It wasn’t until late afternoon on Nov. 12, after what had already been a bad day, that I found out Stan Lee had died hours before. To say I was upset is an understatement.
Stan Lee was born and raised in Manhattan and the Bronx during the Great Depression. He was a writer, an editor, a publisher and a dreamer who took a small publishing house called Marvel Comics and worked tirelessly for years as an editor, then as an editor-in-chief, then as a publisher, then as a chairman… until what was once a small publishing company evolved into a multi-media corporation. A corporation that was later sold to Disney for four billion dollars. All due to the work of one, singular man. The same man who created the characters of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Iron-Man and Thor, among many others, including the X-Men.
But Lee’s act of creating these characters isn’t the extent of the legacy he is leaving behind. This man’s legacy lies is how these characters, these dreams-made-real that Lee wove together and put on a page to make his living, have touched the lives of an ever-growing number of people. How these characters have provided a refuge and escape for hundreds of thousands worldwide but, most importantly, how they have provided hope.
Lee created characters of all different backgrounds, who suffer from all different issues that bring them from a far off pedestal to a level where children, teens and adults alike cannot only relate to them, but truly strive to be them in their own lives. His characters were never perfect, they struggled and they fought, not just against the comic-book villain or their own (sometimes very large) egos, but against invisible ghosts and specters like alcoholism, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. He created characters who faced the issues of the real world, who challenged stereotypes and assumptions made based off of race and class right alongside his readers.
Through his characters, Lee taught that even the most unlikely person can save the day, regardless of size or experience. He showed that a diagnosis or a loss is not necessarily an end, but can be the beginning of something great. That it’s okay to realize that you could never have reached where you are without that horrible wouldn’t-wish-it-on-your-worst-enemy origin story and that it’s okay to let go and not feel guilty for it. He taught that you can be human, be imperfect and make mistakes and hurt, and still be a superhero.
I put on an Avengers tee-shirt when I woke up this morning, before going to class, before finding out that Stan Lee had passed. I put it on because I needed that little bit of something extra today. A little more strength, a little note that it’s okay to hurt and make mistakes, a little reminder that I am part of something bigger. When I got the news, (let’s be honest, first things first, I called my mom) I went online and reached out to the other fans of the man, the myth, the legend, Stan Lee. I wrapped myself in that togetherness as hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world connected to share the lessons Stan Lee taught us and, just as importantly, the fun we’ve had with his creations. Some of us have met dozens of times, some more, some less, some of us will never meet at all and don’t even know each other’s real names, but we’re connected and together because of the work of one dreamer who worked to make those dreams come true.
Thank you, Stan Lee.
Dec. 28, 1922 ~ Nov. 11, 2018.