The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

Where the Marvel Universe came from


Fantastic Four     Hulk     Spider-Man     Thor     Iron Man     Dr Strange     X-Men


Stan Lee's bad memory

Stan Lee is famous for his bad memory. E.g.

"My memory is not the best,"

"I have the worst memory in the world,"

"obviously my memory is wrong." (Source)

This is not a new thing:

"I even had a bad memory when I was young. I'd call him 'Bob Banner' instead of 'Bruce Banner,' etc. I hadda give out a heap of no-prizes!" (Stan Lee, on Twitter)

For example, for years Lee told the story of how he got his first job in comics by answering a newspaper ad. When confronted with evidence that actually his uncle got him the job, Lee admitted "I've been saying this [classified-ad] story for years, but apparently it isn't so. And I can't remember because I['ve] said it so long now that I believe it." (See Joe Simon's 1990 autobiography, "The Comic Book Makers").

Readers may also recall Stan's claim (in the famous 1966 newspaper interview) that he won the Herald Tribune competition three times. That claim has been thoroughly investigated and found to be false. (See "Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book" p.6).

On this page I start by looking at Lee's claims about the origins of the Marvel Univerese. This confirms what he said above: his memory is not good!

Poor memory makes a person unreliable. Or worse:

“Poor memory advocates — too often — want to be given a blank check for what comes out of their mouths.” “Can a man/mind with a claimed poor memory have any authentic, personal integrity?” “There are those who make reference to, justifications for, their poor memory but poor memory doesn’t stop them from still claiming facts, truth, credit.” (See Steve Ditko's Essay #34: Memory)

Fortunately we do not need to rely on Lee's memory. On this page we will look at more concrete evidence for how the Marvel Universe was created.


1961: the Fantastic Four

This is Stan Lee's version of how the Fantastic Four came to be:

"Martin [Goodman, the publisher, and Stan's uncle by marriage] mentioned that he had noticed one of the titles published by National Comics seemed to be selling better than most. It was a book called The [sic] Justice League of America and it was composed of a team of superheroes  . . . 'if the Justice League is selling', spoke he, 'why don't we put out a comic book that features a team of superheroes?'" Joan [Stan's wife] was commenting about the fact that after 20 years of producing comics I was still writing television material, advertising copy, and newspaper features in my spare time. She wondered why I didn't put as much effort and creativity into the comics as I seemed to be putting into my other freelance endeavors. . . . [her] little dissertation made me suddenly realize that it was time to start concentrating on what I was doing — to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books."

"For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading.... And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay."

"After kicking it around with Martin and Jack for a while, I decided to call our quaint quartet The Fantastic Four.  I wrote a detailed first synopsis for Jack to follow, and the rest is history." (Stan Lee [1974], "Origins of Marvel Comics")

Stan often retold that story, with more details:

"It was now 1960. By now, I really wanted to leave, because one edict that my publisher had was that the stories had to be geared towards young readers; or unintelligent older readers. We weren't supposed to use words of more than two syllables, and we had to have simple plots; no continuing stories, because he felt our readers weren't smart enough to remember from month to month where they had left off. It was really boring.

"In either '60 or '61 I said to my wife, Joanie, "This time, I'm really going to leave." She said, "Well, if you're determined to leave, why don't you first do a book or two the way you wanted to, no matter what the publisher says? The worst that can happen is that he'll fire you. You won't care, because you want to leave, but at least you'll get it out of your system."

"It happened that; at that time; my publisher had been playing golf with Jack Liebowitz, who was one of the bosses at DC comics; which in those days was called National Comics. Jack Liebowitz had told him that he had a magazine called The Justice League, which was selling very well, and it was a group of super-heroes. So Martin came to me and he said, "Hey Stan... Why don't you do a group of super-heroes?" Again, this business of following the trend.

"I figured, "All right, but this time I'm going to do it my way." Instead of the typical heroes that have secret identities and nobody knows who they are, I did The Fantastic Four; where everybody knew who they were. And instead of the girlfriend who doesn't know that the hero is so-and-so, I had the girl in the series actually be engaged to the hero, and she was a heroine; she was part of the team. Instead of the typical junior sidekick, I had a teenager who was also the brother of the heroine; and the hero would soon marry the heroine, so they would be brothers-in-law. The fourth member of the team was a monstrous-looking guy, called The Thing, which was not a typical super-hero type in those days. I also tried to give them fairly realistic dialogue, and I didn't have them wear colorful costumes. I always felt that if I had super-power, I wouldn't immediately run out to the store and buy a costume.

"Somehow or other, the book caught on." (Stan Lee [2000], interview with Kenneth Plume)

It's an attractive story

This story is repeated everywhere. It's popular to read. Stan writes enjoyable prose: I love reading it! It's easy to read and full of memorable images. I love the lines "spoke he", and "colorful costumed booties", and the references to "Joanie" and golf. The story, that Stan was a TV writer who was too good for comics and wanted to quit, was itself like something from a comic! Stan as comic book hero. Stan's greatest creation is himself.

But...

