“Who is that exotic lady?” Those were the words uttered by an instantly smitten Stan Lee – playing himself – in the final episode of 1998’s animated Spider-Man show, upon meeting the mysterious Madame Web. It’s clear that the animated Stan takes a liking to Madame Web, and why wouldn’t he? After all, her character was being voiced by Joan Lee, Stan’s real-life wife. It also mirrors the reaction he had to her when they first met.
A British hat model and unhappy GI bride living in America’s New York City after World War II, the two met by accident. A blind date had been arranged for Stan by a friend, but when he arrived to pick up his date he instead met Joan, and instantly fell in love with her. Describing her as the perfect woman whose image he had already drawn a thousand times and possessing an English accent he couldn’t resist, Stan took Joan to lunch and apparently proposed to her straight away. She moved to Reno, Nevada, for the required six weeks so that she could obtain a divorce and then married Stan an hour later.
It was a relationship which lasted for 69 years and the pair were devoted to each other. She was Stan’s muse and best friend and, according to many, she was the inspiration for Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy. She also played a pivotal role in making Marvel Comics the success it later became, by encouraging Stan – who was depressed about his career and was considering leaving the struggling comic book industry – to write the story that he wanted to write and tell it the way he wanted to. The result of that was the creation of Fantastic Four, the series which set the Marvel Universe in motion, with The Incredible Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and Spider-Man to soon follow.
In 1987 she wrote the novel The Pleasure Palace, and in the 1990s she did voice work on the animated Fantastic Four series, as well as playing the aforementioned Madame Web in the Spider-Man animated show. She featured rightfully alongside Stan in a cameo role in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, a fitting tribute to the role she’s played in Marvel’s history. Joan Lee was a wife, a mother, and as much a part of the Marvel family to fans as any creator. Like Madame Web, she was that exotic lady, a woman described by Kevin Smith as Stan’s personal superhero.
Like so many others, we at Fortress of Solitude were saddened to hear of Joan’s passing. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Stan, their daughter Joan and all their friends and loved ones at this difficult time.