It goes without saying that Stan Lee, who died Monday at the age of 95, had a phenomenal impact on our world. Our cultural imagination is richer for his having lived, and so are Disney’s shareholders. But this is only part of his story. Lee was also one of the masterminds of the Marvel Universe, the interlinked fictional world in which Marvel comics — and now Marvel movies and TV shows — unfold.
And this made us wonder: Which of Lee’s creations have had the largest impact? Not on our world but on his. Which characters’ actions have been felt the most widely across the Marvel’s multiverse, all the way from Earth-1 through Earth-616 (the main continuity in which the comics take place) to Earth-555326? Who sits at the center of the Marvel Universe?
We decided to figure it out.
To do so, we took the Marvel Database — think Wikipedia but for people who spent their adolescent Wednesday nights at Weasel’s Comic Vault — and downloaded data on all 54,000 characters included there. It turns out that Lee is listed as having created or co-created 1,082 of them.
But how can we figure out who is important? To do this, we stole a trick from Google. The way Google decides the importance of a page is by looking at the number of other pages linking to it. Likewise, we counted the number of connections each character has to other characters. So, for example, if Peter Parker went on a trip to Titan with Tony Stark and it merited a mention on his character biography, that would count as a connection. From this we derived an impact score, i.e., the number of other character pages linking to a character, plus the number of links on that character’s page linking to other characters.
To be clear, this was a text-based analysis and obviously relies on the precision of detail in the Marvel Database; some errors may have slipped through, despite the admirable rigor that has gone into the site’s maintenance. Another potential limitation of the data is that characters are either tagged as a Lee co-creation or not — which explains some of the more unexpected appearances on the list, such as Jessica Jones, in whose creation Lee was only a relatively peripheral figure. The Tony Stark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth-199999) doesn’t factor in our list because that iteration of the character wasn’t created by Lee, at least not in the eyes of the Marvel wiki.
With those caveats out of the way, here is our list of the 100 most important Lee characters in the Marvel Universe, ranked in ascending order of importance. (The full list can be found here.) If you have an issue with the ranking, well, take it up with Lee and Google.
James O’Malley tweets as @Psythor.