We lost another legend this week. By the time I get this out, Stan Lee will already be looking down on us all from the Rainbow Bridge, standing proud and admiring the world he has left in his wake.
And even though I am sad that he is gone (because really, for a minute there, I thought he might be immortal), I can’t be that sad. You see, Stan planned ahead; he left us in good hands. His legacy is intact. He won’t ever be completely gone.
See, it started a long time ago. Stan, along with a bunch of other greats – Steve Ditko, John Romita, Jack Kirby – started telling stories that infected the minds of a generation. That infection spread, and not only did the comics spawn into cartoons, and later movies, but it did something else – it got into our imaginations. The legacy that Stan helped create is a keystone for so many creative people today. They’ve come out of the woodwork to celebrate his life through stories about how he inspired them all.
For me, Stan Lee was the guy behind Spider-Man, and Spidey was integral to my upbringing and the shaping of who I am. Spidey was a nobody who was given a gift, and he rose to the occasion without fail – even when the odds are against him. In the Sunday comics, on Saturday morning cartoons, and once (sometimes twice!) monthly at the comic shop, I watched a nerd accept Great Power and Great Responsibility and imagined how great it would be if such a gift was bestowed unto me.
I’ve never been given such power (it’s probably for the best). But what I failed to realize was what Stan was really showing me in those stories. Whether it’s Peter Parker, or Steve Rogers, or the Richards Family, when you discard the costumes and let go of the powers for a moment, what you have is a set of powers that any of us can wield:
Love, courage, kindness, tenacity.
Spidey never gives up. Cap never backs down. Johnny and Sue always have each other’s backs. All this time, I was reading comics to escape, and Stan was teaching me – and teaching his apprentices to teach us – that I had my own strengths. That I could be something more than I was, if I wanted to be. If I was willing to face adversity and keep getting up when things knocked me down. If I was willing to be one of the good guys.
It’s not as easy as the comics make it look. Somedays, I don’t want to face the adversity at all. But I do it. I get back into the thick of it and I try to make the world better, whenever and however I can. It’s hard sometimes but I’m still trying. I’m trying to be one of the good guys.
And no, Stan doesn’t get all of the credit, but he’s inspired a lot of people who have inspired me, so he gets a solid mention in my life’s acknowledgements.
Here’s to The Man: his absence will be noticed, but so will his influence.
I’ll wrap this up with a couple of awesome quotes from Stan himself:
“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.” – from The Washington Post, July 23, 2010
“If we don’t blow ourselves up, the future will be wonderful.” – from an interview with Steve Aoki, Neon Future Sessions
“Another definition of a hero is someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being, and will go out of his or her way to help them — even if there is no chance of a reward. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – from Cyberspacers