Stan Lee wasn’t just the architect of the Marvel universe – he was the architect of pop culture as we know it.
I remember the first time I picked up a comic book. You know how comics are – they catch your attention pretty quickly. Whether it’s the bursting colors, the unreal action scenes, or the unrelenting emotion on the characters’ faces, the covers of those books are about as iconic as the stories behind them.
Ultimate Spider-Man No. 1 was my first encounter with comics. I got it for my birthday when I was just a wee lad, but when I saw the web-slinger basically swinging off the cover, soaring through Times Square, I had to dive right in.
When I flipped it open, I saw the spider that will inevitably change Peter Parker’s life. I saw Norman Osborn experimenting with the specimen, a little before he transforms into the Green Goblin. Then, I turned the page:
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Stan Lee presents……..POWERLESS
Before that, Stan Lee was simply the old guy who popped up in the Spider-Man and X-Men movies to me. You know, the guy who saved that woman from the falling rubble in Spider-Man 2, the old man on the beach in the first X-Men movie, the worried security guard in the first live-action Hulk. As my love for comics grew, so did my understanding of the impact Stan Lee had on my life.
Take a step back and just look at the MCU right now. Iron Man. Thor. Hulk. Spider-Man. Doctor Strange. Black Panther. None of them would be in your life without Stan. He wasn’t alone in their creation, but he was the driving force behind them, the engine that made Marvel go. So much of what has shaped pop culture into what it is today is because of Stan.
When I learned of Stan’s passing, it was honestly a surreal feeling. I’d just woken up from a nap and reached for my phone to check the time, only to be dealt a crushing blow: Stan the Man was gone.
I spent the rest of the day in a kind of slump. I was confused. I was rattled. I was thrown off. See, it might sound crazy, but I never felt like Stan Lee was going to die. You know how there’s just some people that you think are going to live forever? Well, Stan was at the top of my list. The guy was everywhere – conventions, cameos, interviews, you name it. Stan was showing no signs of slowing down, even at the age of 95.
The coolest thing about Stan was that uncanny ability to make you feel like a long-lost friend of his. You can see it in the way he approached interviews, the way he interacted with fans, or simply the way he talked. I’m pretty sure you could’ve crashed Stan’s Thanksgiving dinner and he would’ve welcomed you to the table like one of his own.
LOS ANGELES, CA – (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)
Stan was that rare celebrity who never seemed to let his fame get to his head. He was always the same guy – well-mannered, friendly, congenial, a total class act. I’m not sure I could say the same if I’d built the Marvel empire from scratch. But I’m not Stan Lee – nobody is.
Stan Lee didn’t just give me a childhood–he gave me a life in some ways. Those books and characters are a pretty big part of how I live my life and what I love to do. Without Stan, I would have none of that. None of us would. I’m not alone when I say that it feels like I lost a family member yesterday.
I have to say that I’m happy for Stan, even though he’s gone. He’s now with his wife, Joan, who died last year. He’s with Jack Kirby, the other half of the duo who built Marvel into what it is today. He’s with Steve Ditko, the man who helped bring Spidey and Doctor Strange to life. He’s with Joe Simon, the man who breathed life into Captain America as well as Stan’s career in comics. He’s with all those people, plus the countless fans that adore him.
Let me leave you with a quote from Stan, a line from one of his many cameos.
“You know, I guess one person can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.”
Excelsior, Mr. Lee. Excelsior.