... but is the story real? Readers with good memories will recall a similar claim by Stan, written back in 1947, called "Secrets behind the comics". In it, Stan claimed that Captain America was the result of Martin Goodman's foresight and genius. Even though Goodman simply bought a book that was already created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Perhaps we should look again at Stan's claims:


Stan's claims, one by one

Stan wanted to quit

This part is supported by the surrounding evidence, but not quite the way Stan tells it. Rather than Stan being a TV and newspaper writer who could choose other jobs, Stan was a desperate man. Stan had run his uncle's comics since he left school, with a business model of copying other people's ideas. When the comics business slumped in the 1950s (largely due to Fredric Wertham) his uncle's comics lost their distributor and almost collapsed. Dick Ayers recalls: "Things started to get really bad in 1958. One day when I went in Stan looked at me and said, “Gee whiz, my uncle goes by and he doesn’t even say hello to me.” He meant Martin Goodman. And he proceeds to tell me, “You know, it’s like a sinking ship and we’re the rats, and we’ve got to get off.” When I told Stan I was going to work for the post office, he said, “Before you do that let me send you something that you’ll ink.” (source) Stan was a nice guy. He wanted to help those around him who were losing their jobs. But he was in a very weak position himself.

"I was writing television material television material, advertising copy, and newspaper features"

This quote implies that Stan was a successful writer. But when you look closer it tells the opposite story. . In danger of losing his job, Stan tried creating a newspaper strip, called Willie Lumpkin. That was for "Publishers Syndicate", "a relatively small outfit" and "1960 was the only year the syndicate advertised it to potential buyers".  (source) A few newspapers carried it for a while, but the last one stopped after 18 months. I can't find any other evidence of Stan Lee writing either "television material", "advertising copy", or "newspaper features". He probably sent off scripts, and no doubt did the odd job for his uncle's publications. But when in the 1970s he tried selling scripts he was generally unsuccessful, despite his fame from Marvel.

The golf game with Jack Liebowitz?

Comics historian Michael Uslan has researched this and it simply did not happen. Jack Liebowitz did not play golf. It was suggested that maybe Stan meant  Irwin Donenfeld, but that didn't happen either. Could it be somebody else? Maybe, but why would you play golf with your direct competitor, and then give him your most valuable trade secrets, your sales figures? Goodman relied on copying trends, so he would have inside information from somewhere, but probably not golf.

The Justice League as motivation?

If the motivation was "create a superhero team", then why didn't they do it? The powers are not important to the early plots:

  1. FF 1: the Mole Man story was apparently not a superhero story, and only had super powers added later: they could easily be removed and the story still works.
  2. FF 2: the Skrull crisis is solved by Reed showing photos from FF 1 (see below)
  3. FF 3: the Miracle Man crisis is solved by dazzling the enemy. A bright flash light would have done
  4. FF 4: the Namor crisis is solved by explosives. A hundred kilos of TNT would have done the job, if placed correctly (a single kilo, carefully placed, is enough to destroy a car). As an ex-Army man, Kirby would know that a single soldier could carry that: the oversized bomb was just so The Thing had something to do.
  5. FF 5: the Dr Doom crisis is solved by sneaking up on Doom when he was busy and looking the other way. So invisibility was not needed. (At this time Sue could not make other objects invisible, so Doom would have seen the ropes anyway.)
  6. FF 6: the space crisis was solved by Namor's presence: the FF were bystanders.
  7. FF 7: the alien crisis was solved by Reed's intelligence, not his stretching.
  8. FF 8: the Puppet Master crisis is solved by Alicia, not the team.

    The powers only become important from issue 9, when Jack started to doing things Stan's way:

  9. FF 9: each member uses their powers to escape a danger designed to stop them. Jack is deliberately making the powers important to the plot for the first time.
  10. FF 10: Sue defeats the pseudo-Doom with her powers, then the Torch tricks him with his powers, then the Thing stops him getting away by using his strength.
  11. FF 11: stories designed to show off their powers.
  12. FF 12: The Thing versus The Hulk! Nuff said.
  13. FF 13: fighting another super powered team. And so on.

The early stories was about a team of adventurers, with super powers as un unnecessary afterthought.

Stan discussed it with Jack first

Stan wrote: "After kicking it around with Martin and Jack for a while, i decided to call our quaint quartet The Fantastic Four.  I wrote a detailed first synopsis for Jack to follow, and the rest is history." This is the one part that agrees with all the evidence: Stan Lee discussed the possibilities with Jack Kirby "for a while" before deciding anything. This "Marvel method" is discussed in detail on the "who did what" page. Kicking it around for a while is the key. Then Stan wrote down his understanding of what they decided. Then Jack went away and created the story.

Sue was engaged?

Stan said, "I had the girl in the series actually be engaged to the hero". It is true that in FF 1 Stan's dialog calls her Reed's fiancée. But that is contradicted by both the art and the later story. The art shows her to be an active part of the planning team, and so joins the crew on her own merits: rather than Stan raising the profile of women he reduces her to going into space just because she is Reed's girlfriend, a story point that is justifiably mocked. Three issues later she has Namor's photo, not Reeds, and does not get engaged to Reed until issue 35. Rather than creating the FF, it looks like Stan is dialoging somebody else's story and changing it but not paying attention.

Stan disliked simple plots?

