RIP Stan Lee

I was rocked when I heard that Stan Lee died four days ago on November 12, 2018. I had to spend a bit of time getting my thoughts together so that I could do this right. I could not let a great man pass without saying a little something. So here are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the past few days.

I was a huge fan of comic books growing up. I loved them so much that I walked three miles to a comic book store and blew my allowance on a small stack of them. I bought both Marvel and DC (while some of my friends preferred Image). However, when I read them, I did not often think about who was making them. All I thought about was who was selling them and how I could get them. So I really did not know who Stan Lee was. I would have been impressed had I known his name because he created a lot of the characters I liked and was one of the godfathers of the modern age of comics that I enjoyed so much. Little did I know but he was a fixture on the letters page at the back of most comics but I usually skipped that while I grabbed another story to absorb. When I got a bit older, I started to read those pages and learned about Stan’s infamous No-Prize. It was the prize he (and the Marvel editors) gave out to fans who spotted continuity errors in Marvel comic book fans. A little fun smartassery pointed toward the nitpickier side of fandom. It was also a reminder that comics are just supposed to be fun and not taken so seriously.

However, the first time I really started to become aware of Stan Lee was watching a little VHS called Pryde of the X-Men. It was an animated television pilot released in 1989 (a magic year for me) for an X-Men cartoon show that never materialized. I thought it was awesome but it only spawned the one double episode pilot and the famous X-Men arcade game. (Fun Fact: Wolverine was given an Australian accent in the pilot which is a bit eerie now). I remember well how Stan narrated that first episode. That was the first time that I heard him use the phrase “true believer” and it really resonated with me. As somebody with a vivid imagination and a strong suspension of disbelief, that was a great description of what I am. He brought me right into the story and his voice could barely contain the excitement he had for the story that was about to unfold. Of course, 1989 Stan Lee probably had no idea how many shows and movies would feature he and his friends’ creations. He had to have been excited to see the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in animated form.

So, years after Pryde of the X-Men, in the 1990s, I started to become more aware of authorship as I started to create my own worlds in my head and on the page. I became more curious about behind the scenes of comic books. I bought books to try and learn how to draw them but I just never took to visual art as much as the written word. I ended up collaborating with my friends on comic books since one of my best friends could draw and loved to do so. As I said, I started to look at the letters page. I also started to look at who was drawing the comics I liked and who was writing them. I started to look for them at the stores like I looked for directors and movie stars at the Blockbuster Video. As I got older, I became better at picking comics that I really liked, not just what was hot at the moment. As a result, I became a bigger fan of comics creators. When I saw interviews with a lot of these creators, they mentioned Stan Lee as their inspiration. He was the grandfather. He was one of the sources on high. He and Jack Kirby practically created Marvel with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Now, the first time I saw Stan Lee was when I watched the movie Mallrats made by Kevin Smith. In the movie, he has his first live-action cameo, giving advice to a lovelorn and desperate comic book fan. In that cameo, he describes the characters he created being a reflection of what he felt inside at the time, a mirror to his emotions. Of course, later he did cameos in live action movies of his properties. One of the first cameos was actually my favorite since it was so pure. He appeared in Spider-Man (2002) as a man in the crowd. In a scene where Spider-Man is fighting against Green Goblin, he saves a little girl from being crushed by debris. The man who became famous for writing heroes finally got to act out being a hero. It was such a great moment to see a writer get to actually be in his own work. This sparked a chain of cameos in live-action movies leading more casual fans to lean over in theaters and ask “who is that?” which allowed fans to explain and spread his legend.

Of course, getting to be a hero in the movie was probably a thrill but Stan did not just write heroes, he was a hero. It is obvious from the outpouring of grief and respect following his death that he touched so many lives. He was one of many who inspired me at a young age to not only read but to write as well. His affable nature made comic books more accessible and fun, knowing that the people who made them did not take themselves too seriously. His legacy will continue and it is as unlikely that he will be forgotten as Shakespeare, Stephen King, or Jim Henson will be forgotten. He left an indelible mark on history and fiction that will stand as a monument to him. He also left marks on the psyches of those who consumed his stories and carried them in their hearts. Count me among them. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 so I will not see Stan Lee cameos and feel sad. I will smile and remember what he gave me and what he gave the world.

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