My superhero died this week.
Sure, he wasn’t just my superhero. I share Stan Lee with a whole lot of other people, but somehow, it always he felt like my own personal superhero, starting way back in the mid-60s with Peter Parker.
All the other comic book superheros fell flat. Pretty soon you realized Superman will always win. Batman was better for having no extra powers, but the endless string of gadgets ever at the ready (lampooned by Jack Nicholson’s movie Joker, “Where does he get all those gadgets?”) and his rich playboy lifestyle made it impossible to identify with him.
But Peter Parker, teen-age egghead teased by the school bully and riddled with typical teen anxiety and angst? Bingo — now we’ve got something.
So, I started reading Marvel comics. I loved the wisecracks Stan scattered throughout every issue, as well as his regular column with its repeated cries of “Excelsior!” or “’nuff said,” or references to the ever mysterious Irving Forbush.
I became a Marvel Comics fan with near-perfect timing. I bought Avengers #1 when it came out and started collecting those. I bought X-Men #1. I missed the first issues of Spider-Man, but started collecting them from #17 on. I kept collecting comics on through my college days. I particularly loved stacking up enough of several titles to be able to go back and read 8 or 10 issues sequentially to follow a multi-issue story arc.
Eventually, I would convert my collection into cash in my post-college rambling years, pretty much ending my comic book collecting career. To find all these old, familiar friends popping up on the Big Screen years later — with the kind of treatment they’ve always deserved! — is sweet indeed. Stan’s cameos, of course, once again added just the right bit of sassy pizzazz on top of an already tasty treat.
But enough from me — let’s listen to Stan, starting way back in 1947 when he wrote this article in Writer’s Digest, offering advice to aspiring writers:
So, those of you writers who are itching to crack new markets have a market waiting for you that’s just made to order. It may seem a little complicated, but the rewards are well worth any time you may spend learning the comic style. I’m sure you won’t regret spending the time—I didn’t!
Marvel comics stood out in the 60s & 70s for taking on the simmering social issues of the day, even forsaking the semi-sacred Seal of Approval from the Comics Code Authority to have Spider-Man address drug abuse, still a forbidden topic for comics at the time. He also wrote an article decrying racism in 1968, commenting,
Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.
Here are are few more quotes from Stan, including this self-deprecating remark:
Someone wants to do a movie of my life now and he’s writing a script, and I said to him, ‘What the hell could you do? I’ve never been arrested, I haven’t taken drugs, I’ve had the same wife for 54 years… where’s anything of interest to people?’
Mind you, I believe he was talking about his Secret Identity. He will always be a superhero in my mind.
Finally, as my cousin Chris noted “If there’s any good in this world, they’ve already pre-filmed the next 15 years of Stan Lee cameos.”
Meanwhile, here’s a few we’ve already got.