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What Was the Last GREAT Story Written by Stan Lee?

Taking another look at the classic Silver Surfer #4 by Stan Lee and the Buscema brothers (which I just featured in a Year of Cool Comics), which came out at the end of 1968, it made me think, “Wow, was that one of the last GREAT Stan Lee-written stories? It came out soon before he left Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, so it is certainly the end of his ‘Golden Age, but how many great comics did he have after this one?”

I don’t think even Lee would really quibble much with the notion that his very best work was done in the 1960s, but he has done plenty of good work since then.

But when you think of GREAT Stan Lee stories – what was the most recent one that you can think of?

This isn’t some sort of veiled shot at the guy – I’m honestly curious as to hear your answers (and for the sake of this exercise, I’m counting anything that he was credited as the writer of, whether you think his artist/plotter deserves more credit for the story or not – we can leave those debates for another discussion).

65 Comments

This should be priceless.

Easy, Silver Surfer – Parable with art by Moebius for Epic Comics

Ravage 2099, of course.

Agree with TTROY. Silver Surfer – Parable is great.

I would say Parable as well.
Although, to be honest – and I know I’m probably in a small minority here – I rather liked a few of those Just Imagine stories Lee did for DC: the Wonder Woman and Sandman ones come to mind. I don’t know if they count as “great,” but still pretty good.

He did a backup story with John Romita Sr. in Amazing Spider-Man #365 that was pretty good (great? not sure). I think it was called “I Remember Gwen”.

I rather liked a few of those Just Imagine stories Lee did for DC: the Wonder Woman and Sandman ones come to mind. I don’t know if they count as “great,” but still pretty good.

They ARE pretty good. In fact, if you put them next to Stan’s actual work from 1964 or 1965 you will see that they are very comparable with the early Marvel stuff that was so legendary. If the Just Imagine books had been done back then they’d have been much more highly regarded.

It’s not Stan’s fault that in the intervening decades his style was adopted and then refined and built on by so many others that an actual Stan Lee superhero story looks generic now. The Just Imagine books suffered from their context more than anything else. Actual Stan found himself in competition with mistily-remembered legendary Stan from fans’ childhoods. Nobody can win that competition.

That Spider-man comic strip where he watches tv is pretty good.

I totally forgot about Parable. I’ll go with that as well.

I agree with Parable, but to add an opinion, I think that Silver Surfer: Judgment Day deserves some recognition as well. I believe that it came out just before Parable, but my memory is bad and it might have been at the same time/a bit after. Even though the story is a little simplistic (but still pretty epic), Buscema’s all-splash-page art provides the ideal vehicle for Lee’s overly bombastic scripting. In my opinion, it’s a Stan Lee Marvel story that holds its own today as simply a cool comic and not just a cool piece of comic history.

I’m also going to go with a Surfer story, but my choice is a bit earlier. For Stan Lee’s last great story, I nominate THE SILVER SURFER: THE ULTIMATE COSMIC EXPERIENCE, the graphic novel that Stan and Jack Kirby put out in 1978. there was some really solid scripting in that one.

Y’know, I own Parable, and it’s certainly good, but on the whole I think Lee’s best writing was probably on Spider-Man. I always feel like the man never found a groove they way that he did writing ASM anywhere else, not even on the Fantastic Four.

As for which one, much harder to say. Amazing Fantasy #15 is pretty brilliant. The Green Goblin two-parter in ASM around #38? Could be that Stan wrote a better story elsewhere, but if I were looking I would definitely start with Spider-Man.

(Though if I could count “the origin story of Dr. Doom,” or at any rate Lee’s contributions to it, as a whole, I might actually give the best-story nod to that. For all the science-fantasy and adventure trappings, at its core that one remains an awfully compelling tale of tragedy and how a man of enormous ego and strength of will was ironically shaped and bent by circumstances.)

OH. The LAST great story written by Stan Lee. Next time I’ll read the title!

I think some of theLee/Kirby run on the FF was really good just a personal opinion three stories that come to mind are like issues 80 thru 94 there are a couple of fill in issues but a four part Inhumans followed by a for part Dr Doom followed by the Skrulls these were great stories I think these were 1968-69, Now that I think about it issue 30 the First Diablo really rocked me,but in 1968 there is a Lee/Colan issue of DareDevil issue #47 “Brother Take My Hand” about a framed Nam vet who loses his eyesight, this still stand s as one of my favorite Stan Lee Stories I know it was reprinted in Sons of Origins thats where I first read it. if those are to old I’ll go with the The Parable is good I think I’ll go look at it. later! Excelsior!

