It’s strange to find myself writing these words, but Stan Lee is gone from the world. It shouldn’t strike me as odd; the man was old when I was young. He was 59 when I was born, well into his seventies when I became a Marvel diehard. By the time I became aware of who he was, Stan Lee was already a legend for decades.
There are criticisms of his work to make, of course, but today is not for that. Instead I just want to remember the man he was, which was someone who stood up to racism and bigotry of all kinds during a time when it was not socially acceptable. It could have cost him everything, but he did it anyway.
That decision played into his work. Stan took the magic of superheroes and used it to reflect who we as a society were. He wrote the outcasts. The unsure. The damaged. The broken. Monsters who wanted only to be left alone. The tragic and the misunderstood. Stan Lee wrote, in his bombastic and now antiquated style, about human beings no matter their extraordinary gifts.
He created whole worlds for us to see ourselves in. He laid the foundation for a broad spectrum of people to see someone like them laid out in glorious primary colors. He wasn’t always perfect at it, and like anyone was a product of his time. But he tried. Even into his nineties, Stan Lee was wise enough to understand that those lessons never have an expiration date. They’re messages we all need to hear and see in perpetuity.
Few entertainers of any stripe have had an effect on popular culture as deep and wide as Stan’s. Pick up a Marvel book. Any Marvel book. If a character in it wasn’t created by him, then that character at least carries his DNA.
For all of my life, the man has been a giant. A fixed point. And now he’s gone.
It’s hard to see an idol pass on, to know that there will never be another cameo beyond those already filmed, or another interview where he stresses the importance of the diversity in fiction he helped instigate. It’s a strange thing to think of a world without Stan Lee in it. A sadder world.
I think I’ll pick up a comic today and lose myself in it. I think he would have liked that.