Stan said, "I really wanted to leave, because one edict that my publisher had was that the stories had to be geared towards young readers; or unintelligent older readers. We weren't supposed to use words of more than two syllables, and we had to have simple plots; no continuing stories, because he felt our readers weren't smart enough to remember from month to month where they had left off. It was really boring." But compare Stan's dialog with Jack's art. Or if you don't find that convincing, compare Stan's then current newspaper strip (Willie Lumpkin) with Jack's much better selling Sky masters. Stan had complete freedom with Willie Lumpkin, yet provided one of the simplest. least demanding strips out there. Or compare Stan and Jack's work once they parted in 1970. Who had the simpler plots and easy to read dialog? Who had been editing Jack's work to make it simpler? Maybe Stan was right. Maybe he did want more complex work, but just not as complex as Jack was supplying. but the evidence always shows him choosing to simplify stuff.

Stan disliked secret identities?

Stan said, "Instead of the typical heroes that have secret identities and nobody knows who they are, I did The Fantastic Four; where everybody knew who they were." but Stan's dialog says otherwise. Issue 2 refers to "one of the Fantastic Four's many secret apartment hideouts". Perhaps this is due to that particular story? No, the cover to the next issue refers to their skyscraper "hide-out" and inside it is called "their secret headquarters". It quickly become obvious to Stan that a "secret skyscraper" was an oxymoron, especially when the art shows the team travelling there undisguised, in a flying car with bright searchlights, so Stan stopped referring to it as secret. But as late as issue 7, Stan's dialog said that Johnny Storm had a secret identity (in Strange Tales 101, published the same month). Again this contradicted the art and the idea was soon dropped.

Stan disliked costumes?

Stan said, "I didn't have them wear colorful costumes. I always felt that if I had super-power, I wouldn't immediately run out to the store and buy a costume." Yet by issue 3 they had costumes.The pencils show the costumes originally had masks to hide the identity, but these masks were later erased. Why would Jack Kirby draw masks? He had to draw the team in everyday life, including being singled out at the theater in FF 2. He drew the Thing, and knew full well that a secret identity would be impossible for him. He drew the Invisible Girl, and knew that she did not need one either, as she could just turn invisible if she wanted privacy. nd he drew the Human Torch, who often hid his face by staying flamed on. So Jack knew that secret identities were absurd. The only person who could have demanded them was Stan, and this indicates that he only had a rough idea of what was going on. The usual explanation for costumes is that fans demanded them. But this was too early for much fan feedback, due to the time lag in writing and printing comics. Yes, issue 3 had the first letters page, but one letter was from "S. Brodsky" (Sol Brodsky the production manager, who managed to list all the company's products in his letter) and another was  "unsigned"  and sounding suspiciously like something Stan Lee would write. Perhaps the other letters were genuine? But the letters page is added last of all, after the comic is plotted, pencilled, inked, etc. So there would be even fewer letters when the costume decision was made. For somebody who hates costumes Stan seemed to be in a great hurry to add them.

Stan did it his way?

The core of the matter is that Stan decided to suddenly write great stories. Which is something he had never done before or since. He spent his life copying whatever kind of comic was already popular, so he was very good at writing quickly and creating passable stories. He was good at easy to read dialog and over-selling. But he had zero track record of creating anything successful, either before or since. Stan's list of original creations before 1961 includes... well, Willie Lumpkin. A gentle humour that didn't sell particularly well or for very long. And that's about it.  Meanwhile Jack Kirby had created or co-created Captain America, the entire romance genre, original titles about dreams, war, space, westerns, pretty much anything you can imagine.

OK, fine. But Stan admitted that he had not really tried until then. Perhaps he suddenly got good? Then where is Stan's track record after he left Marvel? We have Stripperella, and... that's about the only memorable one. But Jack Kirby continued creating original characters that still sell today: Darkseid, OMAC, Mr Miracle, Kamandi, Eternals, and many many more. How likely is it that Stan Lee had a sudden and once-only flash of inspiration when he was around Jack Kirby (or Steve Ditko) and not at any other time?

The story synopsis

Years later, a brief synopsis was found, outlining one third of Fantastic Four issue 1. Stan remembered this as being a script, written before Kirby ws involved. However, all the evidence indicates that it was a summary of what was decided at the story meeting. It was therefore written after the discussion with Kirby.

Summary

In summary, Stan seems to be looking back at what Jack Kirby brought to the Fantastic Four, and taking credit for it. Stan's explanation does not make sense. But there is an alternative explanation, and it is arises from the documents themselves:

Jack's version of events

According to Neal Kirby (Jack's son) Jack intended the FF to be a continuation of his Challengers of the Unknown series. This is from Neal's legal statement in the battles with Marvel:

Q What information, if any, do you have concerning the creation of The Fantastic Four?

A In discussions with my father The Fantastic Four basically was a derivative of the, from what he told me, basically he came up with the idea just as a derivative from the Challengers of the Unknown that he had done several years earlier. (source)

This explains so much:

  1. Why, in the Mole Man story, there are four people wearing Challengers type costumes and doing Challengers type things.
  2. How Jack could produce a new comic when he needed Goodman's approval. Jack was producing numerous monster stories each month, so he just made this as one of them. It was later adapted for the superheroes that Goodman wanted.
  3. Why the Mole Man story seems to have had the super powers added later.
  4. Why the synopsis to issue 1 contains no reference to the Mole Man. Kirby would have presented the Mole Man story first, then Stan would have said to add super powers.
  5. Why the powers in the first year seem to be an afterthought (see the discussion of whether the Justice League was the real inspiration or something Kirby was told to add).
  6. Why, in Jack Kirby's interviews, he says as much or more about the Challengers than the Fantastic Four, even thought the FF lasted much longer and was a much bigger hit. As a fan of the FF I found this frustrating: but now I see that in Jack's mind the FF were the Challengers.


