The earth is over 4 Billion years old, and we got to share our time with Stan Lee.
I found that quote on Reddit yesterday in the comments to the news that Stan “the Man” Lee had passed away at the age of 95. Together with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others, Stan Lee helped shape not just the comics industry, but the global culture. Like so many others, I was saddened by the news of his passing, and began to reflect on how he had impacted my life. I know that I would not be the person I am today if not for his contributions to the medium that I adore.
My first exposure to Stan Lee came not from a comic, but from a VHS (for our younger readers, it was a video format that preceded online streaming, blu-ray, and DVDs). That VHS was for Pryde of The X-Men, the pilot for the unproduced television show which inspired the popular arcade game. After a PSA from Spider-Man, the feature begins and viewers are greeted to the voice of Stan Lee. He welcomed me and other “True Believers” into this fascinating world that he had helped to create. Just like that, at the age of 4, Lee had found his way into my life.
Though the X-Men were my gateway, it was Spider-Man that truly made me a fan. Though most who know me know that I’m usually a “DC guy” (because tribalism is fun, right?), Spider-Man has always been a part of my life. So many of my fond memories are tied to Marvel’s mascot, that he is intrinsically a part of who I am. The sense responsibility and doing the right thing, even at the expense of your own happiness, stuck with me.
In recent years, there’s been a bit of a pushback on Lee’s role in many of his creations. Because of the “Marvel method” of storytelling, there’s been a big movement to pump up the contributions of Kirby, Ditko, and others. As a result, those proponents for the artist have diminished Lee’s own contributions. But people forget that while the Negative Zone or Dormamu’s Dark Dimension may have been birthed from the pencils and inks of the artists, the personalities of Johnny Storm, Tony Stark, and Peter Parker were the result of Lee’s dialogue. As much as people enjoyed the bright, colorful characters engaging in battle, Marvel’s ascendance was due to the flaws and everyday problems its heroes possessed, making them more relatable to readers than the likes of Barry Allen or Hal Jordan.
More than that, Lee used the medium to bring attention to various social issues which are still being discussed today. The X-Men are an allegory for discrimination. Iron Man represents the military industrial complex. The Hulk suffers from a severe mental illness. Black Panther was the first black superhero, and the Falcon was the first African-American superhero. One of his “Stan’s Soapbox” pieces has been making the rounds since news of his passing, and it sums up his views of social injustice.
Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them – to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater – one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen – people he’s never known – with equal intensity – with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race – to despise and entire nation -to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL – His children.
Pax et Justitia,
Stan Lee’s legacy will go beyond the characters he helped to create. Throughout the decades of being the face of Marvel, he did so with a smile. Full of energy and a positive outlook, he helped provide joy and happiness to almost everyone he came in contact with – not to mention countless others from afar. After decades of helping to create a modern mythology flush the a pantheon of icons, he became one himself. And he will never be forgotten.