One of the oldest debates in comic book fandom is the issue of who exactly created how much of the Marvel Universe.
As most comics readers know, the explosion of Marvel Comics as a company and as a shared universe in the 1960s really revitalized and invigorated the medium and the industry. With characters such as Spider-Man, a shy teenager whose life's problems are only worsened by the fact that he is a superhero; the Fantastic Four, a family of superheroes who wore no costumes (at first), had no secret identities, and constantly bickered; the Mighty Thor, the Norse god of thunder who was stuck in the body of a mortal for being too arrogant; and a revived Captain America, who continually tried to reconcile his old 1940s values with the then-current world of political turmoil, Marvel Comics turned the superhero genre upside-down. Where superheroes were often one-dimensional characters, with their only real traits being that they were good people who fought crime, Marvel characters were two-dimensional characters, and this caused kids from ages two to twenty-two to take notice. (No lie. In a 1965 article in Esquire Magazine, the Hulk and Spider-Man were voted in by readers as two of their favorite revolutionary icons of the time, alongside Bob Dylan, Che Guevara, and Malcolm X.)
There were many forces at work here, including Bill Everett, the creator of Namor the Sub-Mariner, who collaborated with Stan Lee to create Daredevil, and Don Heck, who collaborated with Lee to create Iron Man. But the bulk of the work and the success are primarily attributed to three men.
The first is Stan "The Man" Lee. Stan's role was twofold: he was both the editor and the "writer." (We'll be defining this soon.) That is, he would come up with an idea, such as, for example, "Puny teenager who gets bullied gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and his life's problems are worsened by this fact."
He'd give these ideas to the artists. And in the case of Spider-Man, this artist was "Smilin'" Steve Ditko.
And in the case of pretty much the rest of the Marvel Universe, this man was the King of Comics, Jack Kirby. Okay, Kirby didn't create Iron Man, but he redesigned him into his classic look and integrated him into the Avengers, which was really the in-universe cornerstone of Marvel.
Marvel was different from DC Comics in that DC Comics revolved around Superman and Batman, fictionally and in actuality. The fictional citizens of the DC Universe idolize Superman and Batman, and the publication of the books were centered on Superman and Batman. In the Marvel Universe, though, everyone was pretty fair game. The in-universe cornerstone were the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but the publication, merchandising, and licensing centered around those characters just as much as characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk - complete outsiders and loners. Later on, the X-Men, a group of outcast mutants, would be the cornerstone of Marvel's publishing and marketing, and these guys were also created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The idea of the "realistic superhero," or at least relatively realistic in those days, was not new - Will Eisner did it with The Spirit, and Harvey Kurtzman deconstructed superheroes with a subversive realism (it's complicated; I'll get to it in a future post) in TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD. But where the Spirit was still a character who was pure of heart and Kurtzman's spoofs were made to make you laugh, the Marvel characters were, quite frankly, relatable. You could envision yourself as Spider-Man, and you could definitely relate to the X-Men, and you could definitely relate to the Fantastic Four. You had to wonder what it would be like to be Superman, but in your angry moments, you could feel like the Hulk.
The idea of a superhero that you can relate to - and many superheroes you could relate to - the idea of superheroes with flaws - came pretty much directly from Stan Lee. Lee was frustrated with his career and was thinking of leaving comics in 1961, and when publisher Martin Goodman told him to come up with a superteam to counter DC's Justice League of America (a team consisting of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, among others), Stan wondered how to do it (especially considering that Marvel at the time wasn't publishing superheroes to make a big guns team out of). His wife then said he should just write superheroes the way he wanted to, and the Fantastic Four was born.
Now, of course, Stan Lee is the most famous out of these three names. In fact, I was talking to an officemate just last month about Thor, and when I told him that Thor was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he just said, "Oh, so it's still Stan Lee?" in a tone that betrayed the fact that he'd never heard of Kirby.
There are many reasons for this. The oft-cited reason by casual fans is that Stan Lee's the name on all the credits. He wrote the stories, he came up with the ideas, and he created the characters. The artists just drew what he said to draw.
It's sound reasoning.
Except it's not true.
How exactly did Stan Lee collaborate with his artists? Who deserves more credit for Spider-Man: Stan Lee or Steve Ditko? What about Jack Kirby? Who was more important, Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko? And where does the Merry Marvel Marching Society fit into all of this? Click here for Part 2 of Creating the Marvel Universe: Who Deserves the Credit? same Cube time, same Cube channel!