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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
The comic book genius of Stan Lee
The Hulk movie brought another Lee character to the big screen
Hulk is just the latest Stan Lee superhero creation to hit the big screen.

Many marvel at the man who gave his characters extraordinary powers and everyday headaches - a formula which revolutionised comics.

The Incredible Hulk has lost his superlative tag in Ang Lee's new film. But in Hulk, the director of Sense and Sensibility largely eschews the typical action blockbuster treatment, raising ethical issues instead. Fittingly, this echoes the tone set by the Hulk's creator, Stan Lee.

Born in 1922 to poor working-class Jewish immigrants from Romania, Stan Lieberman, got a job in Timely Publications, a company owned by a relative.

Fertile imagination

He was assigned to the comics division and - thanks to a fertile imagination - rose to editor by the age of 18.

For more than 20 years, he was "the ultimate hack" - knocking out crime stories, horrors, westerns, anything to sate the appetite of his juvenile readership.

Words of more than two syllables were discouraged. Characters were either all good or bad, with no shades of grey.

So embarrassed was Lieberman by much of what he was writing that he refused to put his real name on the byline. He assumed the "dumb name", Stan Lee, now legally adopted.

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man has become a global hit at the box office

By the time he was 40, Lee had decided he was too old for the comic game. His British-born wife, Joan, suggested he had nothing to lose and, for his swansong, should write the kind of characters he really wanted to create.

After a rival comic had come up with a superteam consisting of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, Timely needed to respond.

Lee's answer, in 1961, was the Fantastic Four - a team of astronauts who gained super powers after being bombarded with cosmic rays.

They were to change Lee's life, and the comics industry, forever. Lee gave each character individual, everyday teenage problems such as dandruff, ingrown toenails and acne. They would frequently fall out with their parents and each other.

The fan letters poured in. Without immediately knowing it, Stan Lee had ushered in the golden age of comics, and his imagination was rekindled. His Marvel universe spawned the new title of Marvel Comics.

X-Men and its sequel have also been turned into cinema hits
Soon after, nerdy Peter Parker was transformed - after a bite from an irradiated spider - into someone who could crawl up the sides of New York's skyscrapers. Spider-Man was born.

He was to become an icon of modern popular culture. Spidey, as he is affectionately known, had quite extraordinary powers - yet he had problems at work, at home and with his girlfriends.

At last, the teenager was no longer just the sidekick, but the main hero. And the hero was no longer just brawn, he had brains too.

"Just because he's a hero and has super powers doesn't mean he doesn't have problems," Stan Lee told the BBC.

The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man and the rest all grappled with problems like drug abuse, bigotry and social inequality.

"Friendly" lawsuit

Radically, Lee gave the artists responsible for the comic designs credits for their work. Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, John Romitaand and others achieved cult status in their own right.

Other superheroes broke new ground in other ways. Daredevil was blind, Black Panther was black and Silver Surfer pondered the state of humanity. Lee's influence remains. Recently the Marvel hero, Northstar, came out of the closet.

Stan Lee with Spider-Man
Stan Lee worked for Marvel Comics for more than 60 years
In its heyday, Marvel was selling 50 million copies a year. Until he retired from editing in 1971, Stan Lee wrote all the copy for Marvel's covers. He continues to write the Spider-Man comic strip, syndicated to some 500 newspapers.

Stan Lee maintains links with Marvel, even though he is involved in a "friendly" lawsuit with them over royalty payments. Marvel reportedly pays him $1m a year for promotional work at lectures and conventions.

In 1999, his Stan Lee Media venture, aimed at marrying comic-strips with the Internet, went spectacularly wrong. Lee went bankrupt and his business partner landed in prison for fraud.

In 2001 though, he started a new company entitled POW! Entertainment, which is currently developing films and television programmes.

One in the pipeline is the cartoon Stripperella, with the title role being voiced by Pamela Anderson. "It's sexy," he says. "But clean sexy."

Still an adolescent at 80, he said recently, "I don't think I've ever been busier and can't remember when I had so much fun."

It seems that Stan Lee is as indestructible as his heroes.

How cinema boosted Marvel's fortunes
04 Jul 03 |  Entertainment
Spider-Man 2 breaks movie record
07 Jul 04 |  Entertainment
Hulk breaks blockbuster mould
08 Jul 03 |  Entertainment
Charting Superheroes' box-office power
07 May 02 |  Entertainment
Lawsuit filed by Spider-Man creator
13 Nov 02 |  Entertainment


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