The Darwyn Cooke drawn “Phantom Quarterback” story in DC COMICS PRESENTS SUPERMAN # 1.

SILVER SURFER: PARABLE by Stan Lee and Moebius

Did he ever do a “great” story? Sorry not a fan. Writing cheesy dialogue over top someones plot does not make anyone a good writer.

He was an excellent business/salesman/face for his time and that’s what I remember him for.

Things I know about Paul D Huston:

1) He has never tried writing dialog over someones plot. It’s by far the most difficult writing I’ve ever tried to do.

I think his last great stories were done in the 1960s, perhaps very early 1970s. I remember a few of the later stories that were pretty good. Captain Stacy’s death, six-armed Spider-Man, Air-Walker in the FF.

Parable is good, but I wouldn’t say great. Stan Lee’s writing hasn’t aged too well, and I think I can only enjoy it when immersing myself in the age he did his best work.

But I am a fan, definitely. Anyone who says Stan Lee deserves less credit than Kirby or Ditko is (IMO) the sort of fan that just wants to show everyone how cool he is, how commited and countercultural and whatever the hell they call Fight the Power types these days.

@Paul D Houston — If you don’t like Stan Lee’s writing, you should at the very least respect the man and give him well-deserved credit as a great conceptualist and co-creator of most of Marvel’s most iconic characters. That’s actually what he should be remembered for most of all!

Couple more general thoughts:

1) I certainly think Kirby and Ditko were more imaginative creators. But Stan hired ‘em, (or got ‘em hired) and Stan essentially created an environment where they could do there best work. He always had an insanely good eye for talent.

2) In general, I think people are too ready to praise Stan’s wildly-the-fuck inconsistent sixties work and ignore everything that came before and after it.

3) Okay… I got no problem saying that Fantastic Four # 48-60 are up there with the best superhero comics of all time.

But the first few years of Thor are borderline unreadable. Even for me. (And the last couple years are great.) And there’s plenty of work – Ant-Man, the Human Torch, the last few years of the giant monster comics – that’s nearly as bad.

4) Back to point one: I think it was Scott (of the Classic Comics Corner) who pointed out to be how freaking GOOD the ’50s Atlas bullpen was. John Severin, Al Jaffee, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Dan DeCarlo – And Joe Maneely, who’s one of my five favorite mainstream artists ever.

Stan tends to crap all over this period in interviews, but he assembled an INSANE collection of talent who did really good work, long before the ’60s superhero boom.

5) I’m with Edo Bosnar and Greg Hatcher – I quite liked the JUST IMAGINE books. What’s more, I was impressed by the craft of the writing.

I can’t think of a writer who’s better at EFFICIENTLY defining character through dialog than Stan. In the SUPERMAN issue I remember being able to figure out (A) What the main character’s motivations are, (B) How the lead characters related to each other, and (C) How the lead characters viewed THEMSELVES. One page of Stan character building equals 20 or 30 pages of, say, Bendis character building.

6) To repeat: Writing dialog over finished pencils is extremely goddamn difficult. You guys need to try this sometime. I can maybe dig up my pitiful efforts if you’re interested. It’s worth remembering that his best work was done under insane deadline pressure under some really tough conditions.

And, okay, Ant-Man (*shudder*) too.

7) Lee an’ Ditko’s Spider-man is my favorite superhero comics run of all time. (And I read it for the first time when I was 20. This ain’t a nostalgia thing.) Just throwin’ that out there.

Stan Lee’s writing hasn’t aged too well, and I think I can only enjoy it when immersing myself in the age he did his best work.

It’s not really that Lee’s writing hasn’t aged well; it’s that his writing skills actually started to decline. In my mind, a lot of the dialogue in Amazing Spider-Man is still snappy and fresh to this day (unlike Lee’s recent output), and I contrast this to someone like Claremont whose writing seems un-ironically overwrought and melodramatic in many parts of his classic X-men stories. So I don’t think it’s an attitude you’re bringing to the text that causes you to enjoy 60s Lee more than 1970 to present Lee; it’s just that the former stories were better written.

I vote for the Silver Surfer one shot that Stan Lee did with John Byrne.

I would also like to cast a vote for JUST IMAGINE. Have those versions of the characters ever shown up again, even if just as an easter egg in a large group shot?

I nominate the Stan Lee-Barry Windsor Smith Doctor Strange story in MARVEL PREMIERE 3.

My vote goes to the SILVER SURFER: THE ULTIMATE COSMIC EXPERIENCE graphic novel that Stan did with Jack Kirby.

