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Stan Lee’s Characters That Changed Our Lives

He created hundreds of characters in 95 years on this planet. Here are some of our all-time personal favorites.

Comics legend Stan Lee, who has died at 95, leaves behind a legacy that spans decades and galaxies. His creations started life in comic books but became video games, TV shows, movies, cinematic universes, and toys.

Lee created hundreds of characters in his time on this planet, some of the most iconic in popular culture. Lots of comic book fans wander the halls of CNET. Here are a few of our Stan Lee personal favorites.

Iron Man

Iron Man is the character that got me to like comics. And by extension, the Marvel movies. He’s the reason I read Civil War. Look, I know he’s not a great guy on paper. A billionaire womanizer with daddy issues? Yikes. But what draws me to him is that he took a bad situation (being kidnapped and full of shrapnel) and problem-solved a way out. And beneath his bravado, there’s a good guy who wants to make a difference.

— Sarah Mitroff

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photo credit: Marvel

Spider-Man

It may be cliche to say, but who doesn’t love Spider-Man? Being a tween/teen growing up in the ’90s, it was like a prerequisite to watch Marvel animated series like Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and X-Men, but in my eyes, they all paled in comparison to the Spider-Man cartoon. It established so much of the deep, rich world of Marvel but easily spoke to a younger audience (without speaking down to us)… just like Spider-Man was intended to do.

I was just getting into comics seriously around that time and that cartoon was my gateway. I latched on hard to the concept of putting true power in the hands of a “kid” just for the sake of teaching them responsibility.  Some stand-outs on my Spider-Man pull list are “Drowned in Thunder,” “Fear Itself,” and the Alex Ross series “Marvels.” Excelsior.

— Bryan VanGelder

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photo credit: Marvel

Edwin Jarvis

Sure, heroes are great and all, but Edwin Jarvis, loyal household butler for the Stark family, is the gentleman’s gentleman this lady would love to know. He serves as a butler, babysitter, message-deliverer, romance counselor and more. He knows which Avengers have special dietary needs and which need a kindly ear during their latest super-breakup.

In different Marvel comics, he’s been replaced by Skrulls, turned into artificial intelligence, and once, eaten by Avenger zombies. But I ignore all those storylines. I just like Jarvis the father figure, staying in the background until needed, but knowing everything and ready to step in at a moment’s notice. Who says he’s not super?

— Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

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photo credit: Marvel

 

The Incredible Hulk

I’ve always been a huge fan of The Incredible Hulk. Unlike other superheroes, Bruce Banner is a character that’s aware of the damage his destructive abilities can wreak. On a personal level, The Incredible Hulk is an allegory for losing self-control (“You won’t like me when I’m angry”), but also a look at how anger can be harnessed for good. When is it right to use that anger? When is it right to destroy things?

The allegory goes broader: The Incredible Hulk is often seen as a response to war and, in particular, the Vietnam War and the Nuclear Age. When is war justified and when is it nothing more than a destructive force? It makes sense. The Incredible Hulk is frequently being attacked by tanks. The US Army throws everything in its arsenal at the Hulk. You could say his greatest antagonist is the US military-industrial Complex, which is fascinating in and of itself.

— Mark Serrels

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photo credit: Marvel

She-Hulk

Of all of Stan Lee’s superhero creations, there’s only one I ever felt deserved a special place in my comic-book-loving heart: She-Hulk. Lawyer Jennifer Walters ends up with the same mean, green anger issues as the Hulk when she gets an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin Dr. Bruce Banner. But unlike the Hulk, she can keep her emotions in check when she transforms into She-Hulk.

Created by Lee together with artist John Buscema, Walters first appeared in Savage She-Hulk #1 in 1980. Since then, She-Hulk has been a member of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Defenders and S.H.I.E.L.D. I always hoped Marvel would give She-Hulk her own movie, or better yet a Law and Order type crime procedural TV show where she smacks down criminals in the streets as She-Hulk, then makes sure they stay behind bars when she prosecutes them as a lawyer in the courtroom.

— Bonnie Burton

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photo credit: xshyfc

The Thing

He’s an orange-skinned native New Yorker with questionable impulse control. No, it’s not the president — it’s Benjamin J. Grimm, better known as The Thing. As a founding member of the Fantastic Four, the first superhero series Stan Lee created in Marvel era, he’s been part of the Marvel canon from the very beginning.

