I was six when I first saw the original Spider-Man movie in theatres.
By then, I had already enjoyed staring at him in comics. Drawing him on paper was a fantasy, but until the movie, he was always frozen in red and blue crayon.
The coincidental timing of the 2002 film broke that limit of my imagination.
Because it was live-action, I believed the pictures I created turned into real-life figures saving the world. By some measure, my own storytelling efforts were answered by Spidey co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee.
Maybe it was true for him too when in 1939 as a teenager he walked into the office that housed what was then Timely Comics — the precursor to Marvel — owned by his cousin Martin Goodman. Surrounded by artistic talents like Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack “King” Kirby, maybe his magical world also unfolded in a similar way.
Figuratively, Lee was my first editor — showing me how to polish a crude drawing into a character that works and, as the catchy song says, catches thieves just like flies.
Lee’s untimely passing at 95 made me time travel, taking me back to that moment I started believing my stories mattered.
He had a talent of making his heroes believable. Magic hammers and superhuman strength are fictional, but their personal struggles imitated life itself.
Iron Man’s suit could be the multi-million-dollar stuff of tech dreams. But Tony Stark’s history of alcoholism (Iron Man, Demon in a Bottle, issues 120 to 129, 1979) hits the right notes of showing human struggles outside an invincible facade. Stark puts aside his ego, teaching readers to drop the act and turning to people close to them for help.
A powerful recurring theme gives children the value of loss. For young readers growing up with Spider-Man, they also dealt with Uncle Ben’s tragic death (Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962). The 2002 movie revisits this — in full detail kids like myself still remember.
The tragedy comes when Peter Parker, using his powers for personal wealth, lets a burglar escape. It’s not his issue, he argued. But that same burglar would later kill his beloved uncle. With great power — Lee scribbled into the last panel of the origin story drawn by Steve Ditko —comes great responsibility. A brilliant parable reserved for both people and nations.
Subtle lessons hidden in these stories carry influence. A more visual reminder comes in Lee’s cameos. No matter where I went with Marvel, Stan Lee was always there.
When I was finally old enough to remember my favourite one, he appears next to Peter Parker in the 2007 film Spider-Man 3, imparting an important piece of wisdom.
“I guess one person can make a difference,” Lee said to a star-struck Tobey Maguire and millions of teary-eyed fans.
Lee’s self-awareness to fans meant everything to him. The Marvel No-Prize shows his best fan service (Fantastic Four #22, 1964), sending editor notes to anyone spotting plot holes in comics.
In messages to fans encapsulated in Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, and within that his monthly Stan’s Soapbox editorials, he kept his wacky spirits high and our morals clear: be good, do good, and reach for the stars. His signature “Excelsior!” came after repeating his lifelong value of “Doing what you want to do.”
It never gets old.
Stan Lee’s presence in my early years was also important in leaving a hero’s attitude.
He leaves this plane of existence with Marvel’s last No-Prize awarded to himself — for giving me (and billions of others) the courage — nay ye mortals, the drive — to be extraordinary.
“Nuff said,” and rest in peace.