Stan Lee Accused Of Dismissing Comic Book Legend Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby's son Neal has written an open letter, criticizing Disney+'s documentary about Stan Lee.

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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Marvel legend Stan Lee eventually became a household name to the point that even those who never cracked a comic book know who he is and what he looks like. And they also know his legend: that he created or co-created most of the characters that originally comprised Marvel’s core canon. However, Stan Lee’s true believers got a dose of cold water recently when a letter from Jack Kirby’s son was posted to Twitter alleging that Lee often took credit for Kirby’s work and effectively kept the hardworking artist out of the spotlight.

Of course, if you’ve kept up with comics (and more importantly, behind-the-scenes comics drama) over the years, you’re probably wondering why we’re getting a fresh round of the “Stan Lee kept stealing credit from Jack Kirby” discourse. And the reason is quite simple.

Disney+ recently released a documentary celebrating Stan Lee’s life. On paper, this documentary is a treasure trove for fans of Stan Lee, but Jack Kirby’s son Neal alleges that this is just the latest example of Lee taking credit for the work of others (even from beyond the grave).

If you’re not familiar with all this drama, it has to do with what was going on at Marvel between 1960-1966. This was when Stan Lee was writing most of the titles, and he frequently collaborated with legendary artist Jack Kirby. It was during this time that some of the most famous Marvel characters were created, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, and even the Fantastic Four.

From the standpoint of the average reader, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made one hell of a team, but there were cracks in the foundation of their relationship that only grew over time. When he was alive, Kirby frequently alleged that Stan Lee wrote very little.

Kirby and other artists allegedly had to pick up the narrative slack. More damningly, Kirby (and now that he has passed away, Kirby’s son) allege that Stan Lee frequently stole credit for the great ideas of others.

For example, Stan Lee takes credit for co-creating the Fantastic Four. But as Jack Kirby’s son points out, those characters were obviously just Marvel versions of the DC characters Challengers of the Unknown, characters created by Kirby.

The son also touches on how Lee clashed with another artist, Steve Ditko, over who created what. As Lee himself says in the documentary, “it was my idea, therefore I created the character.”

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The Challengers of the Unknown, Jack Kirby’s precursor to the Fantastic Four

While Stan Lee’s quote may sound pretty straightforward, Jack Kirby’s son points out that history doesn’t really agree: while the famous David statue was conceived and funded by the wealthy Opera del Duomo, history credits the artist for bringing it to life. That’s why we call it “Michelangelo’s David” rather than crediting the financiers who provided only a very basic idea.

In short, if Lee’s involvement in character creation was just throwing out a half-baked concept and then having artists like Kirby design the character and allegedly shape their background and even largely write their stories, such artists should get the primary credit for such accomplishments.

However, the root of the son’s bitterness is that Stan Lee spent decades as the face of Marvel’s PR, effectively using the “corporate megaphone and media” to mostly write Jack Kirby out of his own creative legacy.

Lee would go on to cameo in 35 Marvel movies while Kirby’s name merely appears in many MCU films, usually well below Lee’s own name. We can only hope Kirby receives more credit for his creations in death than he did in life, and before you ask, no…we don’t have any “no-prizes” to award to anybody making apologies or excuses for what Lee allegedly did. 

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