In Memoriam: Stan Lee 1992 – 2018
How Stan Lee redefined comics and entertained an entire generation of kids and adults alike.
Stan Lee was unrelated to me. As I’m sure he was to millions and millions of people reading the comics he helped co-create. But that hasn’t stopped tributes and tears from pouring in from all corners of the world. The man whose gregarious appearances were awaited and anticipated by everyone watching those Marvel movies. The man who sounded eternally excited about everything in life, exhuberating an omnipresent delight in his voice that convincingly conveyed his passion for his craft.
This week, everyone awoke to the jolting news of Stan Lee passing away. Somewhere, at the back of our heads, we kind of new it was imminent. The man was 95 and jovial as he was, death has failed to elude even those at the pinnacle of human health. That still doesn’t take away the fact that the man who was immortalized through his work and more recently, his cinematic cameos was secretly expected to outlive us all, perhaps until eternity. The news shook me to the core rather unexpectedly, rendering me unable to write anything for a day or two.
Stan Lee had fairly modest origins, but became part of a rich history that included some war time, and a vast swath of comic characters he co-authored including the likes of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and The Incredible Hulk among many many others. After a pretty hectic youth and adult life, facing his fair share of troubles over character dues and copyrights, he retired from writing in around the 80s and enjoyed a lengthy run spanning two decades of appearances in movies and comic conventions.
But above all the details, what really mattered, and the reason why Stan was heralded, is due to what he brought to the (co)mix. Before Marvel’s mainstream heroes made their comic debuts, the genre was largely defined by the brutish, otherworldy heroes of DC Comics. Aside from Batman, most of their heroes were figures who were imbued with otherworldly powers and dealt with problems far detached from those faced by ordinary denizens. This included their residence which was in fictional cities like Gotham and Metropolis, avoiding references to any real-world locations as far as possible (with some exceptions of course).
In contrast, Stan Lee created heroes that ordinary people could relate to. The Fantastic Four were a family of individuals living together, underneath Spider-Man’s mask was a teenage high-school Peter Parker struggling with such day-to-day issues as rent, bullying, homework and impressing his girl crush. Tony Stark was an eccentric, billionaire asshole who became the victim of Vietnam war. Bruce Banner was a mild-mannered feeble scientist who preferred to work in isolation until he transformed into The Incredible Hulk. Through his heroes, Stan projected the fears, the personalities and the ambitions of normal people, accentuating the idea that these larger-than-life mythical superheroes could literally be any one of us. And they occupied real-world locations, most famously the boroughs of New York City, meaning they could also be among us.
And despite their simplicity, these heroes taught us moral lessons that would come across as sermons if studied in high-school. Whether it was the Fantastic Four’s family values, Spider-Man’s undying devotion to science and his foster parents, or Iron Man’s persistent efforts towards growing his knowledge and advancing his armor, children learned a thing or two from his books that they otherwise probably wouldn’t. Countless folks would be inspired to take science, much as Jurassic Park sparked a reimergence in interest towards the now-extinct dinosaurs. And before we knew it, an entire generation was being raised on comics, often in the right way.
Even interestingly, Stan pushed the barriers further with the limited space he had in the confines of a comic-book script. Slowly and steadily, the comics began tackling serious issues that would be infinitely more pertinent and relevant in today’s times. The X-Men were a community of outcasts, yearning for acceptance and a peaceful co-existence with humankind, reminiscent of recent issues surrounding co-habitation of immigrants and non-immigrants. Black Panther was one of the early black superheroes in a largely white-dominated industry, tackling issues of racism and equal rights. These are conversations that are more important now than they probably were in the past and Stan’s works are looked up by a small strata of society as pioneering some of these concepts and inculcating them easily as values to kids.
Stan is of course most known for his cameos in the Marvel Movies, of which he has 56. Even though the movies were divided in rights between different studios, there was no such division with Stan Lee. He appeared cheerfully in an X-Men movie as happily as he bounced off to an Avengers movie and especially a Spider-Man movie, despite his most popular web-slinger character being rebooted twice.
Which is what I’m not prepared for.
I’m not ready to see an upcoming Marvel movie featuring a cameo by Stan who’s now no longer with us. I’m not prepared to see the credits scroll as the movie is dedicated in his memory. I’m not prepared to see a movie that ends with an Avengers will return stinger even though Stan Lee himself won’t return. And I sure as hell ain’t prepared for what all of this is going to make me go through in the movies. Avengers 4 was being widely considered as the end of an era for Marvel Studios. And it’ll certainly be, in more ways than one now. The stakes just went high up for everyone looking forward to seeing Stan on screen for possibly one last time.
It shouldn’t really hurt this much. But somehow it does. It feels as if the rug has been pulled from under me. It’s going to take a while for Stan’s passing to settle in. Like I said before, we weren’t related. But it still feels like I’ve lost someone I knew. Someone we all knew. A grandfather figure to us all, if you will. For now I’m just going to take a deep breath, rewatch his old cameos, and let the man rest in peace. He’s been in enough cameos already that together, they could form a short feature film on its own. That feature film has now come to an end.
Rest in Peace Stan. We’ll miss you. And we’ll remember you. Always.