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SPIDER-MAN So tar, the only super-hero to develop an ulcerlrom the pressures oi crime-lighting, keeping up a secret identity and holding down his lob. Perennial loser and -a characteristic he shares with a surprising number oi super-heroes- a boiiln into the bargain. Spider-Man was portrayed as wiry and physically rather unlmpressive by his original artist, the brilliant Steve Oitko, and achieved the greatest reader- Identification oi any Marvel heroes. Won the hand oi ageing sex grenade Mary Jane Watson as a reward lor being the most iully- realised personality (apart irom The Thing) that Marvel had on their roster.

Origin: bitten by a. . .oh, let's lust say radioactivity.

‘Five Fabulous Decades Of The World’s Greatest Comics’, but by printing only four complete stories it doesn’t do its subject full justice. Lee, who hasn’t actually read the book in detail, praises Daniels for his objectivity, but there are some who will take it as just another example of Stan Lee rewriting history.

In the 19805, Marvel’s reputation was dragged through the mud somewhat by a dispute about his old partner Jack Kirby’s copyrights and original artwork. Lee, of course, denies that it harmed them at all. Perhaps if I’d asked about his personal credibility, the answer might have been a little different.

‘I think Jack was wrong.’ The affable Lee turns suddenly abrupt. ‘He felt we didn’t want to give him back his pages. We were very happy to give him back his pages. Most of the pages had been lost. It all got stolen or we threw ’em away. We never saved that stuff in the beginning. Then we did have some pages, but Jack was making weird claims, like he created Spider-Man, and he created this, and he created that. So our lawyer said, We’re not gonna give you back your artwork unless you admit that you didn’t create those things, because you didn’t. Finally, he signed some sort of a statement saying he wouldn’t make claims on things he didn’t create and we gave him back his artwork. That was the end of it.’

Not quite. So ‘very happy’ was Marvel to return Kirby’s artwork that it had taken Lthem five years’ legal pressure, a publicity

I IRON MAN Tony Stark, a brilliant inventor (iunny that) was seriously wounded and captured by the Viet Cong, who put him to work making weapons in what little time he had leil. Instead, he built a chestplate to keep his heart beating and groovy armour to enable him to iighthls way to ireedom. Once home, he returned to his lite as a millionaire playboy (another strikingly original idea) but couldn't remove his chestplate ior iear oi dying. Since no one was to know oi the armourthat encased him irom neck to navel, Stark must have been the salest date in America. Ills non-existent personality must also have served as a useiul contraceptive.

Origin: Commie shrapnel started the job, his own ingenuity did the rest.

campaign and a petition signed by 150 comics professionals to do it. Eventually, Marvel backed down and gave Kirby 2,100 pages out of an estimated 13,000 that he had drawn for them over the years (refusing to pay the $800 airfreight insurance). Marvel retained the lucrative copyrights. Kirby felt

To understand Stan Lee’s place in American popular culture you’d have to think at him in similarterms to Walt Disney.

he had a right to be bitter and gave a lengthy interview to The Comics Journal in 1990, disputing Lee’s claim that he, Smilin’ Stan, had created all of Marvel’s greatest characters. ‘I created The Fantastic Four,’ raged Kirby. ‘I created Thor.’ Worse was to come: ‘I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything,’ Kirby maintained. ‘If Stan Lee ever got a thing dialogued, he would get it from someone working in the office.’

‘That was when I called the lawyer,’ Lee recalls, ‘and I said, Should we sue him? He said we could, said it’d cost a lot of money, but Marvel could afford it, and it’d cost Jack a lot of money to defend it. I said, Well, forget it. I don’t want Jack to go broke. Because most of the people who read it have written to me and they said, Look, we know it isn’t true, we’ve worked with you, we know what stories you wrote.

‘He had a lawyer call me months after that, saying, You know, Jack would really like to

I CAPTAIN AMERICA This one's the exception. as he was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as ‘the sentinel oi IIberty' during World War II. Draped inihe Stars and Stripes, he iought Nazi villains, and when he was revived in the 60s provided a line symbol lor anti-Communist paranoia. As the American Dream disintegrated, the stolld Captain would have been the ideal vehicle ior discussion, the way Daredevil and DC's Batman

I DR STRANGE Brilliant (oi course) surgeon had one too many and crashed a car. ruining his precious hands. Having exhausted all other possibilities, he sought a cure irom a Tibetan guru and became a mystic himseli. Like Tony Stark, Strange had detlciencles in the personality department

examined the concept oi the (beware oi homes bearing vigilante later on, but it moustaches) but his stories appears that Marvel never became more and more

really had the nerve to go the distance with such a venerated character. Origin: government super-soldier experiments.

cosmic to compensate. Eventually got his rocks oil with a girl in a purple leotard irom another dimension, who was doubtless won over by hip jive-talk like “By the hoary hosts at lloggoth' and ‘By the seven moons oi Munnopor.’

Origin: the occult.

make up, what do you say? I said. It’s fine

with me. All Jack has to do is write a letter to The Comics Journal which says that the things he said weren’t true. and I’ll be happy to make up. But how can I make up with him now? If I’m friendly with Jack, it‘ll sound like he was telling the truth. Like I’m not angry about it. So I never heard from the guy again.’

He’s glad to move along to other topics, and practically shakes with excitement to find out that one of his former British editors, Neil Tennant. reinvented himselfas a Pet Shop Boy and became one ofthe country’s biggest pop stars.

‘My God, really?’ he exclaims. ‘Is that the same Neil Tennant? Wait a minute, I’ve got to write that down, I didn’t know he was the same one!’

As he speaks. he reaches beneath his pullover. slips out a tiny notebook from his shirt pocket and takes down what he’s just learned in one of the margins. It’s so incongruous, this ‘super-rich’ big shot with all his new Hollywood contacts relying on a tiny notebook. Not a Filofax man, then, Stan?

‘Too big,’ he grins. ‘I like this because I don’t have to carry anything. I just keep it in my shirt pocket and my hands are free to fight bad guys.’

Um, Excelsior! Or something.

Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades Of The World’s Greatest Comics by Les Daniels is published by Virgin Books at£30.

12 The List 6- 19 December 1991