Timeline, 1958-1961

We do not have to rely on Kirby's recollection, the timeline of events speaks for itself.

Pre-1958: Jack Kirby creates many hit comics

Kirby was far more famous than Stan Lee: Kirby's name appeared on the covers of many comics, along with his frequent partner Joe Simon. Simon and Kirby created Captain America, they created the entire romance comic genre, and much more. Kirby's entire career was spent creating new comic ideas.
signatures

Pre-1958: Stan Lee copies other people's ideas

Lee's career up to this point was in copying other people's ideas: if a comic was a hit for somebody else, Lee produced an imitation. That was just Lee's job. He worked for his uncle, Martin Goodman, and that was Goodman's method. For details, see "The Secret History of Marvel Comics" by Blake Bell and Michael Vassallo.
Homer the Happy Ghost Little Lizzie

1958, April: Challengers
At this point, Kirby was still mostly working for DC. He created "Challengers of the Unknown" for them, about a team of four daredevils who explore the dangerous and unknown. Many people have noted the similarities with the Fantastic Four: similar origin, similar promotional pictures, similar costumes, similar stories, similar powers (in one story), etc.

Challengers 2

1958: Sky Masters
Kirby created "Sky Masters of the Space Force",  a newspaper strip about conquering space. It became successful, but Jack was helped by his DC editor Jack Schiff, who wanted a cut of the money. Jack thought they had only agreed to a one off payment.

1958, Dec: Timely
Bad feeling with Schiff at DC led to Kirby taking freelance work with Timely, who were then in dire trouble.

1959, June: fired from Challengers
Kirby was sacked from Challengers, as part of the dispute with Schiff. Schiff gave the reason that "ideas from the Challengers story conferences were finding their way into Kirby's Sky Masters work." (see Ronin, "Tales To Astonish"). However, Jack's ideas for Challengers are clearly similar to his work for Harvey in the previous months ("Alarming Tales" issue 1-3), which were in turn derived from his horror comic work, whiuch can be traced to his superhero work, and so on. So they were Jack's ideas in the first place.

1959-60: Jack suggested superheroes
After losing Challengers, Jack was in urgent need of well paying work. But Timely (under Stan Lee) was doing poorly and paying poorly. So Kirby came up with as many ideas as he could. His Challengers work was full of super powered beings, and he previously helped invent Captain America, so he would naturally suggest superheroes. But Timely relied on its bigger competitor, National (DC) for distribution, Goodman did not want to annoy DC by competing directly with DC superheroes.

1961, early: Sky Masters ended
Kirby stopped Sky Masters, due to the cost of the legal dispute.

1961, early: Mole Man story
It seems likely that as one of his many monster stories, Kirby created the Mole Man story, featuring a team like the Challengers. This was not published in its original form, but was later adapted for FF issue 1.

1961, April: first man in space
Suddenly space iwas a hot topic, just at the time when Kirby had stopped his space comic and has ideas to spare.

1961, April: Justice League
The first sales figures for Justice League made superheroes seem viable again.

1961, April: Challengers continues
Goodman approved a comic that mixed sci-fi and superheroes. It continued Kirby's "Challengers of the Unknown". It looked like a monster comic from the outside, so DC did not see it as competition for the Justice League.

1961-1962: Challengers/Sky Masters FF
Kirby continued his Sky Masters theme of space travel (issues 1,2,6,7). DC did not complain about the super powers. Sales were excellent. Goodman now felt superheroes were a safe bet.


1962: The Hulk

The Hulk is a continuation of Kirby's other work at the time, creating Frankenstein-type monsters of all kinds (sometimes called "The Hulk")...

Xemnu

He also created Jekyl and Hyde characters. This page, from Kirby's story "Midnight Monsters" appeared just a few months before similar scenes in The Hulk:

Midnight Monster

Of course, Stan Lee was involved in those two examples. But Lee's presence made no real difference: Kirby was creating the same kind of thing in the months before he rejoined Lee. His Challengers of the Unknown, for example, often featured super strong monsters:

Challengers

And this sequence, from Kirby's solo work Sky masters, is almost identical to the origin of the later Hulk (thanks to Comic Book Historians for finding this):

Skymasters

It's not just the Hulk himself: the secondary characters are often straight from Kirby's earlier work. Such as The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime.

ringmaster
ringmaster


1962: Spider-Man

Here I will argue that Jack Kirby had the original idea for Spider-Man, but Steve Ditko then handled the plot and art. Ditko made Spider-Man a hit:

PITTS: You say you created Spider-Man. How different was your initial concept from the Spider-Man we all know?

