Over the weekend, a new documentary starring Stan Lee started streaming on Disney+ after debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival, drawing a fiery response from the family of Jack Kirby. 

Entitled simply “Stan Lee,” the film was directed by David Gelb and features the Man in a voiceover telling the story of his creation of the Marvel Universe.

Except, as we know he DIDN’T create the Marvel Universe. He co-created it with Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Don Heck, and, most importantly, Jack Kirby – something the documentary skimmed over since it used Lee’s own words to tell the story. And sadly, Lee wasn’t known for being particularly humble or truthful at times. Indeed, a review in Rolling Stone labeled the doc an “infomercial


The documentary led Kirby’s son, Neal, to fire back in a passionate statement posted on twitter by Jack Kirby’s grand-daughter, Jillian. Loaded with classical references, the statement chastises the filmmakers and Lee for underplaying Jack Kirby’s foundational involvement in creating Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, The Hulk and dozens of other characters who anchor the billion dollar MCU – up to and including Groot!

“If you were to look at a list and timeline of Marvel’s characters in 1962-1966, the period in which the vast majority of Marvel’s major characters were created during Lee’s tenure, you’ll see Lee’s name as a co-creator on every character, with the exception of the Silver Surfer, solely created by my father,” Neal Kirby wrote.  “Are we to assume only had a hand in creating every Marvel character? Are we to assume that it was never the other co-creator that walked into Lee’s office and said “Stan, I have a great idea for a character!” According to Lee it was always his idea. Lee spends a fair amount of time talking about how and why he created the Fantastic Four, with only one fleeting reference to my father. Indeed most comics historians recognize that my father based the Fantastic Four on a 1957 comic he created for DC, “Challengers of the Unknown,” even naming Ben Grimm (The Thing) after his father Benjamin, and Sue Storm after my older sister Susan.”

Neal Kirby notes that the documentary gave more airtime to the Lee-Ditko conflict, with Stan stating of Spider-Man, “it was my idea, therefore I created the character.” The younger Kirby’s rebuttal is devastating: “In 1501, the Opera del Duomo commission a 26-year-old Michelangelo to sculpt the statue of David for Cathedral of Florence – their idea, their money. The statue is called Michelangelo’s David – his genius, his vision, his creativity.”


Stan vs Jack (and the rest of the world) is a controversy that will never really go away. Kirby died in 1994, long before his creations were household names. Stan, who died in 2018, had 24 years to cement his version of the story in a willing media, while forging a seventh career as a cameo actor. It’s left to those of us who knew and admired Jack Kirby to support his family in keeping his name and contribution alive.

I’m not going to go into all the back and forth of who did what here, but before working at Marvel Jack Kirby created or co-created Captain America, the Newsboy Legion, romance comics, Challengers of the Unknown and dozens more.  At Marvel he created or co-created Silver Surfer, Galactus, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, the Inhumans, and so on and so forth. After leaving Marvel he created Darkseid, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, the New Gods, and so on. Returning to Marvel, he created the Eternals and Devil Dinosaur.


Later in his career, Stan created a bunch of Silver Surfer graphic novels with Kirby, Moebius and Keith Pollard. You’ll recall the Silver Surfer was solely created by Jack Kirby. After leaving Marvel, Stan pacted with many many many companies, but probably the most famous character he created was Striperella, an exotic dancer superhero whose animated adventures lasted on Spike for 13 episodes in 2003, with Pamela Anderson voicing the main character.

While it’s hard to do a head to head comparison, this tweet from cartoonist Scott Gray offers an interesting take:

I think an interesting litmus test is Stan Lee’s Strange Tales run in the 60s: same cast as the Fantastic Four, made at the same time, but with Dick Ayers drawing instead of Jack Kirby. Few memorable characters or stories created.

In some ways it’s unfair to compare a writer and an artist – an artist can be a complete cartoonist and a writer can’t. But it’s easy to compare Kirby’s work before during and after Stan with Stan’s work before during and after Kirby, and it’s pretty clear who was the IP powerhouse.

To be honest, it’s also unfair to Stan’s very real legacy to repeat the ugly lie that he created the Marvel Universe. I’m not here to say Stan Lee was the worst person who ever lived, or that he didn’t have an irreplaceable role in the creation of the Marvel Universe. But he had the last word for 24 years, and it behooves those who value the truth and unstinting creativity to stop parroting the “Stan the Auteur” line.

Jack knew all that, though. In 1986 he told interviewer Mark Borax:

Kirby then tells Borax, “We did yesterday. But it resolves nothing. I can’t understand why there’s a struggle over who did what, cause Stan and I know. Nobody else knows. If Stan would only come out of his hiding place and tell the world everything would go great. It isn’t obscure. He knows it, and I know it. There won’t be a resolution. People don’t change. They can’t change. Sometimes it’s too late. You just go on being what you are. Human beings go on being human beings. I can predict everything that Stan will do. I know I can’t change Stan. He says his piece, and I say mine. I could shake hands with Stan till doomsday and it would resolve nothing, the dance goes on.”

