Stan Lee is gone.
Even typing those words feels surreal. For many, myself included, it seemed like Stan Lee would be around forever, making Marvel Studios cameos and appearing at cons with a joyful, boundless energy that seemed too much for his age. This was a man who, in his 90’s, was still making multiple appearances a year at many different venues. He’s been a part of my life since I was first aware of comic books, introducing my Pizza Hut X-Men tapes with a joyful exuberance that made him feel like a grandparent from the other side of the glass. He’s had an insurmountable, almost impossible to describe impact on my life, and I’m glad I got the chance to at least tell him so, in my own weird, awkward way.
Years ago, I was heading down to Super Megafest, a comic/pop culture convention in Massachusetts. It being Stan’s birthday that weekend, he was the guest of honor, and I had to see him, mainly because I foolishly believed we wouldn’t have him around for as long as we ended up having him (never have I been more happy to be proven wrong).
I arrived early. TOO early. And after sneaking my way into the convention thanks to the help of some people that I knew working the con, I found myself first in line for the Man himself. As I sat in the waiting area and watched Iron Man, then Incredible Hulk, then Iron Man 2, the fact that I was meeting the person responsible for my core belief system hit me.
What would I do once I saw him? I had to say something that wouldn’t make me seem like everyone else. Something witty, or obscure enough that he’d know I “got it”. Like everyone else waiting in that line, I felt like I had a real connection with this man who, in all reality, had no idea who I was, and how much his creations, one particular wall-crawler above the others, made an impact on my life.
I would explain that this Spider-Man comic, Spider-Man #23, while not written by him at all, was the first comic book I ever read as a kid, and that it would mean the world to me if he would sign it. I’d throw in some line Unfortunately when those doors opened, and he looked at me, right at ME, and said “hey, how are ya?” with his jovial voice lifting the energy in the air around us, all I could stammer out was a “uuuuhhh hhhhi”. Before I could recover, a loud guy behind me screamed out “WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER YOU CREATED, MR. LEE?”, a move that, at the time, annoyed me to no end, but looking back on it, that guy was just like me, nervous out of his mind. However, his nervousness came out in a boisterous question that everyone already knew the answer to (it was Spider-Man, duh).
I got my chance to recover after blowing it when I got my picture with him, mumbling out a “Thank you for Spider-Man” as he rubbed his eyes from the picture flash (a humbling moment that reminded me of the actual age behind the showman). Before I left, I attempted a small pat on his back, which I probably wasn’t supposed to do, but I had to be sure that I was standing next to the person who has made such an impact on my life.
“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”.
To many people, those six words mean nothing, just a catchy turn of phrase that is thrown out in the movies featuring the Amazing Spider-Man. But to me, they are a mantra, a personal reminder that if you CAN help someone, no matter how much, you should help them, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Stan Lee showed me that there’s a power in all of us, despite how we look or our differences from what is considered “normal”, and that power is our ability to help one another. The greatest strength we have is kindness. For each other. For our world. For ourselves. Stan’s creations with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and a host of other artists are a clear example of that.
Beings with abilities that make them outcasts, hated and feared by a world that doesn’t understand them, yet they know that they can use their powers to help mankind, and in doing so, turn the tide of prejudice. A family that struggles and laughs like all families do, yet with the added twist of having powers far beyond what we can comprehend, exploring the world and coming up with inventions that help mankind. A brash, selfish businessman who learns to care for others after a brush with death. And a young man who learns an important, but tragic, lesson, and uses that lesson to help others in any way he can.
We can argue over who gets the “real” credit for Stan’s creations, and I’m sure one day we’ll get to a point where that will happen. But for now, just take the time to adequately take in a world without Stan The Man. It feels strange, and a little darker, like there’s a tinge of sadness just over every laugh or happy moment we’ll have in the future. Lee was always a person that would make a room light up, even when you weren’t there with him in person. Just seeing him on your TV screen or cinema was enough to remind you that he’s still there, spouting the values of comic books and superheroes as only he could.
Thank you, Stan. For everything.