A modern classic cover from Jim Lee *Snikt*
Signed by Artist Jim Lee and Stan Lee
In 1986, as he was preparing to graduate, Lee took an art class that reignited his love of drawing, and led to his rediscovery of comics at a time when seminal works such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen spurred a renaissance within the American comics industry. After obtaining his psychology degree, he decided to postpone his medical degree, and earned the reluctant blessing of his parents by allotting himself one year to succeed, vowing that he would attend medical school if he did not break into the comic book industry in that time. He submitted samples to various publishers, but did not find success until he met editor Archie Goodwin at a New York comic book convention. Goodwin invited Lee to Marvel Comics, where the aspiring artist received his first assignment by editor Carl Potts, who hired him to pencil the mid-list series Alpha Flight, seguéing from that title in 1989 to Punisher: War Journal. Lee's work on the Punisher: War Journal was inspired by artists like Frank Miller, David Ross, Kevin Nowlan, and Whilce Portacio, as well as Japanese manga.
In 1989 Lee filled in for regular illustrator Marc Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men #248 and did another guest stint on issues #256 through #258 as part of the "Acts of Vengeance" storyline, eventually becoming the series' ongoing artist with issue #267, following Silvestri's departure. During his stint on Uncanny Lee first worked with inker Scott Williams, who would become a long-time collaborator. During his run on the title, Lee co-created the character Gambit with long-time X-Men writer Chris Claremont.
Gatefold cover art from X-Men #1
Lee's artwork quickly gained popularity in the eyes of enthusiastic fans, which allowed him to gain greater creative control of the franchise. In 1991, Lee helped launch a second X-Men series simply called X-Men (volume 2), not only as the artist, but also as co-writer with Claremont. X-Men #1 (vol 2) is still the best-selling comic book of all-time with sales of over 8.1 million copies (and nearly $7 million), according to a public proclamation by the Guinness Book of World Records at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con. The sales figures were generated in part by publishing the issue with five different variant covers, four of which showed different characters from the book that formed a single image when laid side by side, and a fifth, gatefold cover of that combined image, large numbers of which were purchased by retailers, who anticipated fans and speculators who would buy multiple copies in order to acquire a complete collection of the covers. Lee designed new character uniforms for the series, including those worn by Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke and Storm. He also created the villain Omega Red.
 Image Comics and WildStorm, return to Marvel
WildC.A.T.s promotional artwork.
Enticed by the idea of being able to exert more control over his own work, in 1992, Lee accepted the invitation to join six other artists who broke away from Marvel to form Image Comics, which would publish their creator-owned titles. Lee's group of titles was christened Wildstorm Productions, and published Lee's initial title WildC.A.T.s, which Lee pencilled and co-wrote, and other series created by Lee in the same shared universe. The other major series of the initial years of Wildstorm, for which Lee either created characters, co-plotted or provided art for, included Stormwatch, Deathblow and Gen¹³.
In 1993, Lee and his close friend, Valiant Comics publisher Steve Massarsky, arranged a Valiant-Image Comics crossover miniseries called Deathmate, in which the Valiant characters would interact with those of Wildstorm, and of Lee's fellow Image partner, Rob Liefeld. The miniseries would consist of four "center books", (each one denoted by a color rather than an issue number), two each produced by the respective companies, plus a prologue and epilogue book. Wildstorm produced Deathmate Black, with Lee himself contributing to the writing. He also illustrated the covers for that book, the Deathmate Tourbook and the prologue book, as well as contributing to the prologue's interior inks. The assignment was given to Valiant creators against their better judgment, in particular Editor-in-chief Bob Layton, who complained about Image's inability to meet their deadlines. Deathmate Black, in particular, came out a few months after Valiant's Blue and Yellow installments, which had come out on time, and Liefeld's Deathmate Red was so late that Layton flew to California to procure that chapter personally, and ink it himself in an Anaheim hotel room. Layton sees Deathmate's lateness as one of Valiant's "unmitigated disasters", and views that project as the beginning of the speculator collapse of the 1990s.
Wildstorm would expand its line to include other ongoing titles whose creative work was handled by other writers and artists, some of which were spinoffs of the earlier titles, or properties owned by other creators, such as Whilce Portacio's Wetworks. As publisher, Lee later also expanded his comics line creating two publishing imprints of Wildstorm, Homage and Cliffhanger (that years later merged and were replaced by a single Wildstorm Signature imprint), to publish creator-owned comics by some selected creators of the US comics industry.
Lee and Rob Liefeld, another Marvel-illustrator-turned-Image-founder, returned to Marvel in 1996 to participate in a reboot of several classic characters; the project was known as Heroes Reborn. While Liefeld reworked Captain America and The Avengers, Lee plotted Iron Man and wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Four. Halfway through the project, Lee's studio took over Liefeld's two titles, finishing all four series.
Lee returned to Wildstorm, where he would publish series such as The Authority and Planetary, as well as Alan Moore's imprint, America's Best Comics. Lee himself wrote and illustrated a 12-issue series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, in which an internet slacker inadvertently manages to download the secrets of the universe, and is thrown into a wild fantasy world