I agree with most of Mark Andrew’s points. I think it’s important to note, when talking about the Silver Age, that Stan wasn’t just writing almost everything at Marvel, he was also editing everything at Marvel simultaneously. Kirby and Ditko may have been “more imaginative” as Mark and many others have said, but I think the work that both Kirby and Ditko put out after leaving Marvel proves that having imagination isn’t the same as crafting readable stories. As editor and writer, Stan took those great ideas and turned them into great comics, which is a different thing.

Also in response to Mark Andrew, I wanted to make one specific point, regarding early Thor. I think it’s very telling that the first 14 issues of Thor weren’t written entirely by Stan; he’s credited with the “plots”, but his brother, Larry Lieber, actually did the scripting. Given what we know about the early Marvel method, it’s hard to say just how much Stan’s plots actually contributed in those early issues compared to Lieber’s scripts and Kirby’s art, but my guess is, not a lot. By contrast, Stan took over as full writer with #97, which also happens to be the first issue with the Tales of Asgard back-up feature — a series which really laid all the groundwork for the mythos of the Thor comic. That first year or so with Stan as writer still was a bit ot standard superhero stuff in the main feature, but the Tales of Asgard backup was really humming and as he slowly integrated more and more of it into the main stories, the series became the classic Lee/Kirby Thor fans love. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the quality of the series made a massive jump when Lee took over as writer on #97, it’s a testament to his writing abilities.

Anyway, I’ll throw out a random vote for the Thor vs. Hulk one shot that Stan wrote in Thor #385 in between the Simonson and DeFalco eras. That was a good story.

“Interdimensional Comicon” from Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man.

Monster of the Id

August 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Not really a GREAT story, and he was only the scripter, but I always loved Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 18. It came out in 1984, the same year I was born, and I’ve read my older brother’s copy countless times by now. It’s a Scorpion story, with J. Johan Jameson getting married, John Jameson in a “rest home”, Jean DeWolff’s in it, Pete plants a big kiss on Jonah while giving him flowers–as Spidey. Good stuff.

Another vote for Parable, though the Byrne one-shot was great as well.

I would say the Alan Davis-drawn lead story in the Stan Lee Meets Dr. Strange one-shot that Marvel published a few years back. It was beautifully drawn, funny and, most of all, FUN – three qualities I find sadly lacking in the Marvel Comics of today.

The Crazed Spruce

August 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Just Imagine was all right, and Ravage 2099 …. was, but Stan Lee’s last truly great work has to be Parable. No question.

I completely agree with Hatcher. The people who think Stan’s style is silly today are underestimating him. When even people from JAPAN -The world’s leading comic book industry- seek you out for help with their projects, there must be something beside past fame to your work.

As for “Parable” I haven’t read it. What is it about?

I agree with Mark Andrews too. The early Thor is mostly awful. Ditto for Ant-Man and the Human Torch. The only saving grace in Ant-Man was the Wasp. I like Janet, she was a lot more fun-loving and carefree and flirty than your usual 1960s Marvel heroine (though the portrayal was no less sexist – harebrained female contrasted to her level-headed boyfriend).

And there may be something to what Cass said too.

Sijo –

If I remember right, PARABLE is a story where Galactus comes to Earth and a charismatic young leader founds a new religion dedicated to worshipping Galactus as the new God. The Silver Surfer acts as the voice of reason and tries to dissuade people, but the people are swept into Galactus worship and then… well, I recommend it.

It’s sort of an alternate universe tale, one of a couple of Stan Lee’s Silver Surfer stories where the Surfer and Galactus are the only overly fantastical elements in a world like our own. Sort of what they would have done in a Silver Surfer movie.

@ Scott Harris – Oh yeah. Stan and Larry are basically the same person in my mind – I never remember who did what.

Although I don’t think Larry’s stuff is ALWAYS inferior – I’m a big ‘ol fan of the early Iron Man and I generally dug his Rawhide Kid and other Western stuff.

And it’s worth pointing out that quite a few of the first few years of THOR weren’t drawn by Kirby either – I remember Joe Sinnott did a bunch of ‘em, I think Don Heck did a few… It only really hit it’s stride when both Stan and Kirby had been working on the lead THOR strip for a while.

Origins Of Marvel Comics. Wherin he takes credit for coming up with the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Etc.
The greatest bullshit story ever told. Sorry I couldn’t resist.

Stan did a spider-man story maybe two years ago where they meet and stan tells spidey he cant give up because so many people are counting on him. not for superheroics, but because as a business entity so many people rely on spider-man for making money and without spider-man lots of people would be out of work. That was a very good story, wish i could remember where i read it :)

I liked “I Remember Gwen,” as well, but “Parable” was probably the best comic he had a direct hand in from the last 25 years.

