human Torch unique outlooks and abilities as well as a strong family dynamic throughout, Stan and Jack set up the whole basis of the Marvel Universe; regular people dealing with regular problems, who also happen to be Super Heroes.
The Hulk - INCREDIBLE HULK #1
Just a few months after debuting the First Family of Marvel, Lee and Kirby teamed up once again to create a cornerstone of the nascent Marvel Universe in the form of Bruce Banner and his smashing alter ego the Hulk! Representing the dual nature inside all of us, Banner builds while Hulk destroys—and yet neither seems able to live without the other. Hulk has a similar position in the Marvel Universe as a whole, given his status as an outcast, but also one who seems to help out whenever called upon.
Thor - JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83
Lee, Larry Lieber, and Kirby then introduced Thor, not only bringing another heavy hitter into the the hallowed halls of the House of Ideas, but also expanding the scope of the whole universe. By showing off unique alien species and bringing in a unique take on Norse mythology, the fantastical side of the Marvel Multiverse began to take shape.
Spider-Man - AMAZING FANTASY #15
In the '60s, the majority of comics were purchased by kids, but most of the youths in the books themselves played sidekick to a grown-up...until Stan Lee and Steve Ditko presented Spider-Man for the very first time. This hard-luck hero may have been able to web-sling from Queens to Manhattan, but no one respected him—in or out of his mask. More importantly, though, Peter Parker eventually learned a lesson that still rings true: with great power comes great responsibility.
Iron Man - TALES OF SUSPENSE #39
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck's first major new hero of 1963 may also be one of the most important characters in the Marvel Universe. Just try and imagine a major Marvel moment from the past five decades that hasn't involved Iron Man! The charismatic and arrogant Tony Stark debuted that year and has spent all that time not only improving on his armor, but also trying to make the world safer, laying out a path of redemption for himself and many others to follow.
Nick Fury - SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #1
Everyone's favorite one-eyed espionage expert made his debut in the World War II-set SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS in 1963 thanks to Lee and Kirby. Backed by a group of soldiers who represented America's fighting forces, Fury kept the world safe for democracy before turning super spy as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. just two years later in 1965's STRANGE TALES #135, also by Stan and Jack. Between his WWII service and his days as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s leader, Fury continues to represent the complicated nature of doing the right thing and the costs that come with those decisions.
The Wasp - TALES TO ASTONISH #44
The Wasp's partner Hank Pym may have debuted in TALES TO ASTONISH #27 and taken over as the lead with issue #35, but the series really took flight with the debut of Janet Van Dyne in issue #44 by Lee and Kirby. This dynamic and daring woman worked with Pym to avenge her father, work out her own Super Hero identity, and go on to become a stalwart member of the world's premiere fighting force.
Doctor Strange - STRANGE TALES #110
Another Lee and Ditko conjuring, Doctor Stephen Strange debuted as the back-up story in STRANGE TALES #110. Initially presented as as Master of the Black Arts, the surgeon-turned-sorcerer saw clients needing help from dark forces in his Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City's Greenwich Village. To this day, the now-Sorcerer Supreme still acts as the last line of defense between normal folks and all of the demons and dangers that go unseen to mortal eyes.
AVENGERS gave Stan and Jack a place to play with their growing stable of characters in one place, as Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all joined forces to fight Loki. Eventually, though, the title allowed the creators to re-introduce Captain America to the present and also presented a platform for some of the biggest, wildest, and most awe-inspiring stories of the modern era.
Daredevil - DAREDEVIL #1
In 1964, Stan teamed up with artist Bill Everett to create Matt Murdock, AKA Daredevil. The billing on the cover of DAREDEVIL #1 said "Remember when we introduced Spider-Man," then followed with "Now we continue the mighty Marvel tradition with...Daredevil!!" It was an ambitious sell, touting the character as a follow-up in the vein of the hugely popular web-slinger, but—as ever—Stan was right. To this day, Matt Murdock serves as a model of resilience and heroism, despite the day-to-day difficulties me might face.
The X-Men - UNCANNY X-MEN #1
With the creation of their version of mutants in UNCANNY X-MEN #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wove an important message of tolerance and hope into the very fabric of the Marvel Universe. The X-Men—Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Beast—didn't just show readers how being different can be a super power; that the ridiculed, harassed, and subjugated can still be heroes who sacrifice themselves even for people who hate and fear them.
As with many of Stan's stories, that's a message that will live on forever.