KIRBY: My initial concept was practically the same. But the credit for developing Spider-Man goes to Steve Ditko; he wrote it and he drew it and he refined it. Steve Ditko is a thorough professional. And he an intellect. Personality wise, he’s a bit withdrawn, but there are lots of people like that. But Steve Ditko, despite the fact that he doesn’t disco– although he may now; I haven’t seen him for a long time– Steve developed Spider-Man and made a salable item out of it." (source)

Here is a timeline of the creation of Spider-Man, and how the ideas were refined and developed. This is based on Wikipedia plus the exhaustive article by Stan Taylor.
  1. The Silver Spider
    In 1954 Kirby and Joe Simon (mainly Simon) developed the Silver Spider, but did not use him. It featured an orphaned boy living with an old couple finds a magic ring that granted him extra strength, including the ability to leap.
  2. Web fluid
    Their publisher then suggested some changes: "a tall thin wiry person with long legs and arms." and he "could accomplish great acrobatic tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing a-la Tarzan, or a Batman.   The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect.  These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net."
  3. The name "Spider Man"
    "Simon had rejected a working title 'Spider-man' for his Silver Spider project, and showed a logo to Kirby, leaving little doubt as to which of the three people involved with Spider-Man would have been the source for the name." Eventually the Silver Spider idea was shelved, and never used. 1954 was the same year that Ben Carson, the biggest Halloween costume designer in America, began selling a "Spider man" costume (the surviving versions are all in yellow, not red). So that lends credibility to the date.
    mask photo with eyes
  4. The full face mask
    A key claim is the full face mask that Ditko says he chose to hide the fact that Spider-man was young. But many of Kirby's characters had full masks: from his first ever character, the Lone Rider, through to Iron Man, Dr Doom, Mr Miracle, etc. So this is not conclusive either, though Ditko has no reason to lie. The Halloween costume had the same concentric web pattern, iconic black around the eyes (in some versions), and spider logo on the chest, though there is no proof that Ditko saw it.
    1954 costume
  5. The big white eyes
    In 1968 (long before the issue of who created what became a hot topic) Kirby mentioned that he created the pre-Marvel Vision's costume with big white eyes, "the fore-runner of the Spider-man and silver surfer eyes", perhaps implying that he created all three. We know for certain he created the other two.
  6. Origin
    In 1957 Kirby drew the story "The Ant Extract" in which a meek scientist discovers a serum that gives him the proportional strength of an ant.  Because of his new power, the scientist is feared and ostracized by authorities."
  7. Peter Parker
    In the late 1950s Kirby proposed a strip called "Chip Hardy" - a college freshman on a science scholarship. "Moose Mulligan, the campus jock, teased young Chip about why he didn't try out for football, instead of 'hiding behind a mess of test tubes'.  Other students followed suit and mocked the youngster, labeling all science majors as "squares". Eventually, this taunting escalated into a physical confrontation between Moose and Hardy, with young Chip getting the better of it, mimicking exactly the character template and early relationship between Peter Parker, Flash Thompson, and the other school mates."
  8. Peter Parr
    At the same time Kirby created a character for another strip named 'Peter Parr'.
  9. The Fly
    In 1959 Kirby and Simon created the Fly, who clings to walls, senses danger, and is super strong (he could also fly). "The first use of his powers is to bring to justice, a petty crook that had assaulted his guardian."
    "Contrary to what Lee wrote in Origins of Marvel Comics, the real reason Kirby's version of Spider-Man was rejected was not that his Spidey looked 'too heroic' but that, as Ditko pointed out to Lee after perusing Kirby's first few pages, it too closely resembled The Fly, a character co-created by Kirby and his previous partner, Joe Simon (and the Fly was originally the Silver Spider)." - Fred W. Hill
  10. Spider Spry
    The Fly issue 1 had an enemy called "Spider Spry" with thin legs and a bulbous head, who "walks up thin silken lines, traps the Fly in a web-like net, and wears a colorful costume complete with a spider icon."  
  11. The emblem
    In 1958 a Charlton comic that Ditko either drew or was familiar with had webbing patterns like on Spider-Man's costume, as did a Halloween costume available at the time. So was it all Ditko? Probably the webbing was. Spider-man's spider image on the back does not look like the one on the front, and looks more like a tick than a spider. Just like the emblem on Spider Spry.
  12. Uncle Ben
    In 1959 Kirby also created "Lancelot Strong, aka The Shield, is an orphaned high school senior, and like Peter Parker, his surrogate parents were gentle, compassionate, and supportive.  His powers were the result of a scientific experiment, in this case, genetic engineering." "While rushing off to test his new-found powers against a rampaging alien monster, The Shield, (Lancelot Strong), in his teen exuberance, ignores and leaves his best friend Spud in harms way.   After defeating the brute, the Shield returns to celebrate his triumph only to learn that the monster has killed Spud. The distraught Shield blames himself, and vows that it will never happen again."
  13. The bookworm
    In 1961 Kirby draw "I Dared to Battle the Crawling Monster" It was possibly dialogued by Larry Lieber (not his brother Stan Lee).  "The hero is a high school student, a skinny, dorky, academic sort, laughed at by the jocks for his lack of athletic ability, and taunted by the girls.  Typically, by the end of the story, it is the bookworm, not the jock who saves the world.  Even the visuals of the lead character strongly resemble the Peter Parker character as shown in AF#15."
  14. Lee and Ditko's earlier work
    For comparison, neither Stan Lee nor Steve Ditko had anything like these.
  15. Kirby showed Lee
    In 1963 Goodman asked Stan Lee for a new superhero. Lee had a meeting with to Kirby. Kirby showed the Spider character to Lee, who liked it.
  16. Goodman's decision
    Martin Goodman approves the name and "ordinary teen" concept
  17. The first six pages
    Kirby then drew the first six pages, and Ditko was going to ink it. Lee decided it looked too heroic, and asked Ditko to re-do it. Ditko says he only saw five pages from Kirby: they did not show Spider-man after the transformation.
  18. The magic ring
    At some point someone said to drop Stan's idea of using a magic ring to gain the powers. The Kirby art that Ditko saw did not include the transformation so nobody knows who said this.
  19. The cover
    Lee did not like Ditko's cover, so got Kirby to pencil it.
  20. Lee's dialog
    Lee is definitely responsible for one thing: the dialog that's filled with self doubt. Self doubt was a Stan Lee thing, not a Kirby thing.
  21. The first three stories
    The first three issues (Amazing Fantasy 15, and Amazing Spider-man 1 and 2) are full of elements from Kirby stories (see the Stan Taylor article) and typical Kirby elements like spaceships and aliens. The stories then settle down to the kind of cerebral plots that Lee and Ditko used to do on their own.
  22. After those three issues
    Lee and Ditko then did the rest up to issue 38. Toward the end Ditko did not speak to Lee at all, but delivered the pages ready for dialog. This is important. Nobody disagrees that after issue 1 Spider-man's is Steve Ditko's baby. The character changed and evolved. Ditko was a creative genius. Spider-man 1 to 36 is a tremendous story in its own right, with a beginning, middle and end (for his last two issues Ditko seemed to just "phone it in" as they say.) But "who created Spider-man" is a different question, a very narrow question about who got him to the first issue.
  23. The costume
    Ditko later claimed to have designed the iconic costume. But the official Marvel publication FOOM (issue 11, 1975) said it was Kirby. It was normal for Kirby to create character designs for other artists.
  24. The shoes
    Ditko's memory can be unreliable, just as anyone's can. He says he gave Spider-man soft soled shoes for climbing, and others have claimed that Kirby always used full boots. But issues 1-3 of Spider-man show him with hard soled shoes. Meanwhile Kirby did not give hard shoes to his climbing characters (e.g. Spider Spry, Toad, Cobra, the Beast).
  25. Belt, but no shorts
    During this time Kirby's costumes tended to have belts and shorts. Ditko's costumes (e.g. Captain Atom, Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven) tended not to have either. Spider-man has a belt (it's where he kept spare webbing) but not shorts, so this is inconclusive.
  26. 1976 changed everything
    In 1976 the law on work for hire changed, so suddenly Kirby was able to sue if it could be proven that he created the characters. If he won, Marvel would have to pay millions of dollars (today, billions) in royalties owed.
  27. The missing costume proposal
    Jim Shooter says he saw Kirby's costume proposal in the 1970s, but since then it mysteriously disappeared.
  28. Stan takes credit
    In 1977 Stan Lee published an article entitled "How I created Spider-Man".

