When I learned of Stan Lee’s death from a Facebook friend, my first reaction was to ask for a credible source. I’d known this day was coming because he’d filmed four cameos in advance, and he’d stopped appearing at cons. So the final curtain was coming.
Stan Lee was an inspiration to all of us comic book fans, whether you favored Marvel or DC. He created a different kind of superhero. DC’s superheroes were, as the saying goes “Gods among men”, while Marvel was “Men trying to be gods”. Marvel’s heroes had powers, but their lives were not easier. Spider-man still had to show up for work the next day after saving the world. His friends became his enemies. His girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died at the hands of one of his greatest foes.
When I was a kid, Stan Lee was not writing Marvel, but he was still a public face for it. You could read his “Stan’s Soapbox” each month in your favorite Marvel comic’s “Bullpen Bulletin”. You’d see his name on the first page of every comic, even for those titles he had nothing to do with. He narrated episodes of Spider-man and His Amazing Friends, which was my introduction to the wall-crawler, as well as my favorite Marvel comic, X-Men.
Years later, when Marvel got their own studios, they continued to make Stan Lee their face. Now he was doing more than con appearances. Now the man who made Marvel was making cameo appearances. People would cheer every time he showed up. Everyone has different favorite cameos.
I have two favorite cameos. First is in Spider-man 3. Peter Parker is walking by a theater and learns Spider-man is about to get an award. Stan Lee walks up to him and shakes his hand saying “Well, I guess one man can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.” It seems like he is saying that to his own creation, not just some random kid. Then there’s his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, where he’s a delivery man and he calls Tony Stark “Tony Stank.”
And then someone has to rain on our mourning. About a week after his death was announced, HBO talk show host Bill Maher (who’s already not a favorite celebrity of mine said “The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.” That bit of sarcasm I would’ve expected from the so-called comedian (I say so-called because I’ve never laughed. I thought comedians were supposed to be funny.), so I wouldn’t have had a problem. But then he said “Now, I have nothing against comic books — I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures…The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff,” he wrote. “I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”
Oh Mr. Maher. Once again, your Ivy League college education makes the rest of us stupid. Just like my belief in God disappoints you too. For a guy who doesn’t like comics, you sure didn’t mind that money you made in your cameo in Iron Man 3, huh? Comic books ARE important. They, like the heroes of old, inspire us. The X-Men showed me that my disability was nothing to be ashamed of. I had Professor X to look up to, showing me that he could still inspire others to greatness even though he was confined to a wheelchair. Stan Lee’s legacy will live on, to inspire children and adults for generations to come. What legacy will you leave? A legacy bent on cynicism and narcissism. I think Lee was a better person than you could ever dream to be. I think this is a better world because of Stan Lee, and it’s a pity you can’t see it.
Stan Lee, thank you, for showing us the people we could be. Farewell, old friend.