ByFred Blunden, writer at
I've read way too many comics and watched too many movies to function in normal society.
Fred Blunden

Stan Lee is one of the most iconic, if not THE most iconic, comic book writer/creators of all time. Not only did he reverse the fortunes of Marvel comics in the 1960s with his fresh take on the genre, he came up with dozens of new characters to populate this new interconnected world.

His characters were less perfect than the iconic figures such Superman, who stood for all that is good in the world — Stan’s creations were wonderfully flawed. They were (at times) petty, jealous or bickering. They were broke, or blind or in a wheelchair. They were, despite their incredible powers, relatable. It was this ability to bridge the gap between the reader and the audience that made Stan’s creations so successful, and one of the many reasons they have remained popular and fill our biggest box office blockbusters to this day.

While modern cinemagoers may see Stan as the king of cameo performances, and possibly a Watcher in disguise, he’s very much the father of modern interconnected storytelling and a key ingredient to the success of .

Taking a look at the wacky, wild and fun characters he created (and co-created), we celebrate the 15 best Marvel characters ever created.

15. Galactus

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #48

Galactus was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in order to create something truly different. Having already created an arch-villain in the form of Doctor Doom, Stan wanted to break away from the archetype of the standard villain and forge a force of nature.

was that force of nature. A god-like being who consumes worlds in order to survive, Galactus doesn’t fit the mold of a villain as his schemes aren’t motivated by greed, power or jealousy. He merely devours worlds in order to survive and operates without any regard for the morality or judgement of mortal beings, as they are simply of no consequence to him. Concepts of heroism or good and evil are beneath his notice as he travels the universe consuming the life energy of planets to sustain his hunger.

14. Black Panther

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #52

When Stan Lee was crafting the Marvel Universe, he took care to make it a rich and diverse world — not one simply made up of a single ethnic origin. Stan Lee also didn't want to buy into racial stereotypes. In creating the , Stan went against the stereotypical black characters previously seen in comic books and crafted a character who was an intellectual equal to series protagonist Reed Richards and came from the highly advanced, yet reclusive, fictional nation of Wakanda.

Pre-dating other prominent black superheroes such as Jon Stewart (Green Lantern), Luke Cage and Black Lightning, Black Panther was responsible for breaking down barriers and providing a positive role model. Making his big-screen debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther is set to star in his own movie in 2018, proving that he’s as relevant as ever and a testament to Stan Lee’s foresight.

13. Black Widow

[Credit: Marvel Studios]
[Credit: Marvel Studios]

Created By: Stan Lee, Don Rico and Don Heck.

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52

Created at the height of the Cold War in the style of so many femme-fatales, was an agent of the USSR, and one of their most dangerous assets. As a counterpart to the symbol of capitalism (Iron Man), Black Widow could easily have been a tech-based villain. Instead, Stan Lee wrote her as a spy with a keen mind who used her wit over her brawn.

In time, Black Widow was altered to become a defector who abandoned the USSR and chose to work for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers instead.

Besides the slowed-aging provided by the Russians in her youth, and her training in the KGB “Red Room,” Black Widow has no superpowers and yet has risen to prominence as a key figure in S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, and even the short-lived Champions. One of the few characters who still have some of their origins clouded in mystery, Black Widow has stood the test of time (and real-world changes in politics) and is still one of the most relevant figures in Marvel history.

12. Nick Fury

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos #1

Initially written as a Sergeant in WW2, was soon re-imagined as a James Bond-style superspy and head of the international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. This revamped version of the character was written by Stan Lee after he became a fan of the then-current TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Lee thought it would be fun to bring Fury into his growing universe as an older character, now a Colonel, and a spymaster. Along with Jack Kirby, S.H.I.E.L.D. grew to be more than a mere spy organization and had advanced spy-tech and even the famed Helicarrier, although Stan always credited Jack Kirby with the idea for that.

11. She-Hulk

Created By: Stan Lee and John Buscema

First Appearance: Savage She-Hulk #1

, unlike most of Stan’s characters, wasn’t created as a flash of creative brilliance, rather as a business necessity. With the success of the Incredible Hulk TV series, and the Bionic Woman TV series, Marvel was concerned that the show’s executives would create a female version of the character (as had been done on the Six Million Dollar Man) and that Marvel would not own the rights to the character, costing them future revenue if the theoretical female Hulk were to star in a spin-off.

