Earlier this week, Joan Lee, the wife of Marvel Universe creator Stan Lee for 70 years, died at the age of 95. Marvel fans knew Joan for being Stan’s wife, for appearing alongside Stan in a cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse, or for providing the voice of Madame Web in the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon, but they may not know just how important she was to the creation of the Marvel Comics universe.
At an event held at the Paley Center For Media, seen in the video above, current Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada asked Stan Lee about Joan’s role in creating the Marvel Universe, which goes back to Stan feeling burnt out after working in the comics industry for years.
“I was doing the comics and my publisher, Martin Goodman, told me how he wanted them done,” Lee recalls. “’A lot of action, a lot of fight scenes, not too much dialog. Our readers don’t like a lot of dialog. Don’t use any big words, they’re not good at vocabulary. Just concentrate on the fight scenes, that’s what they like.’
“Well I can write a fight, I think, as well as anybody, but that’s not what I wanted to spend my life doing,” Lee continues. “How about some characterization? How about caring for the characters? ‘Gimme fight scenes.’”
Lee brought his frustrations home to his wife, and Joan gave him a piece of advice that may have literally changed the world.
“So I went home and I said to Joanie, ‘You know honey, I think I’d like to quit. I can see this job is a dead end. It's gonna lead to nothing. I might as well leave now and try to find something else to do,’” Lee remembers. “She gave me the world’s greatest advice. She said, ‘Why don’t you do one book the way you want to do it? The worst that’ll happen, he’ll fire you, but you want to quit anyway. At least you’ll have gotten it out of your system’”
That “one book” ended up changing the comic book industry forever.
“I thought that was good advice, so I did The Fantastic Four, which was more the story I wanted to do. It wasn’t all fight scenes and I had four characters,” Lee says. “I could give different personalities to each one and so forth. I did it. I didn’t hear much from Martin about it until 30 days later when the sales figures came in, and he said, “Hey, Stan, you know that Fantastic Four, it did well. It sold more than any of other books. How about if you do a few more titles like that?’ And that’s what started the whole thing.”
“The whole thing” was the Marvel Universe as we know it, and the few more titles Goodman asked for ended up including The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, Daredevil, The Mighty Thor, and The Uncanny X-Men.
“If not for her I’d be sitting here – no, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be outside saying, ‘Hey, you got a nickel?’” Lee concludes.
Without Joan Lee, there’d be no Marvel Universe at all. Marvel fans will forever owe her a debt.
More: Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment Shares Tribute To Joan Lee / Kevin Smith Writes Tribute To Joan Lee / The Internet Reacts To The Passing Of Joan Lee / Stan And Joan Lee's Cameo In X-Men: Apocalypse