This raises some questions:

  1. Was the costume the key? The genius move was to make it simple, and covering everything. Just as Kirby did with the Black Panther or Black Bolt or... the Fantastic Four (apart from the hoods). The Panther's mouth was only covered at the inking stage: with Ditko as the inker perhaps the same would have happened.
  2. Was self doubt the key? This is just one aspect of the character, and perhaps the only unique thing Lee added.
  3. Can Kirby not do teen stories? He and Simon invented the romance genre, and some of his best work is about his boyhood on the streets. Yes, he can draw teens.
  4. Was Ditko's skinny style essential? No, Kirby did the first two covers, and after 38 issues of Ditko, John Romita took over, made Spider-man look more like a Kirby hero, and sales went up.

Jim Shooter on the Kirby Spider-Man costume

"RE:  Kirby Spider-Man pages: I saw, and held in my hand, exactly one such page. It was a page of design drawings. I remember that his version of Spider-Man had a "Web-Gun" and wore trunks, I think, like Captain America's. He was far bigger and bulkier than Ditko's version. There were no similarities to Ditko's Spider-Man costume. I think he had boots with flaps. There were notes in he margin that described the character, again, nothing like the Ditko version. I think there was something about him being related to, or having some connection with a police official, which was how he'd find out about trouble going on.  It was a long time ago, I can't swear to that last item, but I can swear to the fact that it wasn't similar to the Ditko version. I remember thinking, "This isn't at all like Ditko's."

P.S.  I must have seen that page when I was in Sol's office and he was going through the rejects stack looking for pages for me to try inking.  I don't think I ever got to look through those pages again.

P.P.S.  Years later, 1986, I had occasion to talk with Jack at the San Diego Con. He insisted that he created Spider-Man. I told him that I'd spoken to Steve Ditko, Sol, and other people who were there at the time, including Stan, obviously, and that they all agreed that Steve's version was the one that was used, though Jack did his version first. I reported everything I'd seen and heard. We talked about the costume -- the bib and belt combo, the stripes down the arms, the mask, the symbols, a very Ditko-esque design. Jack was having some problems with his memory by then, but he thought about it for a minute, then said that maybe Steve should get the credit. He'd be okay with that. A little later, he was on stage and clearly had forgotten our conversation. He and Roz did, however, come to Marvel's 25th Anniversary Party that evening, which made me very happy. There's a story about that, too, but it will wait for another time."

In conclusion, Steve Ditko provided:
  1. Most of the costume, possibly influenced by the Halloween costume of the time.
  2. Everything after Amazing Spider-man issue 2: the characterisation and plots that we know and love.
    But that is a different topic: this page is about the narrow technical point of whether Kirby created the initial character.

