There was an outpouring of tributes on social media as the news broke yesterday that Stan Lee has died.

The creative dynamo revolutionised the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk. He was 95.

Lee was declared dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Kirk Schenck, an attorney for Lee's daughter, J.C. Lee.

As the top writer at Marvel Comics and later as its publisher, Lee was widely considered the architect of the contemporary comic book. He revived the industry in the 1960s by offering the costumes and action craved by younger readers while insisting on sophisticated plots, college-level dialogue, satire, science fiction, even philosophy.

Advertisement

Many of his characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk and X-Men went on to become stars of blockbuster films. He won the National Medal of Arts in 2008.

Recent projects Lee helped make possible range from the films Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy to such TV series as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Daredevil. Lee was recognisable to his fans, having had cameos in many Marvel films and TV projects, often delivering his trademark motto, "Excelsior!"

Captain America actor Chris Evans mourned the loss on Twitter: "There will never be another Stan Lee. For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives. Excelsior!!"

A wreath and other memorabilia adorn the star of Stan Lee on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo / AP
A wreath and other memorabilia adorn the star of Stan Lee on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo / AP

Lee considered the comic-book medium an art form and he was prolific: By some accounts, he came up with a new comic book every day for 10 years. He hit his stride in the 1960s when he brought the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man and numerous others to life. "It was like there was something in the air. I couldn't do anything wrong," he told The Associated Press in 2006.

His heroes, meanwhile, were a far cry from virtuous do-gooders such as rival DC Comics' Superman.

The Fantastic Four fought with each other. Spider-Man was goaded into superhero work by his alter ego, Peter Parker, who suffered from unrequited crushes, money problems and dandruff. The Silver Surfer, an alien doomed to wander Earth's atmosphere, waxed about the woeful nature of man. The Hulk was marked by self-loathing. Daredevil was blind and Iron Man had a weak heart.

Spiderman creator Stan Lee at the premiere of Spider-Man 2 in Los Angeles. Photo / AP
Spiderman creator Stan Lee at the premiere of Spider-Man 2 in Los Angeles. Photo / AP

Some of Lee's creations became symbols of social change - the inner turmoil of Spider-Man represented 60s America, for example, while The Black Panther and The Savage She-Hulk mirrored the travails of minorities and women.

"I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups," he told The AP in 2006.

Lee scripted most of Marvel's superhero comics himself during the 60s, including the Avengers and X-Men, two of the most enduring. In 1972, he became Marvel's publisher and editorial director; four years later, 72 million copies of Spider-Man were sold.

The first big-budget movie based on Lee's characters, X-Men, was a smash in 2000, earning more than US$130 million at North American theatres. Spider-Man did even better, taking in more than US$400m in 2002. A Marvel movie empire would emerge after that, one of the most lucrative mega-franchises in cinema history, with the recent Avengers: Infinity War grossing more than US$2 billion worldwide. In 10 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe film stable netted over US$17.6b in worldwide grosses.

Black Panther actor Winston Duke took to Twitter to pay his respects to Lee: "You gave us characters that continue to ... evolve with our consciousness. You taught us that there are no limits to our future as long as we have access to our imagination. Rest in power!"

- AP