Comic book legend Stan Lee is beloved by fans everywhere, but The Boys is surprisingly savage with its satire of the icon. However, the series isn’t just being irreverent in taking on Stan ‘the Man’ Lee’s public image, but rather echoing real-life criticisms of ‘the Father of Superheroes.’
Stan Lee is one of the most prolific names when it comes to superhero comics. There’s hardly a fan alive not familiar with the creator’s works or his many cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cultural image of Lee presents him as an affable hype-man who helped create most of the Marvel heroes people know today. But not everyone shares the same opinion of Stan the Man, and several creators have even created parodies of Lee to lampoon his less-than-reputable traits. Famously, iconic collaborator Jack Kirby criticized his former business partner by creating the sleazy businessman Funky Flashman in DC’s “Fourth World” epic.
The Boys’ Legend Embodies Real-World Criticisms of Stan Lee
The Boys went far further with its criticisms of Lee by creating one of the most repugnant parodies ever seen in comics. In The Boys #7 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, Billy Butcher introduces Hughie to the Legend, a cutthroat PR man who worked for Vought-American and created the backstories for the world’s numerous Supes. The Legend is foul-mouthed, misogynistic, corrupt, and willing to sell out those closest to him. While the Legend isn’t a carbon copy of Lee, there are moments where the similarities become blatantly clear (such as referencing Lee’s catchphrases “Face front, True Believer!” and “Excelsior!“) The parody takes things a step further in The Boys #67 by Ennis and Russ Braun when it shows the Legend hallucinating the ghost of a former business partner who it’s implied he cheated out of credit.
The Legend Is the Ultimate Criticism of Stan Lee
But why is The Boys so critical of Stan Lee? The truth is that while Lee remains a revered cultural figure, those he worked with had plenty of negative things to say about him. In a scathing interview with The Comics Journal, Kirby rejected the idea that Lee co-created Marvel characters like Thor and the Fantastic Four, saying “Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything.” Kirby also stated that Lee had a “God complex” and “took advantage of whoever was working for him.” Kirby isn’t the only one with harsh words for Lee. Steve Ditko extensively criticized Lee for initially denying him credit as Spider-Man’s co-creator (something Lee later recanted), and The New Republic cites Roy Thomas (Lee’s successor as Marvel’s editor-in-chief) describing Lee as a “total company man.” Meanwhile, Lee’s POW! Entertainment was described as “a largely criminal enterprise” in Abraham Riesman’s biography True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee.
Of course, The Boys takes a cynical view of the entire superhero genre, so someone who embodied it like Lee was always going to be brutally satirized by the series. However, it’s undeniable that the popular image of Stan Lee as a master of comic creation is undercut by the accounts of many people who worked with him directly. Whatever his involvement in creating iconic characters, Lee made immense contributions to the popularity of Marvel’s heroes, but The Boys doesn’t see that as something to be proud of, and takes the opportunity to rake Stan Lee over the coals every time the Legend appears.