Yesterday, comic book creator extraordinaire Stan Lee passed away at the age of 95.
I met Stan Lee once. It was at the 1992 San Diego Comic-Con. He was hanging out with Spider-Man and I got to introduce myself and tell him how much a fan I was. Something he must have heard millions of times in his long career in comic books. For many, Stan Lee was Marvel. But for me, Stan was a creator. Along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he created characters and storylines that will never be repeated.
The first time I ever heard of Stan Lee was 1977. I just began collecting comics. For me, they were an escape. My favorite was Spider-Man. Followed by the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and all the rest. Stan created all of them. He was the writer who put the words behind the pictures.
The face of Marvel comics was present in everything you see in the Marvel movies. For me, he was a presence in my education foundation. You see, I didn’t read many books as a kid. I read comics. Tons of them! How many kids really got into reading because of Stan’s words? The number is probably higher than any of us can imagine.
Some of us are visual thinkers. I know I am. I see pictures in my minds and words form out of them. A comic book is the same thing but seen in physical form. Stan took that already existing format and rewrote the rules. He created characters that will live long past his 95 year-old life.
Stan wasn’t without controversy in his life. The artist of many of his creations, Jack Kirby, fought long and hard to get his original art back. It was something that was never fixed by the time he died in 1994. Steve Ditko, the artist of The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, had a frosty relationship with Stan. Stan’s finances at the end were a hot mess as vultures took advantage of him.
I choose to remember the Stan Lee who kept fans guessing for 25 issues on the identity of the Green Goblin. The guy who created the concept of mutants and tackled issues of discrimination. The man who said screw it to the Comics Code Authority, the authoritarian censorship association, and showed the very real results of drug use in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. The writer who wasn’t afraid to create African-American characters, like the Black Panther. The creator who turned the team concept into something to be modeled for generations to come in the form of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men. Stan even used disabilities as the basis of a character in the form of the blind Daredevil. For Stan, it wasn’t the costume but the person that was behind the costume. It was the character that mattered, not the powers. It was how they used those powers for the common good. Before Stan, it was the hero first and the person second.
Like I said, my favorite was always Spider-Man. His Peter Parker was a bullied teenager who never quite fit in. His tagline of “with great power there must also come great responsibility” showed the inner and constant battle Parker faced on a daily basis. It is the heart of a hero. The ironic part is I loathe spiders but Spidey was my favorite. But I digress. Spider-Man is the story of every single awkward teenager who just wants to belong and fit in. I remember buying these paperback reprint editions of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-20. There were three of them. I think I still have one of them packed away somewhere. This was the gold of my childhood. There was also a trade paperback called “Origins of Marvel Comics” which showcased the first appearances and origins of many of Stan’s creations. These stories were the foundation of Marvel Comics.
Comic books taught me a lot. The most important was to always try to do the right thing. Yes, we fail miserably at that concept in all our lives. None of us are perfect. But if that is your cornerstone, your life as a human being will be better for it. Sometimes the right thing comes at great personal sacrifice. And it hurts. But you have to keep going, keep plugging along. That was Stan Lee’s legacy for me. Rest in peace Stan. You are joining all the other comic book greats that passed before you and paving the way for those to come.