Jack Kirby trended on Twitter on Father’s Day something Jillian reported with  joy. There were also many supportive tweets, just a few here. Jeet Heer: 

As I wrote earlier, it’s dismaying that Disney has decided to double down on Stan Lee’s demonstrably mythical version of Marvel comics history. The truer stories of the artists who actually created Marvel, amply documented by many researchers, is far more interesting.

And director Guillermo del Toro, certainly someone who has felt Kirby’s influence:

Jack Kirby: One of the Gods in my Olympus. For any doubt regarding his World-building, look at his DC books. Demon / Jason Blood, New Gods Mythos or Kamandi- or his lisergic 2001. NO ONE beats his splash pages! A nimble, erudite, powerful storyteller and a true mensch.

Finally Jordan Blum, co-creator of the Modok cartoon on Hulu (yes, that existed) wrote:

It’s insane that there isn’t a giant statue of Kirby at Avengers Campus in California Adventure. He should looming over it like the Celestials who gave life to the Marvel Universe.

This is absolutely true, but you’ll recall that the Kirby family and Disney were locked in a long legal dispute – while it was settled amicably, Disney may be slow to elevate the work of someone who fought his whole life for creative freedom and wasn’t afraid to be vocal about it.

That said they should get over it. Make Jack a Disney Legend! Put up that statue. Put up TWO statues. Stan and Jack are united forever in their work and need to be remembered….together.

Photo © Scott Anderson



  1. I would argue Stan’s most famous post 60’s is She Hulk not Striparella. That’s not a defense of anything just a statement. I would also argue that outside of comic fans the only non Lee creation that has yet had staying power is Captain America. His pre Silver age Marvel stuff sold in the millions but no one is standing in line to see a movie about any of those characters and revivals of them have never really lasted. Ditto the post silver age Marvel stuff as the lukewarm Eternals showed. My point is whatever Stan did he added something magical to mix that has stood the test of time and that I don’t think any of them ever caught working separately.

  2. Stan Lee was Marvel’s Funky Flashman, and DC had no Funky Flashman (except of course Funky Flashman).

  3. I’ll say what others might not out of a sense of decorum or because they work in the industry and don’t want their comments to haunt them: the greatest proof Stan wasn’t and could never have been all he claimed lies in his writing and the inherent lack of quality therein.

    Just try to read anything he wrote solo after the golden age of Marvel passed: you won’t be able to finish it without realizing it’s uniformly utter crap. He simply was not a very good writer when left to his own devices, and the hackiness is painfully unmistakable. And once artists figured out that they couldn’t give Marvel their best or it would be stolen out from under them, the company’s level of quality plummeted across the board.

    Not even his many contributions to Marvel anniversary issues featuring characters he “created” rise above the level you’d expect from fanzine work; nothing but painful predictable jokes, the same old tedious schtick, and by-the-book hackwork with no flair or sparkle.

    His real talent was for self-promotion, which helped make Marvel all it was at a time when that flair for promotion mattered–but then hobbled the company once he focused his energy on trying to get films made, something he evidently sucked at since nothing even half decent ever came out until well after responsibly passed from Stan’s hands.

  4. This is the most tired argument in comics. Nothing Kirby, Ditko, Heck, or Lieber created without Lee (excepting -possibly- Darkseid) had any legs, just as nothing Lee created without those four had any longevity. It’s time to just admit it was a unique chemistry where everyone sparked everyone else.

  5. Totally agree with davesikula- you guys need to give it up. I know it makes a lot of you Wednesday warriors feel like you’re taking up some social cause celebre by stanning this guy who’s been dead for 30 years, but now it’s idiotic to continue whining after Stan himself is dead. And it’s a documentary about him. The ‘infomercial’ is somehow less propaganda than the garbage the out of touch Kirby children keep spewing. Kirby co-created the FF, Thor, Avengers- if you like Spider-Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Wolverine, etc you don’t need to forever feel obligated to pay tribute to him. He was too spineless to fight for what was his in real life and without Stan Marvel would’ve remained in his basement grumbling. Move on.

  6. It is truly mind blowing that In the age of the Internet, Disney thought that they could actually get away with this.

    As a working comic book artist with over 30 years experience in the business, one of the first things explained to me was that Jack, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Don Heck, and Joe Simon created the foundation of what became the classic Marvel Comics that everyone knows.

