I've often written about the tendency of modern fans to take a dim view of Stan Lee's accomplishments. While I myself have questioned some of Lee's more careless and/or extravagant statements, I've observed a tendency among fans to judge Stan as if his Marvel work was solely the creation of his most notable collaborators, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
One rhetorical mode of attack is to point out that not much of Stan Lee's work prior to the Marvel period set the comic-book reading world on fire in the 1940s and 1950s. This by itself is a fair enough assertion, as long as one applies it across the board to both Kirby and Ditko as well. I for one don't think either Kirby or Ditko would have created anything like their Marvel works had they been given free reign at some other comic book company. But even if one believes such a situation would have inevitably have taken place, one should still hold Kirby and Ditko to the same standard as Lee, as I attempted to do in this Classic Comics forum-post.
Keep in mind, though, that if you're going to judge Stan only by his pre-Marvel work, Ditko also didn't garner a lot of fan-attention prior to Marvel. If for some reason he'd gafiated from comics up to that point, Ditko would be remembered as no more than a crafter of eccentric horror/SF stories-- and MAYBE for working on Captain Atom. Like Basil Wolverton, Ditko's early work appears all over the place, so he wouldn't benefit in fannish histories from being associated in a strongly edited format, as did the artists of EC. Of course this is no knock against Ditko; he was much younger than both Kirby and Lee. But still, it's impossible for a modern fan to look at his work for DC or Charlton, or his self-published works, without both falling under Marvel's large shadow.
Pre-Marvel Kirby does have more successful series to his credit than Stan Lee does, no question. But it's also hard to see some of that without the "spillover effect," and more, Kirby does not appear to have been a double-threat, able to write and draw the whole product, like Jack Cole. He *seems* to have benefited from the quality control of working for a studio, so it's hard to say who did what. We have Joe Simon's testimony that he provided the basic template for the most popular Simon-Kirby creation, Captain America. Should Kirby get full credit for later successes, like Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion, or is his creativity also compromised by having input from a partner?
Also, I'm not sure that most Kirby-fans would be interested in many of his lesser ideas if it weren't for the spillover effect. The 1950s series Fighting American is fun, but there were a lot of rather tongue-in-cheek superhero concepts pervading the superhero boom of the 1940s. Is Fighting American really better than Quality's Spirit imitation MIDNIGHT, or does FA get more respect simply because it's wedged between Golden Age Cap and the Marvel Universe in Kirby's career-- and also, because there are no definitive collections of MIDNIGHT?