Savage She-Hulk was only written by Stan for one issue before he handed the reigns over to writer David Anthony, who defined much of her character. She held the distinction for many years as the last Marvel character created by Stan Lee. That is, until he returned to writing duties with Ravage 2099 in 1992.

10. J Jonah Jameson

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #1

While Spider-Man himself is obviously the star of his ongoing series, few of his supporting characters have been quite as iconic as his former boss J Jonah Jameson. Initially created by Stan Lee to serve as Peter Parker’s often stubborn, pompous and petty editor, J Jonah Jameson became as much of a foil for Peter as his various rogues were to Spider-Man. Stan went on to note in an interview on Talk of the Nation that he created Jameson as a much grumpier version of himself.

Initially merely a skinflint editor with a dislike of Spider-Man, Jonah developed a great deal under Stan Lee and subsequent writers and has been shown to be a loving father and husband who is fiercely protective of his family and employees. A dedicated newsman, he believes in a code of ethics and while he retains a skewed perspective on Spider-Man, he does believe in the truth.

9. Norman Osborn

Created By: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #14

Originally conceived by Stan Lee to be a mythical demon who inhabits a mortal man after opening his sarcophagus, becoming the Green Goblin, this was altered by Steve Ditko to make him a human villain, more in keeping with the more grounded reality of the books. Ditko and Lee disagreed with certain aspects of the Goblin’s secret identity. With Ditko wanting to keep the identity as a new character, Lee felt it would be more exciting to make it someone Peter knew and was close to, providing a greater dramatic edge. Lee’s view won out, and after Ditko left the book, the Goblin’s identity was revealed to be that of Norman Osborn, the father of Peter’s best friend, Harry.

Over time, Norman has become not only Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, but an enemy of the whole Marvel universe, as he was, at one time, the head of the H.A.M.M.E.R. agency, a replacement for S.H.I.E.L.D.

8. Daredevil

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Bill Everett (with input from Jack Kirby)

First Appearance: Daredevil #1

Having already created a plethora of interesting new characters between 1961 and 1963, Stan Lee kicked off 1964 with his most daring (literally) characters of all time, the swashbuckling . Believing his characters were more interesting if they had a fundamental flaw of some kind, and already having created the orphan Peter Parker and the paraplegic Professor X, Stan gave his new creation one of the most difficult to overcome obstacles in comic book history: blindness.

During the first 50 issues of Daredevil’s career, Stan created many aspects of Daredevil’s life that remain constant to this day — his career as a lawyer, his best friend and confidant Foggy Nelson, and his friendship with fellow superhero, Spider-Man. Lee has stated that his 31-issue run with Gene Colan, in which Daredevil defends a blind Vietnam veteran, to be one of his favorite parts of his career.

7. Charles Xavier

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: The X-Men #1

Following on from the success of the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee was keen to create another team of superheroes although this time he envisioned a younger team of heroes in-training led by the enigmatic Charles Xavier. Having grown tired of coming up with individual origin stories for his characters — and feeling that there could only be so many accidents involving radiation exposure (Hulk, Daredevil, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four all gained their powers this way) — he simply decided that humans could be born with powers buried in their genetics, thus Marvel’s mutants were born.

Lee and Kirby used this new team as an allegory for the intolerance they saw in the world. This team would be disliked for merely being different, something the creators had experienced all too well. Of all the X-Men, none quite embodied the team quite like Xavier himself. Often compared to Martin Luther King, Xavier has become a symbol of tolerance and equality in the Marvel Universe.

6. Thor

Created By: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Journey into Mystery #83

Thor is obviously based upon the Norse mythological deity of the same name, but Stan and co re-imagined him as a superhero, reasoning that he needed a foil for his super-strong Incredible Hulk. The only one stronger than the strongest man on Earth must be a god.

As a founder member of The Avengers, Thor is one of the few heroes to feature in each subsequent volume of the series, albeit he was noticeably absent during the New Avengers run written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Despite his age far exceeding that of his human companions, Thor is often youthfully arrogant and reckless due to still being a young man by Asgardian standards. He is also often easily tricked by his manipulative brother Loki, and their constant struggles have often defined each other throughout their history.

5. The Hulk

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: The Incredible Hulk #1

Easily one of the most iconic characters in pop culture, The Incredible Hulk has featured in comic books, TV series, movies, animation and a variety of merchandise since his creation in 1962. Created in the mold of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, the is rarely depicted as a regular superhero, and often serves as an antagonist to other heroes as frequently as their ally.

