On Monday 12th of November I was eating breakfast and checking news posts, and came across some news that came as a huge shock.
One of my personal heroes, Stan Lee, had died at the age of 95.
At first I couldn’t believe it, because I’d seen such reports before, and there were also sites posting that news of his death was a hoax. But then my wife checked on BBC News, a source I’ve never had reason to question, and my fear was realized.
My Introduction To A Legend
I never had the pleasure of meeting Stan Lee, except through the works that he produced and inspired.
I first came across the work of Stan Lee in the early eighties, and I was probably seven or eight years of age. Saturday mornings were the time for cartoons, and I was introduced to “Spiderman and his Amazing Friends” for the first time. It was probably also my first experience with the superhero genre, mutants, and metahumans.
I wasn’t aware until years later that some of those episodes were narrated by Stan Lee himself, but I was intrigued enough to find out more about these characters.
Discovering Some Hard Truths
One day, while picking up some sweets at my local news agent, I spotted a couple of issues of Amazing Spiderman. I picked them up and dived right into the middle of the “Secret Wars” storyline, with a passion.
This particular plot introduced me to a huge line-up of characters, and spawned so many changes for Spiderman and myself.
Over the years I expanded my comic collection, and even crossed into the works of DC and other studios. But it was the Marvel characters and stories that would teach me that even heroes are capable of errors, and subject to hard choices. Above anything else, they were human, no matter what powers (if any) they had, or the origins of those powers.
I learned that even when times were tough, there were ways through, if you could find them, and had the courage to make the hard choices. As an outsider at school, I also found friends within the pages of books and comics. It was almost always the characters in the comics that showed the most diversity, however, and I would keep returning to the stories of the X-Men, and Avengers because of it.
The Importance Of Diversity In Fiction
I grew up on the outskirts of London in a time when race riots were a semi-regular occurrence and intolerance were high. For years I wondered how such things could happen, and why people couldn’t just accept each other for who they were.
It was fiction that opened my eyes to the motivations of fear, greed, and hatred for those you don’t understand.
Did I approve of such things? Certainly not, but when I looked at the lineup of characters that Stan Lee and others at Marvel were producing, I saw something wonderful. There was such a range of social and economic origins for the characters, and even differences in the sources of their powers.
I might have taken many of my lessons in acceptance from being raised the way I was, but they were very definitely reinforced by reading the characters that were created, or inspired, by Stan Lee and others.
Yes those characters could be intolerant at times, even downright hateful, but so many of them changed over the years, and became more accepting and tolerant. One-time enemies became friends, teachers, and students of those they had battled. And children learned to accept those around them from such stories.
Where Does The Life And Death Of Stan Lee Leave Me?
As an individual, the work, and lessons of Stan Lee have helped make me a better person. They have helped make me a better, and wiser reader. But I have also discovered a passion for stories and character, with all their flaws and failures.
But it his work to expand literacy, education, and the arts that I find myself most grateful for. The Stan Lee Foundation, formed in 2010, supports programs that improve access to literacy resources, promote diversity, national literacy, culture, and the arts.
So it is with thanks and respect that I close this post with well wishes for all, hopes for a bright and tolerant future, and the words…
Excelsior! ‘Nuff Said!