Stan Lee has died.
Four words I never wanted to write, for his influence was all around us; it was on television, movies, and of course, comic books. No matter your age, you most likely consumed some form of medium that had his fingerprints on it. The current Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled with his creations and has cameos from him in all twenty or so films (we’ll see if he cameos in Captain Marvel and the unnamed fourth Avengers movie), he appeared in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats and Comic Book Men, he did cameos in non-Marvel Studios flicks like the X-Men movies and Deadpool, he was animated on the Simpsons, and the list goes on. Stan Lee was everywhere.
Everyone remembers his or her first movie, or since we’re talking about Stan the Man, his or her first comic. For me, it was Amazing Spider-Man #378. Okay, Stan Lee didn’t write this issue, but Spider-Man remains one of his greatest creations (and my personal favorite).
Take a look at THAT cover. To nine-year old Mar, that looked like Spider-Man covered in blood going toe-to-toe with Venom (who is surprisingly bright blue for some reason). Once I opened the pages, I saw that was a character named Carnage (oh, so that’s what Maximum Carnage meant), and Spider-Man was barely in the issue. He spends the majority of the issue fighting with Mary-Jane as Peter Parker over his unwillingness to take a break as Spider-Man. But enough about the content of the issue, it’s more about what the feeling was like to see what else a comic could be besides those in the Sunday paper.
Little Mar was hooked! The concept of Spider-Man was already cool to him because he had watched the old Spider-Man cartoon, and even had seen some of that live-action TV show from the 70s. Spider-Man was cool! He could web swing, he had a beautiful wife, he had a cool outfight and really cool powers. Those villains? Even cooler. One guy can grow claws and the other guy has a cool mouth.
Adult Mar, the guy writing this article, can’t believe that was what got him hooked into comics. That storyline was garbage and those villains are relics from the 80’s and 90’s that should have stayed there (he says knowing Venom just made bank at the box office) during a time when Marvel was trying to be dark and gritty (not the awesome Flyers mascot). Mind you, the comic wasn’t written by Stan Lee, which would come later for me when I was old enough to go browsing for comics on my own. When I finally got those issues though, I discovered that Stan Lee’s Spider-Man stories were magic.
For me, Spider-Man is one of the most relatable superheroes of all time. Sure, Superman and Batman were pretty much the most popular superheroes of all time (they were the only heroes with big blockbuster movies at that time), but there was something relatable about Spider-Man that Stan Lee was able to touch upon with readers. Unlike Superman, who was an alien, and Batman, who was a billionaire, Spider-Man was like me. He was an average Joe, and at the time of his creation, had the same issues that teenagers were dealing with at the time; growing responsibilities, first time crushes, and of course, bodies that were changing. For teenagers that first read Spider-Man at that time, they also got to grow up with Peter Parker, follow him to college, deal with heartbreak, and walk down the aisle to marriage (and then later make a deal with the devil erasing that marriage to save Aunt May).
When Stan Lee created the X-Men, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing; mutants were the persecuted, and humans the oppressors, Professor Charles Xavier was an allegory for Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto was one for Malcolm X. He had that ability to just tap into the pulse of what was going on at the time and put it into his work, and the ability to update it for modern times.
His legacy is everywhere to the point that I feel like I’m going to keep tripping over myself trying to explain it all. He got to live to see his empire rise, almost fall, and then rise to heights not imagined to the point where his characters are pretty much the mainstream norm now. The Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist without the characters that he helped created: Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk to name a few. His influence on so many creative people in the entertainment industry is boundless, and many actors working in Hollywood today owe their success to the characters that helped launch them (Tom Holland and Chris Hemsworth), and in other cases resurrected their career (Robert Downey Jr.). He created a hero/villain combo in Spider-Man & Green Goblin that rivals Batman & the Joker. Most importantly though, he created heroes that we as mere mortals could relate to.
Excelsior, true believers.