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Stan Lee’s 10 most underrated Marvel creations

Contributed by
Nov 12, 2018

Fans are mourning the staggering loss of comics legend Stan Lee, following his death on November 12, 2018.

While he may be gone, his legacy will live on in the many creations he brought to life, including a wealth of Marvel Comics characters — Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, to name a few — who've taken their place among the most iconic comic book superheroes.

But Lee also created many more supporting characters with his talented stable of visual storytellers, characters that — although not as prominent or flashy as his marquee stars — eventually found their own fame and storylines, and served as inspiration to other writers and artists who'd expand those stories years later.

Here are Lee’s 10 most underrated Marvel creations.

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Inhumans (with Jack Kirby)

First appearance: Fantastic Four #45 (1965)

Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t just come up with characters, they created entire races, alien species, and entire worlds around them. The Inhumans will be forever tainted by ABC’s poorly received TV adaptation, but they will live long and prestigiously in the hearts of fans. The Inhumans are a race of superhumans led by the Royal Family of Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, Triton, Crystal, and the giant alien bulldog Lockjaw, who lived in the city of Attilan. They never got their own series until much later, but Lee and Kirby’s Inhumans stories with the Fantastic Four were full of science fiction grandeur and deep philosophy, and usually stood out among the typical Fantastic Four stories.

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She-Hulk (with John Buscema)

First appearance: Savage She-Hulk #1 (1980)

Lee only wrote one issue but it was the most important in the history of Jennifer Walters becoming She-Hulk after getting a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner. Marvel was trying to capitalize on the popularity of the The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, and The Bionic Woman television shows. Unlike the duality of Banner/Hulk, Walters was able to keep her personality when she hulked out because the radiation exposure was much less severe. Walters' public persona is as a lawyer and legal counsel to superheroes. Notable future runs included ones written by John Byrne, Peter David, Jeph Loeb, and Charles Soule.

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Groot (with Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers)

First appearance: Tales to Astonish #13 (1960)

Did you know before there was the Fantastic Four and Avengers, there was Groot? Long before he became a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot appeared for the first time in Tales to Astonish as an extraterrestrial sentient tree creature who was a member of the Flora Colossus species. Lee didn’t write him again but he appeared some 16 years later in The Incredible Hulk Annual #5 beside other Marvel monsters of the Golden Age. Groot became a regular fixture in the Marvel universe in 2006 as a part of the Annihilation: Conquest storyline, which helped lock down the current roster of GOTG. In 2015 it was established that the Annihilation Groot and the original Groot were different sentients of the same species, and not the same Groot.

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Peggy Carter (with Jack Kirby)

First appearance: Tales of Suspense #77 (1966)

Proof that the MCU mined a lot of the Silver Age era of Marvel Comics, Peggy Carter was the first MCU heroine to receive the lead spotlight on an ABC series: Agent Carter. Even though it didn’t last long, it was one of the more critically acclaimed series produced by the TV division of Marvel Studios. Agent Carter joined the French Resistance as a teenager, where she was trained as a fighter and eventually joins Captain America during World War II until an exploding shell forced her home. Lee and Kirby created Peggy as a love interest for Captain America during their adventures in the war, but once they were separated, Steve Rogers continued the fight until he was left froze in suspended animation. Post-Avengers, Rogers and Carter would run into each other in the “present day," with Rogers having never aged. Peggy was retconned in the comics as Sharon Carter’s aunt in 2007.

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Captain Marvel (with Gene Colan)

First appearance: Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (1967)

With the Kree alien race introduced in Fantastic Four, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Imperial Militia was assigned to keep Earth under watch. But no longer wanting to serve the Kree’s evil intent, he revolts and decides to be Earth’s protector instead. When Jim Starlin wrote Mar-Vell in the 1970s, he roped him into Thanos’ long history of cosmic battles. There would be many characters taking the mantle of Captain Marvel down the road, including the latest, Carol Danvers, in 2012. (She's now front and center in her own Marvel film, starring Brie Larson.)

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The Destroyer

First appearance: Mystic Comics #6 (1941)

Before Fantastic Four #1, the creation that kept Lee’s head above water during World War II was a character conceived for a superhero anthology, Mystic Comics. It was for Marvel’s predecessor, Timely Comics, and at the time, the Destroyer was only out-published by Captain America, The Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner (the three characters who would form The Invaders). It wasn’t Lee’s first creation, but it definitely earned him a reputation as a writer before Marvel Comics began.

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The Howling Commandos (with Jack Kirby)

First appearance: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (1963)

The most significant thing about this title was that it served as the introduction to Nick Fury, who would eventually become the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. But it was also showed Lee’s versatility and showcased the variety of comics styles that were being produced. Before this Silver Age, American comics were mostly anything but superheroes, so for Marvel, these were among the last bastion of notable war comics until The 'Nam cam along in 1986. Eventually, Fury broke away on his own and became a spy, which set his role in the modern-day Marvel canon. But it wasn’t until Samuel L. Jackson was cast in the role that Fury blew up in mainstream popularity.

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Mary Jane Watson (with John Romita Sr.)

First appearance: Spider-Man #42 (1966)

If Spider-Man was arguably Lee’s most iconic creation, then we need to give Mary Jane Watson her credit. She was a major reason why Peter Parker rang authentic to so many readers. Mary Jane was someone for Parker to lean on heavily with his decisions, and someone to push him out of his comfort zone. John Romita Sr. drew her as beauty personified, while Lee understood how to project our relationship insecurities onto Peter’s fumblings with MJ. Peter was lucky to have her, and we, as readers, even luckier so.

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Dr. Victor Von Doom (With Jack Kirby)

First appearance: Fantastic Four #5 (1962)

Doom is perhaps the biggest victim of the Fantastic Four's jump to the big screen. As the team's stock plunged in the wake of a string of movie duds, so too did the popularity of one of Marvel's greatest villains. Quality bad guys have been a major problem for the MCU — not surprising given that two of Marvel Comics' biggest, Doom and Magneto, were locked out of the MCU due to rights issues with 20th Century Fox. Longtime comics readers, though, will remind you that Doom's been a memorable thorn in the side of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and much more. Even Lee himself considers Doom his favorite Big Bad — he's misperceived as a criminal but instead just wants to rule the world, and there's no crime in that. Doom was clearly one of the characters whom Lee and Kirby loved to pit against Marvel's heroes, and he upped his game under John Byrne's six-year run on Fantastic Four in the 1980s.

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Silver Surfer and Galactus (with Jack Kirby)

First appearance: Fantastic Four #48 (1966)

This is a two-for-one because it’s hard to talk about the introduction of one without the other. Galactus was an idea that Lee came up with about a planet eater, and in the classic Marvel Method, Kirby placed the image of the Silver Surfer as a herald who would go ahead and scout potential planets for food. With the Surfer, Lee found his most philosophical and contemplative character, someone who stumbled upon Earth, was taken with its splendor, but wept for how humans were besieged by hate and war. In 1988, following a lunch with famed artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, at San Diego Comic-Con, Lee helped birth a two-part story about the Surfer called "Parable" that looks more closely at Galactus’ bid to devour Earth, and the Surfer’s inner turmoil to save humanity. To date, it is Lee’s most progressive work for Marvel, and a departure from most of the material he wrote in the Silver Age.

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