The late Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel films have been a hallmark of superhero cinema for over two decades. Aside from being cheeky fun, these appearances were part of a tradition that can be traced right back to the MCU’s comic book source material. Comic book creators have a long history of interacting with their two-dimensional creations.
Stan Lee often appeared in the pages of comics like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four, alongside collaborators like Jack Kirby. Meanwhile, Flash co-creator, Gardner Fox once bemoaned his writer’s block in an issue of Detective Comics. From short gags, to climactic plot points, here are some of the best creator appearances in comics.
10 Holy DC/Marvel Staff Costume Party Batman!
Night of the Reaper by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, published in Batman #237, is perhaps the most haunting comic this legendary creative team ever produced. Yet, the story itself takes place during a cheerful Halloween fair that includes several ordinary people cosplaying as superheroes from both DC Comics and their Marvelous competition.
The party is absolutely packed with cameos and gags, including creators like Bernie Wrightson and Gerry Conway talking to Dick Grayson. The panel above, depicts O’Neil wearing a cowboy hat, talking to “Thor,” whose helmet is a spaghetti strainer with wings attached. The sheer humor underlying this cameo places it among DC’s finest.
9 Stan & Jack Get Turned Away From A Fantastic Wedding
Reed Richards and Susan Storm, better known as Mr. Fantastic & The Invisible Woman, have had one of the longest marriages in comics. In fact, the couple tied the knot all the way back in Fantastic Four Annual #3.
The action-packed, superhero-studded event featured every prominent Marvel character at the time as invitees. But co-creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, got turned away at the door and vowed to make the FF’s next adventure a tough one in retribution. This small appearance was so iconic that Lee duplicated it in live-action, via the film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
8 Superman’s Editor Gets A Birthday Surprise
Julius Schwartz had been a driving editorial force in science fiction since the era of pulp magazines. He eventually took over from his friend Mort Weisenger as editor on Superman. In 1985, when Schwartz himself was close to retirement, Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan crafted a surprise story to celebrate his 70th birthday, in the pages of Superman #411.
Schwartz was given the gift of a story where he got to meet, and have an adventure with, his hero. It was one of the greatest tributes to any comics creator of its era. Yet the old school editor, ever the consummate professional, was recorded complaining, “My god! How could you do this to me? I’m in the middle of a three-part story about Luthor!”.
7 John Byrne Has A Deadline
John Byrne was one of the most prominent creators of the 1980s, with game changing runs on the Uncanny X-Men and Superman. He served as writer-artist during a lengthy tenure on The Fantastic Four which is widely considered the title’s second golden age.
Yet, there is another John Byrne, a Marvel Comics character who has popped up in several magazines. His most iconic appearance is perhaps in Fantastic Four #262 when our not-so-mild-mannered comic book creator faced off against the cataclysmic threat of an approaching deadline. Byrne’s willingness to put himself on blast this way enhanced his work at Marvel and paved the way for fourth-wall-breaking characters like Deadpool and Byrne’s own Sensational She-Hulk run.
6 Grant Morrison Saves Animal Man From Himself
Perhaps the most impactful creator appearance in DC history, given that it literally changed the course of the story, stars that master of meta comics, Grant Morrison. Morrison joined DC with a run on Animal Man following the event Crisis on Infinite Earths. Morrison used Animal Man to lament the increasing sense of gritty “realism” in ’90s superhero comics as well as the company’s abandonment of imaginative continuity and characters.
The first 24 issues of Animal Man addressed this by portraying and satirizing the trendy violence and tragedy of the time. Finally, in issue 25, the hero got to meet the architect of his despair, his writer, and literally debate with them for a happier ending. Morrison made themself the villain of someone else’s story. Weirdly, this self-insert character remained in the DC Universe briefly as “The Writer,” and died on a mission with the Suicide Squad.
5 Maggin/Bates Meet The JLA/JSA
Before DC relaunched in 1986, the Justice League had an annual tradition of meeting with their counterparts on Earth-2, the Justice Society, who in many ways represented the Golden Age canon of the DC Universe. These interdimensional events, often dubbed a “Crisis,” provided fun crossover opportunities.
But, Justice League of America #123-124 involves DC’s finest heroes crossing over with the residents of a completely different reality. Thanks to a behind-the-scenes coin toss, Cary Bates even turned into a formidable super villain and kidnapped fellow writer Elliot S! Maggin. Preceding Morrison’s self-insert by almost a decade, this story really highlighted the absurdity underlying multiverse-based stories.
4 Steve Gerber Quits Man-Thing In Style
The character of Man-Thing, created by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas and Gray Morrow is sometimes eclipsed by his similarities to DC’s Swamp Thing. However, Steve Gerber’s run on the comic during the ’70s is widely revered, and even introduced a certain fast-talking, mystery-solving Duck named Howard.
For his final issue of Man-Thing, Gerber explained why he was leaving the title to his editor, within the comic itself. Gerber’s explanation involved Wizards, an extradimensional Barbarian, the aforementioned talking Duck and a demon called Thog the Netherspawn, showing off Gerber’s improvisational creativity and unimitable style.
3 Bendis Says Farewell Behind Handcuffs
In 2018, after almost two decades at Marvel Comics, Brian Michael Bendis moved on to the Distinguished Competition. Bendis had several trademarks during his tenure at Marvel, which included back and forth dialogue, decompressed stories that moved at a cinematic pace, and updating iconic storylines.
Also, he was fond of a running gag where someone in handcuffs yells things at the reader. As Bendis wrapped up his time at Marvel, he brought that long-running joke to a close, with one final gag featuring the writer himself in Defenders #9.
2 Superman’s Pal Morty The Hat Rack
Clark Kent’s Metropolitan home at 344 Clinton Street, is a typical reporter’s residence. There’s hardly any evidence that a superhero even lives there. A major exception to this rule, though, is the bust of longtime Superman editor Mort Weisenger.
Weisenger took over Superman comics during the post-war period and converted them into the colorful high concept mythology that remains recognizable today. After his retirement, the folks behind DC’s Superman comics decided to pay homage to Weisenger by making him a permanent fixture in Superman’s apartment, in the form of a bust that Clark uses as a hat rack.
1 Matt, Tom & Mike Visit The Baxter Building To Research Their FF Comic
During the Marvel Now! relaunch, Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa and Mrs. Thing temporarily replaced the original FF while Reed & company were lost in space-time. Their adventures were chronicled in the comic FF by Mike Allred and Matt Fraction. In issue 10 of this run, the publicity-savvy Mrs. Thing, a former pop star, invites comic book creators from Marvel Comics to tour the Baxter Building for research.
Mike, Matt and editor Tom Brevoort began their visit with a trip through the micro-verse and concluded it by helping fight some supervillainous machinations. All in a day’s work for the average mild-mannered comic book creator, and a great callback to Kirby and Lee’s earlier failed visit with the Fantastic Four.
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