    Jack was the creative engine. Full stop. He wrote about the numerous character concepts in the gutters of his pages in pencil. Anyone who saw his original art knew this. He would plot and Stan would dialogue.

    Stan was a great writer, and an even better showman and promoter of Marvel.

    I guess the previous two posters didn’t read your article.

    Heidi, as you yourself wrote:

    “…before working at Marvel Jack Kirby created or co-created Captain America, the Newsboy Legion, romance comics, Challengers of the Unknown and dozens more. At Marvel he created or co-created Silver Surfer, Galactus, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, the Inhumans, and so on and so forth. After leaving Marvel he created Darkseid, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, the New Gods, and so on. Returning to Marvel, he created the Eternals and Devil Dinosaur.”

    Characters that are STILL being monetized and generating BILLIONS of dollars.

    But “Nothing they created had legs”. SMH.

    And to call a man not here to defend himself spineless, a man who served his country honorably in World War II, and then years later had to fight for years to get his own art back,
    is the type of grimy, shameless behavior that can only happen in the anonymity of the internet. Jack Kirby had to fight his whole life. Spineless is the last thing that anyone would call him.

    Stan could write. Jack could create and plot, but his writing left a bit to be desired, in my opinion. So their partnership did have a synergy that created stories that will live forever.

    But to continue to not give Jack Kirby his due is a travesty that must stop.

  7. Stan could write? Jim Shooter just let it slip in his Comic Book Historians interview that HE plotted Stan’s 1960s Silver Surfer stories. Roy Thomas admitted he ghost wrote Stan’s Spider-Man strip for over two decades. Ed Piskor admitted Stan’s Masterworks introductions were all ghost written by Danny Fingeroth.

    If Stan could write, why did he need so much help?

  8. Disney was built just like Stan Lee’s Marvel.
    Both share the same, one man grab it all, corporate culture: exploit creators, steal credits, self promote and cash in the profits!

  9. It’s amazing to me this is even still an argument. The Stan stans are like anti-vaxxers.

    I’d strongly recommend anyone who cares about the real history of Marvel Universe pick up TwoMorrows’ excellent “STUF’ SAID!” edited by John Morrow, a definitive oral history of the creation of 1960s Marvel, taken from the participants’ own words, and in the case of the artists, margin notes on the original art that Stan wrote his dialogue from.

    After consuming that relatively slim (175pp) volume there can be little doubt why the Kirbys feel how they feel–and why they have every right to feel that way.

  10. The supremely infuriating thing is that, in the 60s, Stan Lee HIMSELF ADMITTED Kirby & Ditko were co-writing their comics, and hence having to create characters such as the Silver Surfer to motor the plots!

    Ditko was given “co-plotter” credit on Spider-Man, and in Stan’s own words, Dr. Strange was Ditko’s idea. (None of which he received extra payment for, but that’s another matter). Kirby could both plot and draw entire issues without any input from Stan.

    It was only in the 70s onwards that corporate concerns demanded the Stan-did-everything myth to be generated.

  11. Heath (and everyone else): I never wrote any of Stan’s Masterworks introductions. Didn’t have anything to do with them.

  12. Also Heath I looked up that interview with Shooter. He did not say he plotted all of the 60’s Surfers. He wrote a Surfer plot unsolicited that Stan brought and used. That he didn’t give Shooter a plot by credit is a fair point, as is that Stan used provided by others while crediting the writing entirely to himself. But it’s false and misleading to imply Shooter plotted all those stories. He never said he did.

  13. In a far less litigious era, here’s Stan Lee crediting Jack Kirby with the creation of the Inhumans (26.00): “Then Jack had to create a whole bunch of Inhumans and I think he did a great job, all these characters are really very imaginative.”

  14. Stan Lee was the greatest editor and the greatest promoter that comics ever had. But he wasn’t content to be that. He wanted to be the genius who was responsible for everything. And all the things he didn’t want to talk about (how he owed his job to family connections, got a cushy desk job to sit out the war while Kirby and others risked their lives on the front). He had to be a genius, he had to be a star. He always had to be better than those artists. Not even their equal. (and when Ditko and Kirby wrote and plotted the books, they never got paid for it, Stan always made sure he got paid for their work) There’s something sad about how he could never be happy because he was always chasing fame and money.

    The nasty trolling comments about Kirby don’t surprise me anymore, sadly.

    Honestly it reminds me a bit of some of the old time comics people whose response to “comicsbrokeme” is that they should stop whining and grow up. (or worse) Let’s not kid ourselves, they would have called Kirby a pathetic old loser and laughed at him behind his back.

  15. Yeah, what Fred said, it’s all there in Stuf’ Said. A brilliant book.

    I’m thrilled to see Neal Kirby speaking out about this and equally thrilled to see such a wide range of sites taking it so seriously this time.

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