Yesterday, pop culture lost a giant.
You may not know his name, but I guarantee you know his work. And, I’d bet, you’d even find his face oddly familiar. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, he would become known to the world as Stan Lee. Lee, along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a handful of others, created the Marvel Universe of superheroes. Spider-Man? His. Fantastic Four? His. Avengers, the X-Men, Hulk, Black Panther? He created or co-created all of them. But, more than that, Stan Lee was the face of Marvel Comics.
Long before “The Man” was making cameos in the big screen adventures of his creations, he was making cameos in the actual comics. Lee wrote a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox” in which he would talk directly to the fans. (You’ve probably seen one of the more famous columns popping up on social media over the last few years.)
I came to comic books late, probably around fifth or sixth grade, and didn’t really start “collecting” comics until college. But, I knew superheroes. I knew Spider-Man and the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. I knew them from Saturday morning cartoons. That’s also how I knew Stan Lee. Stan Lee was there every Saturday, ushering me into the world of Marvel superheroes in his own, bombastic-yet-self-effacing humor. “Howdy, True Believers!” and “Excelsior!” are every bit a call to action in my mind as “Avengers assemble!” or “To me, my X-Men!” Stan Lee was more than the creator of the Marvel Universe, he was a part of it.
Stan Lee died on Monday, November 12, at the age of 95. Was it a surprise? No. Between repeated illnesses and accusations of elder abuse, the last few years had not been kind to Mr. Lee. It was clear, if you had the courage to see it, that Stan “The Man” Lee was slowly slipping away. Maybe he longed to reunite with his beloved wife of 70 years, Joanie, who had passed away in July of 2017. The point is, while Lee’s death was not a surprise, it was certainly a shock.
Stan Lee was an important part of my life. He taught me about superheroes. His name is at the top of my list of people who inspired me to become a storyteller. Was he perfect? No. But, who among us are? In fact, it was Stan Lee who taught us that we can be superheroes despite our own flaws.
RIP, Stan “The Man” Lee. Excelsior!