Lee stated that the monstrous Thing from The Fantastic Four was fast becoming the most popular character on that series, and he came to realize that people often rooted for the characters who were less than perfect. Once citing that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was iconic, and yet the other characters were forgettable, and having similar thoughts regards Frankenstein, he crafted a character who would forever be shunned and feared, and yet never truly be villainous.

Lee also compared Hulk to the Golem of Jewish mythology and considered Hulk to also be a reaction to the fears regarding nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War.

4. Magneto

[Credit: Marvel Comics]
[Credit: Marvel Comics]

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: The X-Men #1

While the X-Men themselves barely resemble the small team of teen heroes Stan and Jack originally created, one of their core characters has remained largely as he was originally written: .

Magneto isn’t a typical villain. He’s not the moustache-twirling bad guy, he doesn’t want money, he doesn’t even really want to kill the good guys. He’s a terrorist with his own set of rules, and a personal code of honor. Despite his brutal methods, he doesn’t see himself as the bad guy at all.

Where Xavier sees a future of peace and coexistence between humans and mutants, Magneto feels this is naive and impossible. Instead of following Xavier’s pacifist approach, he declares war on humanity in his first appearance, believing that mutants must destroy humanity before humanity destroys them.

Not only is he a perfect foil for the X-Men on the battlefield, he is their ideological counterpart, too. He's a comic book villain that works on every level and has only become more relevant over the decades.

3. Iron Man

Created By: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #39

In creating Iron Man, Stan Lee set himself a challenge. He wanted to create a business-based superhero and one that would go against the spirit of the times and the anti-capitalist feelings of the early 1960s. Also, it was the height of the Cold War and if there was one thing young readers hated, it was war. So, Stan decided to create a character that stood for everything his readers hated: a wealthy businessman who sold weapons to the army.

He chose to not only make a character in this way, but push him as one of the key players in his new interconnected universe. To everyone’s surprise, this playboy character was immensely popular despite standing in stark (pun intended) to the "everyman" embodied by Peter Parker (Spider-Man).

Despite being based on Howard Hughes (minus the crazy), Stark was also, quite literally, heartbroken. Invulnerable on the outside due to his armor, he was a deeply wounded figure, both literally and figuratively. This metaphor has carried Iron Man throughout his career and remains a core component to his character to this day.

2. Doctor Doom

[Credit: Marvel Entertainment]
[Credit: Marvel Entertainment]

Created By: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #5

With the Fantastic Four performing well, Stan felt that the team needed something of an arch-villain. He wanted something iconic, sensational and menacing. He chose the name because it seemed “eloquent in its simplicity, and yet magnificent in its implied menace.” Lee and Kirby envisioned Doom as being truly evil (yet Lee has said that Doom’s goal of wanting to rule the world isn’t exactly a crime), modeling his metal armor and hood to resemble death. His steel face mirrors his soul: cold and calculating.

Stan Lee has himself declared Doom to be his favorite supervillain. His inner nobility, his strict adherence to a code of honor, and his intellect make him more than a mere villain. Much like Magneto, he doesn’t feel that he’s in the wrong, he merely sees himself as being above the rest of humanity and therefore the only one suited to rule them.

1. Spider-Man

Created By: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (with creative input from Jack Kirby)

First Appearance: Amazing Fantasy #15

When debuted in the early 1960s, teen superheroes were generally only sidekicks to the main protagonist. But in creating a teenager in high school, Stan Lee created a character to whom younger readers could instantly relate. Peter had homework and chores just like they did. He had girl problems and issues of loneliness and rejection, making him an instant — and enduring — hit.

Unlike previous teen heroes such as Bucky or Robin, Spider-Man had no mentor to train him. Learning through trial and error, he had to learn for himself just how hard the world could be on a young man who was trying to become an adult.

While the various creators of Spider-Man have differing accounts as to who created which aspect of his overall look and background, what is clear is this: He’s an enduring and iconic creation who redefined comic book heroes and remains one of the most popular characters of all time. His "everyman" persona makes him more relatable than the mega-wealthy Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark or the fish-out-of-water Steve Rogers. Peter Parker is just a regular Joe with great power, and the responsibility to use that power for good.

Which of Stan Lee's creations do you think is his best?


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