The Passing of Stan Lee

“By giving us superheroes that proved all too human, [Stan] Lee has assured himself a permanent place in pop culture.” — Beth Accomando, NPR, Obituary of Stan Lee.

The news of Stan Lee’s passing was released, and there are a lot of thoughts and observations coming.

I wasn’t much of a Marvel reader, but I’d remember the days when I’d pore through my cousins’ copies of Marvels and DC Comics, and I watch all these cartoons…

And, yeah, Superfriends were more my thing back in the day, but I had watched Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends before it occurred to me that X-Men were a thing.

And, 1990s animation were never the same once the X-Men series came on.

Oh, and all the MCU movies! I’m not sure what true believers would have done without Stan Lee.

NPR’s Glenn Weldon was eloquent in his observations of Stan Lee:

Stan Lee’s origin story lacks the cataclysmic, life-altering trauma suffered by the many heroic characters he co-created. But it is just as relatable, as it is marked by the kind of dashed hopes and frustrated dreams so many of us experience. The son of a dress cutter, [Lee nee] Lieber dreamed of becoming a novelist — but he had taken a job as an office boy at Timely Comics, which was owned by his cousin’s husband. By age 18, he had been hired as an editor. And that was, essentially, that: The work was demanding, yet he clung to the notion that he would one day find the time to become Stanley Lieber, Great American Novelist, author of high-minded short stories, novels, essays, plays. To keep that possibility alive, he determined to churn out his comics work under the name Stan Lee.

Those novels? They never happened. Stanley Lieber never found the time to write them, because Stan Lee became too busy. The characters and stories he created instead — with a lot of help from artists and co-plotters like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and others — have infiltrated the cultural ether, the very semiotic air all of us breathe. Around the planet, they are not merely recognized, they are embraced, imitated, argued over. Especially that last thing.

It’d be facile and fawning to call Stan Lee a superhero (a word best read in Lee’s punchy Brooklynese: “SOO-puh-HEE-row!”). There’s that mild, quiet-desperation origin story, for one thing. Plus he was a far more complicated character than even his most nuanced superhero creations. But you can’t say the guy didn’t come with a distinctive look, and a set of skills and abilities that set him apart.

So if not a superhero, then certainly something akin to one.[….]

Lee’s history with sharing credit was a spotty one. He would overstate; then, when challenged (often by [Jack] Kirby), he would show contrition and correct the record. Yet his public reputation — cemented by his frequent Marvel-movie cameo appearances — is that of a man who single-handedly created a comic book universe.

He didn’t. But having helped birth it, he assumed a role his co-creators shied away from. He became its tireless salesman, its cheerleader, its pusher, its benevolent god-king.

We probably won’t be getting more Stan Lee cameos after next year, and that’s terribly sad for those of us True Believers for whom the mere sight of the guy could trigger a wistful smile. It was complicated, that smile — it’s an upwelling of fondness for the man himself, and for the kids we were, back when we’d be reading one of his Bullpen Bulletins and hear his voice — that performatively goofy, hipster-swinger Noo Yawk voice — inviting us into a world that he helped create, but that belonged to us. [….]

Read all of that Weldon essay. It’s good stuff worth reading.

Stan Lee had quite a legacy, and even if it was complicated (like, what isn’t complicated?), it had quite an impact. Thanks for starting it all, or being there when it started, Stan Lee!

[cross-posted at]

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