Then I discovered
someone I could
Stan Lee will always be remembered for creating iconic Marvel superheroes Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and of course my beloved Avengers. He died today and I think a little bit of myself passed away with him. Here’s why.
I was a biracial, introverted kid growing up during the 70’s. I didn’t have real friends except for my best friend (to this day, Brian) because of my mom and dad. Don’t get me wrong they were amazing parents. But most of the world could not see past my “odd” racial make-up. I felt like an outcast. Unwanted and unloved. I still have a fear, to this day, of not being liked.
So, I watched a lot of TV. I read a lot. And a lot of my reading was comic books. Granted, I was more of a DC Comics fan. I always wanted to run fast like The Flash. I wanted to be brave and overcome my fear of heights and fly like Superman and fall in love with my own Lois. I wanted to be a badass like Batman.
There was an almost god-like quality to these heroes whom I worshipped. Almost mythical, kind of like Zeus, Apollo and Athena. Then I discovered my first Spider-man comic. Here was someone I could relate to.
Peter Parker was shy and introverted like me, but when he put that mask on… THWAP! he became funny and brave. I poured over every Spidey comic I could get hold of. That was the first time I noticed Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.
These were names who would stick with me the rest of my life. Needing to read more than Spiderman, I delved deeper and discovered Captain America. Here, was a hero who felt out of time as he was frozen for 75 years. He had no one he could truly relate to. Like me. “Cap” became my Superman. I wanted a shield. And much to my mother’s chagrin, I got my shield simply by going to her cupboard and taking one of her plates.
The problem with the plate/shield was ceramic can only travel so far when flung by a ten-year-old hand. So, it shattered on her kitchen floor.
Lee helped create The Fantastic Four which heavily influenced The Incredibles. He looked at what it was like to be a family of superheroes. Yes, you have to save the world from the planet-eating alien Galactus, but you also have to deal with everyday family hijinks like getting Johnny Storm giving The Thing a hotfoot with a match. I could see my family in theirs.
From The Hulk to The X-Men to Daredevil, Lee gave us superheroes who really were just that. They were men and women who were able to overcome their apprehensions and fears and do something for the greater good. There’s a reason why the MCU is having an easier time adapting each of these characters to the big screen than DC.
Stan Lee breathed life into Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark. He was central in making them fully-rounded characters. Not a perfect boy scout like Clark Kent. But someone with deep anger and guilt like Logan.
Lee also managed to make comments about the world in a sly way. Professor X and Magneto were based on Martin Luther king and Malcolm X. He gave us the first Black superhero in Black Panther.
Believe me, the name was no mistake. Lee was heavily influenced by the sixties.
As I grew older and became a dad, my attention would turn back to the DC Comics Universe. It helped that they created some of the most memorable animated series of the late 90s beginning with Batman: The Animated Series followed by Superman: The Animated Series and then Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
The difference here, as opposed to say Superfriends, is that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini had taken a page from Lee’s book and made Supes, Bats and even Harley Quinn complicated characters, each fighting their own fears.
I could go through Lee’s biography, but you don’t need me to for that. You can go to the Hollywood Reporter or New York Times if you want a timeline.
I just wanted to write about the man who not only transformed a culture with his insight and creativity. But more so, Stan Lee helped transform me into who I am today. And I will never be able to thank him for that.
Excelsior, Mr. Lee.