Stan Lee worked hard in the ’60s, as editor, writer, & promoter, no question. By now, it should be clear just how much more Kirby & Ditko had to do with the storytelling. Other Marvel artists of the period (Colan, Buscema, Heck, Romita, Ayers, et al) probably had much less story input, though, which should be noted when thinking about Stan’s contributions.

A note about the Stan Lee/ BWS Dr. Strange story from Marvel Premiere #3: In an interview, BWS noted that Stan wrote an entirely different story on top of the pages he turned in. I presume he means how Dr. Strange kept talking about “unseen forces,” making a one-shot into the first part of a longer story. I find that oddly impressive.

What was that FF anniversary issue where Reed, Sue, and Johnny to bring the Thing back from Monster Island? I think it was plotted by Shooter and scripted by Stan. Or is memory failing me? That was pretty good.

Fantastic Four #296 — that was it.

https://subscriptions.marvel.com/digitalcomics/view.htm?iid=10742

(Not saying it was better than Parable, though).

I was just watching STRIPPERELLA on Netflix, If Lee wrote any of those, then kudos to him.

I think that the Stan Lee-John Byrne SILVER SURFER one shot was Stan’s last really great piece of scripting.

I honestly liked early Thor. However mostly because it’s such a mass up of Superheroes and Soap Opera than anything ever has (like 70% Soap, 30% hero).

Just thought that i would tabulate some of the results. After excluding the picks that received only one vote, we have:
SILVER SURFER:PARABLE: 9

SILVER SURFER: THE ULTIMATE COSMIC EXPERIENCE: 2

Lee-Byrne SILVER SURFER ONE SHOT: 2

Going by the votes, it seems quite clear that Stan’s best post-60s work was done on the Surfer, with PARABLE as the clear leader.

Man, I gotta dig out Parable again. Haven’t read it in ages. I think Stan always made clear that the Surfer was one of his favorite creations, so of course that would have some of his best stuff.

Since someone brought up Stripperella, does anyone know if the lawsuit filed against Stan by some stripper ever got settled?

Just Imagine was decent, from the Flash book I read.

And as Hatcher brought up, Stan’s always going to be up against “STAN LEE”. Nothing he ever does WILL ever compare, but it’s kind of unfair to compare him now to him then.

And to echo some of the argument about Stan being a “mere” dialoguer — have you read some of the dialogue that Jack or Steve wrote themselves? Some of the names that Ditko used for regular folks? The “word jazz” Kirby was capable of? Check out, from about 20 years ago now, The World’s Worst Comics Awards 2 issue mini that Kitchen Sink put out (I’m sure it’s VERY easy to find, he sez ironically). There are some cringe-worthy examples of both Steve and Jack’s dialoguing. Also, BWS is capable of some “odd” things with his storytelling (see Weapon X), so Mike Loughlin pointing out BWS saying Stan wrote a different story over what BWS drew is another interesting point — some of these guys need Stan to rein in what they’re doing and shape it. Maybe Stan would change around intent sometimes due to the dialogue he wrote, but what he did (before it became self-parody) with that “voice” is amazing. I’m not sure we’d still have superheroes still without Stan.

And since someone brought up Ravage 2099 (I assume jokingly, as I’ve recently reread a couple of the issues, and it just…hm, it didn’t work. Even ignoring that it’s “STAN LEE”), wasn’t John Byrne supposed to be involved in the 2099 stuff, before it got branded 2099? Stan’s Soapbox in Marvel Age and elsewhere pushed that notion for ages, and I don’t know if I ever heard what the story behind that was. Is it in a Legend Revealed, Brian?

I just did some checking, and realized that the Silver Surfer graphic novel written by Lee and beautifully illustrated by Keith Pollard came after Parable (I thought it was before for some reason). Maybe I’d go with that as Lee’s “last” great story (since I haven’t read anything by him after that with the exception of the Just Imagine books). And yes, it seems he was quite fond of the Silver Surfer…
By the way, Travis, thanks for pointing out something that should be emphasized more: while Ditko is a truly legendary artist, creator and plotter, his scripting leaves much to be desired. It’s no surprise that all of the “solo” work for which he is often fondly remembered (Blue Beetle, Shade, Speedball, etc.) was actually scripted by someone else. Meanwhile, I doubt anyone can honestly say the reason they like Mr. A (or, say, Static) is because of the snappy, captivating dialogue…

I’m a huge Kirby fan, and absolutely love everything he put out once he was writer/penciler/editor on his own titles, but there’s a reason why most of his own stuff got cancelled while the stuff he did with Stan is still being published today. Same with Ditko. It’s not a coincidence that neither of them were able to produce a long running series on their own. Stan made the books more readable, and more marketable. Just because he was a gifted PR guy doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute anything creatively. I’ve never understood why so many people seem to hate on The Man.