But he’s more than that. Benjamin Jacob Grimm is an everyman from New York’s Lower East Side. And not the hipster LES of today, but the gritty immigrant district now only hinted at by holdouts like Katz’s Delicatessen and Guss’ Pickles, or the Tenement Museum. While reading a recently released collection of Marvel 2-in-1 comics (a team-up series starring The Thing that ran from 1974-1983), I was struck by how Grimm’s language and personality shone through, no matter who the writers and artists were. Co-creators Jack Kirby and Lee were stamped onto his DNA from the very beginning.

Grimm’s often self-directed monologues reflect the challenges of being so outwardly different in a world where most heroes can hide behind more typical-looking secret identities. While The Thing could only hide his otherness under a long trench coat and fedora, one could probably read something into the fact that Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg, worked under the anglicized pen names Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

With The Thing, the pair were adding yet another outsider to a long line of immigrant/underdog literary characters who grappled with similar themes. Lee’s most human creation may be missing from the MCU, but he’s always available on the printed page.

— Dan Ackerman

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photo credit: Marvel

Spider-Man, redux

“With great power, here must also come… great responsibility!” I’ve read Amazing Spider-Man nonstop since 1996, so Stan Lee’s ideas embedded themselves in my mind throughout my formative years and made me a better person. If you’re looking for the definitive Stan Lee/Steve Ditko story, check out Amazing Spider-Man No. 31-33 — the glorious Master Planner saga. Goodbye Stan, you made the world a better place.

— Sean Keane

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photo credit: Marvel

Jean Grey

Of the many universes, Stan Lee created, my mind has lingered most in the world of the X-Men. While many exotic and exciting superpowers run rampant through the stories, one character, in particular, has stayed with me: Jean Grey. She appeared in the very first X-Men comic and has played a key role in the blockbuster movies. What I see in her is her deep humanity and her struggle to manage her boundless powers without losing her heart. That’s a conflict that never fails to compel and interest me.

— Amanda Kooser

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photo credit: HDQWalls

Silver Surfer

I’ve always had a soft spot for Silver Surfer. There’s a stillness to his persona, a meditative quality that hooked me. He surfs through the emptiness of space, looking for worlds to feed to Galactus, his captor of sorts. And he does this to keep his home planet of Zenn-La, and the woman he loves, Shalla-Bal, safe from Galactus’ hunger.

I mean can you imagine making that kind of deal? You can keep the people you love safe from harm, but you’ll never see them again, AND you have to play a part in destroying the lives of others. It’s a terrible bargain to strike, but that’s the deal The Surfer makes. As a result, the true believers got one of the most morally complex characters Stan Lee ever wrote.

If you’re curious to read the Surfer’s story, I’d recommend starting with his initial appearances in the Fantastic Four, and the 18 issues of his initial solo run in the late ’60s.

— Tyler Lizenby

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photo credit: Book Riot

Peggy Carter

Thank you, Stan Lee, for Peggy Carter — especially Hayley Atwell’s version in Marvel’s Agent Carter. In 1940s America where sexism is just as much a villain, Carter essentially back-hands any man who tells her to stick to the office typewriter, then grabs her gun and heads out into the field to fight criminals. Her hat is a fashion statement, and her banter with buddy Edwin Jarvis is class. She’s such a great female role model, one of Lee’s best (and sassiest).

— Jennifer Bisset

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photo credit: Bloody Disgusting

The stories Lee characters tell

I don’t have a favorite Stan Lee character.

Growing up, I spent most of my time in the sci-fi worlds built by John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, and Neil Gaiman. The latter led me to graphic novels — my first real foray into comics — but I stayed away from the universes Lee created and shared with the world because I never knew where to begin. I only really came to know his creations through their various interpretations on screen and in video games.

That his works and his worlds have transcended the pages that gave them life is a testament to the stories that Lee created. We fall in love with his characters, not because of their physical attributes, their superpowers or how distinctly different they are from us. Those things help, sure, but we fall in love with them because of their stories — stories that are undeniably human.

Lee’s characters provide the canvas to tell stories about us and the world we live in. I’m thankful that all of those canvases will live on, long after he has passed. Vale, legend.

— Jackson Ryan

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