Stan Lee provided

  1. The self-doubting dialog
Jack Kirby provided
  1. the name (his spider man predates the Halloween costume)
  2. the powers
  3. the set up
  4. the characterization
  5. the rest of the costume
  6. the first plots
  7. the first art

So on balance, Kirby created Spider-Man, but Ditko made it a financial hit.


1963: Thor

This is the third time Kirby created a Thor character (source). The fourth time if we include his "son of Thor" from Captain America 1:

son of Thor

In these examples note the distinctive chest plate and interest in Loki. Each time the story centers on the hammer as the source of his power.

Thor

Thor

Here is Kirby's Thor splitting a tree with the hammer:

hammer

ANd here is the Marvel story:

hammer

After the origin story it is clear that Kirby is still plotting whenever he draws. In the few issues where Kirby is not involved, the stories change radically and the quality nosedives. Instead of stories about Norse legends, we get silly characters like Cobra and Mr Hyde. But as soon as Kirby gets back the stories become epic again. For details, see my thread on the Classic Comics forum.


1963: Iron Man

Iron Man is clearly based on an earlier Kirby character, Metallo: the wound in the heart, the metal chest plate, even the facial features:

Metallo

The origin story - being forced to create a scientific miracle by a south east Asian warlord - is from this Kirby comic for DC:

warlord 



1963: Dr Strange

Many people have commented on how Dr Strange is very similar to a Dr Droom (D-R-oom) from Amazing Adventures issue 1, in 1961. "Stan Lee has been quoted as saying Doctor Strange was kind of his second try at Doctor Droom." (source)

Droom

The story is credited to Stan Lee with pencils by Kirby and Ditko, so it was probably Kirby's rough outlines and Ditko added the details. The poses on page 1 for example are classic Kirby: indeed, the poses throughout. Whereas some of the detail looks very Ditko-esque. That was normal for first issues: if Kirby didn't have time to draw the whole thing he would quickly rough it out for somebody else. According to the Marvel Method, which was in use in 1961, Kirby should have plotted it as well. We can see that he probably did from the art: it has been changed, indicating that the original art had a different story. Why would Stan Lee change his own story, and in such an odd way?

Evidence for changes
Look at that weird ending, where Dr Droom gets a Chinese face. That isn't a Kirby or Ditko face, somebody else has drawn it on (or possible Kirby or Ditko in a hurry). It's also a very weird ending: no decent story teller would have planned that. And look at the large amount of text crammed into the last pages: the artist did not expect that much text. But if we remove the weird face and the dialog the pictures tell a different story:

Droom without text

The old magician is on his death bed. The stranger hears something shocking. They embrace their hands, and some magical thing happens. Then the master is never seen again, but the stranger touches his face, and the servant treats him as the new master. Clearly the westerner has become the master. but that would mean he looked the same, and that might confuse readers. Plus he would be a very old hero, and Stan would not want that - kids can't relate to an ancient hero. So it looks like Stan got somebody to redraw the face. the face had to change - the art was clear - so Stan just had him turn Chinese instead, and wrote some extra dialog to explain it.

The flat face on page 1
Another point in favour of being redrawn is the strange face of the hero at the start. It's flat, poorly drawn, so different from the three dimensional faces elsewhere. Kirby and Ditko drew better faces than that. And why all the crammed dialog saying that Droom was interested in Tibet? If we take away the dialog and the art tells a simpler story. The bald head, easy chair and pipe indicate that Droom was simply retired. The other doctors were too busy to go on a wild goose chase, but Droom was retired, so why not? And look closely at the hero's face throughout the story (if you can find the original): several shots suggest that he was either quite old or perhaps had a scar, or some sickness. And note the similarity with the Dr Doom origin! Age or a scar could make him a misfit, and more willing to go to Tibet. Indeed, the story might not have been about a sick magician, but about Droom trying to heal himself? 

The name Droom
The name "Droom" means "a fantastic but vain hope (from fantasies induced by the opium pipe)". (Vocabulary.com) Droom hoped to heal himself, but instead became the healer. However, Stan Lee likes his male heroes to be idealised (and preferably saving a helpless female), so a sick hero would trouble him. Of course, he later compromised and let Dr Strange have injured hands - essentially the same plot, but Steven Strange needed a handsome face! Who came up with that name? We do not have minutes to the story conference, so cannot know for sure. but throughout his career, from start to end, Kirby was coming up with wild new ideas, indicating that he read widely. In contrast, Stan Lee's career up to 1961 consisted of copying whatever comics sold well from other publishers. When Stan Lee did not have Kirby around him he didn't create any memorable characters. So in the absence of other evidence an interesting name like Droom is more likely to be from Kirby than from Lee.

So who wrote the Droom story?
We cannot be sure of course because we don't have the original pencils or marginal notes. All we can say with reasonable confidence is that the story was changed. Why would Stan Lee change his own story, and to give it such a weird ending? It looks like the original ending had something he felt would not work (such as an imperfect hero, or two people with the same face, which could confuse readers). The point is that this is not the story that Stan would have written. So who wrote it? Kirby was an old pro, and almost certainly sketched the story out for Ditko, whereas Ditko was still relatively junior. So the plot was probably by Kirby, as was normal practice at the time, as we saw previously.