Travis – I heard that Byrne’s involvement with 2099 is what led to Next Men. He didn’t want to do yet another dystopian type future, and when it was decided that’s what 2099 was going to be he pulled outg and used those ideas in Next Men. I might be wrong, but that’s what I remember hearing about it. Hopefully Brian will tell us what the truth is.

And getting back to Stan for a second, but echoing what Travis said I truly believe American comics would not exist anymore if it weren’t for Stan Lee. Even if you’re not into superheroes, you have to admit they are what have kept the media alive in The States, and that wouldn’t have happened without Lee.

My vote goes to Silver Surfer – Parable. To me, it’s actually way better than most of the things he wrote in the 60’s.

That was me above.

Re: Just Imagine. DC and Stan Lee got it all wrong. The thing to do was not, what if Lee had conceived the characters, but what he would have done with the existing series,if DC had said in the 60s,Ok, Stan don’t change the basic concepts but take them in your own direction.

Kirby and Ditko were geniuses, but Stan Lee’s the one who made the characters relatable, IMO. And really, that is the key to the whole Marvel style.

I might be one of the few, but Kirby’s “word jazz” totally worked for me. There was some clunky writing, but there was poetry, too. Lee had his share of ghastly scripting (see: just about any ’60s super-heroine’s dialogue) in addition to his stronger work.

Lee definitely made the characters more relatable, as Rene said, and, yeah, that was one element that revolutionized super-hero comics.

Ravage, 2099. The title alone wins it for me.

I liked that Stan Lee “reimagines” the DC Universe and I think I got the whole set but I have to agree with Funk above me…I loved Ravage 2099…

I thought I was the world’s only fan of Ravage 2099.

Gotta agree with Monster of the id-Spider Man Annual #18 was pretty darn good. And I got a real soft spot for FF#296. There is a great scene where Reed convinces Ben to rejoin the team……….

Mike Loughlin: I never thought of looking at Kirby’s dialogue as “word jazz” before. But it’s a great concept.

I understand it is probably more of a time commitment than he wants to make right now, but I would love to see Stan really write something all by himself again.

I can’t really think of anything that he has plotted and written himself in a long time. Any thing he does in comics appears to be mostly scripting, and any thing else he does he has a co-writer for.

I think that ALL Silver Surfer GNs/one-shots/limited series he did since the 70s were pretty great!

Not to mention that his other works were bad, but those are the standouts of Stan’s later career.

Stan’s last GREAT tale…
Silver Surfer V1 #5 “And Who Shall Mourn For Him?”
Read it and you’ll know why.

He’s done good stories since, but not GREAT ones!

I honestly can’t recall any that I’d call great – but then, I’ve read so few of Stan’s books since he stopped writing full-time in the early ’70s. (I remember the big deal about his launching The Savage She-Hulk with his script for #1, but it was simply awful from the “you can call him Bob, you can call him Bruce or you can call him David” caption to the whole original concept of the character.)

I liked the Surfer stories he did with Kirby, Byrne and Moebius, and a few other one-off stories in the ’80s, but all the over-sell, carnival-barker patter and lack of substance to his book introductions, and horrid concepts (“Stripperella”?) that I’ve avoided anything that he’s written in the last decade or two. I haven’t been able to see enough of the Spider-Man newspaper strip in that time, but it started off really well and I was thrilled to see (after many delays) the start of a good hardcover collection of the series.

But maybe that Just Imagine… series is worth another look, from many of the comments above.

Parable is really, really good.

But THE ULTIMATE COSMIC EXPERIENCE is great.

ALEJANDRO CANTILLO

May 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm

There two greatest COMIC BOOK artist in this world STAND LEE / DICK GIORDANO I remember went l start to b be introduce in the COMIC BOOK art as a graphic artist this was part of my trainning in my 20 because the advertising agency l used to worked l was part of the team to created story board for TV COMMERCIAL and i remember one of it. The frist book of this art technniques was how to draw COMIC BOOK by STAND LEE and you dont going to believe it but.. i still have that frist edition of this book , thank to the MASTER LEE who l admired and respect for all the great chronology of work since 1960 to this time , i want to congratulated him as well to all his team work for the fantastic job of all the new movies HULK / FANTASTIC FOUR / SPIDER MAN / IRON MAN / THE AVENGERS. ALEJANDRO CANTILLO

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