The pop culture world has been mourning the loss of Stan Lee this last week after he passed away on Monday at the age of 95. The internet is still flooded with social media posts paying their digital respects to the man who will be remembered for co-creating some of the most iconic comic book characters ever to exist. Stan’s influence had an immeasurable impact on my life as well, and I wanted to write about that briefly.
Avengers #1. Art by Jack Kirby.
I definitely read plenty of comics as a kid, but some of my earliest memories interacting with the Marvel Universe are actually from watching two of the most legendary cartoons of the 90’s: Spider-Man and X-Men. Cartoons like these played a key role in getting me hooked into comics and cultivating a love of art in general. I remember buying several books over the years from school book fairs that detailed how to draw the Marvel characters, and for a long time I even considered becoming a cartoonist or comic book artist.
The X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons of the 90s were the best.
If you were unfortunate to have missed these animated gems growing up, the animation in both were top quality while also doing a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the comics. Both shows had memorable opening themes as well, with music that screamed 90s. Once either of these two shows started, nothing else mattered until the episode was over.
Honestly, whenever forced to choose I’ve always leaned more to the DC Universe. My parents named me after Superman actor Christopher Reeve (a tale for another day), which naturally made me gravitate to that side of the superhero aisle. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe there is enough geek love to go around for both companies’ cast of characters.
Marvel and DC have always offered 2 sides of the same coin for me, allowing me to jump back and forth depending on what kind of story I’m in the mood for. And who was the person responsible for differentiating Marvel from the rest of the superheroes at the time? In large part it was Stan Lee of course.
The DC Universe roster has been around longer and excels at telling entertaining stories that provide an escape from reality. These heroes live more in the realm of fantasy and mythology as the universe is crowded with super powered beings from other planets who always do the right thing to protect their imaginary cities from the forces of evil. They are truly larger than life.
Stan saw this even back in the 60’s and decided to tell his stories from a different angle. He created characters along side legendary artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others who at their core were every day humans, based in real cities, dealing not just with bad guys wanting to wreck everything but their own real life dilemas as well.
This artwork from iconic artist Steve Ditko was paid homage in Spiderman: Homecoming.
The Marvel characters don’t just provide entertaining escapism, they also resonate with readers. They’re not just tireless do-gooders who always do the right thing. They make mistakes. They fail. They give us hope that it’s possible to do great things while also struggling with every day life. I’m not saying these qualities are completely absent from the DC Universe; only that Stan set up Marvel to consistently do a far better job.
The X-men constantly face prejudice and racism from a world that doesn’t understand their mutant abilities. Tony Stark is his own worst enemy with a monster size ego and inner demons of alcoholism. Mathew Murdock, a nobody from Hell’s Kitchen, turned his crippling disability into one of his greatest strengths as a hero. Peter Parker is constantly forced to juggle the pressures of his personal life with crime fighting. The list could go on for pages.
The immense success of the Marvel movies over the past decade is also proof of how much these characters resonate with the world. I was 23 years old when Iron-Man released and now at 33, married, and a baby on the way the franchise is 20 movies in and still going strong. I, like so many others have been to every single opening weekend, and have collected each film as it came out on DVD/Blu ray. I absolutely love and am fascinated with how these movies all contect together and reference each other as every iteration builds the universe just a little deeper, just like issues of comic books.
President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige deserves a large amount of credit for crafting films that appeal to the masses, but the heart of the these characters wouldnt exist without Stan. Honestly, seeing Stan’s cameo in every single film is also part of the experience that will sadly end after his last cameo in the upcoming Avengers 4.
Despite all of this, I don’t find myself overly saddened thinking about Stan’s passing. He had a long and fulfilling life, and is now at rest after accomplishing more with his life than most ever think is possible. He has inspired countless artists and creators to leave their mark on the world and will continue to do so as future generations experience his universe for the first time.
My wife and I meeting Stan at Awesome Con.
I’m beyond grateful to have met Stan a year or so ago at Awesome Con in DC, but as incredible an experience as it was, I was surprised at how little he resembled the comic book rockstar from my childhood. He kept reminding me of someone’s grandfather that should probably just be at home, resting. I think it was in that moment that I knew and accepted this marvelous man (see what I did there) wouldnt be with us much longer.
However, this is not how he will be remembered. He will be remembered for all the things previously mentioned in this post; as the man that revolutionized not just comics but art, TV, and film as well. He will be remembered for his bombastic story telling, a knack for alliteration, and his trademark sunglasses and mustache.
Never fear true believers. Though he is no longer among us, his legacy on pop culture will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.