One last piece of evidence:
Finally, what about the name and costume? Two months before Ditko's Dr Strange premiered (in Strange Tales 110, July 1963), Jack Kirby drew a story in Tales of Suspense 41 (May 1963). Called? "The Stronghold of Dr Strange".
Dr StrangeDr Strange again
Recognise the costume? (Note: villains generally wore purple or green, heroes wore primary colors like blue)
Dr Strange by Ditko

So the origin story was probably by Kirby. The Costume was definitely by Kirby. The name Dr Strange? The Kirby Dr Strange story was written by "Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein". An unknown would not have plotted it, so the plot was probably agreed in a story conference between Kirby and Lee as normal, with Bernstein adding the dialog at the end. So who came up with the name, Kirby or Lee? As with the name Droom, Kirby has the better track record but we don't know for sure.

Dr Strange: summary
So Kirby probably created the story outline and the costume for Dr Strange, and there's a good chance he invented the name as well. Of course, Ditko's distinctive art and plots made Dr Strange a hit. But just as with every other major Marvel character, we find Jack Kirby's probably had the initial idea.


1963: The X-Men

Kirby had created plenty of teams of young adventurers: Boy's Ranch, Young Allies, Boy Commandos, etc. But what about a team with mutant superpowers? Nathan Summers (of "How Would You Fix..?") noticed this:

"in Yellow Claw #2 from December 1956 where Jack not only got penciler but writer credit as well, the titular villain gathers a group of mutants intending to use their combined brainpower which he claims will prove more effective than a dozen H-bombs. In the story Kirby has FBI agent Jimmy Woo define mutants as "'people with deviations... in either mind or body... or both!'".

Yellow Claw

This is basically the plot of the X-Men, but seven years earlier. And purely by Jack Kirby. Kirby's stories often featured mutants whose powers came from radiation. Here is another Kirby mutant team:mutants

And here's an early "Blue Bolt" story from 1940 (thanks to Patrick Ford for pointing this out):

Blue Bolt

Incidentally, note the reference to cosmic rays (the source of the Fantastic Four's powers) and the similarity with Modok. And how the giant brained person shuts off the switch just in time - an idea Kirby used again in Fantastic Four 29:

evolution

The more we read Kirby's comics, the more we see that the Marvel comic stories were almost pure Kirby. Take any page from a Kirby Marvel story and we see the same story elements in previous Kirby work. But very few of them are in Stan Lee work. Everything about the ideas screams Kirby, not Lee.


Doom Patrol?

The remaining details of the X-Men (outcasts, led by a man in a wheelchair, enemies called "the brotherhood", tag-line "the world's strangest heroes") are identical to Doom Patrol, a DC comic that came out three months earlier.

Doom Patrol

(Image from Cracked)

This looks like another of Stan Lee's famous rip-offs:

Homer the Happy Ghost Little Lizzie

Three months is not long enough to read a comic on the news stands and then create your own comic, so this argues for inside information. At the time, some DC artists were secretly moonlighting for Marvel: Gene Colan called himself Adam Austin, Gil Kane called himself Scott Edward, Jerry Siegel called himself "Joe Carter", etc. So Stan Lee, as editor, was in regular contact with insiders at DC. Arnold Drake, creator of Doom patrol, explained:

' ...I’ve become more and more convinced that [Stan Lee] knowingly stole The X-Men from The Doom Patrol. Over the years I learned that an awful lot of writers and artists were working surreptitiously between [Marvel and DC]. Therefore from when I first brought the idea into [DC editor] Murray Boltinoff’s office, it would’ve been easy for someone to walk over and hear that [I was] working on a story about a bunch of reluctant superheroes who are led by a man in a wheelchair. So over the years I began to feel that Stan had more lead time than I realized. He may well have had four, five or even six months. '

This illustrates the difference between Stan's ideas and Jack's ideas. Jack's ideas were creatively different, and can be seen evolving in his own earlier comics. But Stan's ideas tend to be straight swipes from other people's work.

Doom patrol and Fantastic Four

Doom patrol was itself a reaction to the Fantastic Four: an attempt to create a gritty, darker team to rival the FF. Negative Man was a test pilot like Ben Grimm, and when flying looks like the Human Torch. The leader, Niles Caulder, is a brilliant scientist like Reed, but is visually missing from the action, like Sue. Elastigirl has Sue's gender and Reed's power. Robotman is a big orange strong guy who wants to be human, like Ben Grimm. The team were outcasts, like the FF in issues 2, 7 and 9. Of course the FF were themselves a continuation of the Challengers... by Jack Kirby. It seems as if every original idea comes back to Jack Kirby eventually.



Conclusion

On a previous page we saw the evidence that Jack Kirby plotted the Fantastic Four, and then Stan Lee wrote the dialog based on Kirby's notes. On this page we saw that Kirby had the initial idea for the Fantastic Four, and he probably created the other major Marvel characters as well. Sometimes Lee remembers it differently, but Stan's memory is not reliable. All the facts point to Jack Kirby being the ideas man, and Stan Lee being the promoter and public face of the business.

If that seems hard to believe, just look around you today. Today, Marvel makes most of its money from movies. Stan Lee's face is on every Marvel movie, because he is the company mascot. But he does not make the creative decisions. Nothing has changed.



The Great American Novel