Blog | Excelsior!
Stan Lee died on Monday and, if I'm being honest, I still don't think it's really sunk in yet that's gone. I never met the man, but his work has had such a profoundly positive impact on my life that I can't help but feel sad that he's no longer around.
I started reading Marvel comics at a very young age, making the universe those heroes inhabited a part of my life for the majority of my formative years. In fact, I would say that, along with various other sci-fi influences, Lee's creations probably made me who I am today.
I grew up seeing women just as strong as the men on their side (even if there were a lot fewer of them); I've seen people with all the skin colours of the rainbow; I've seen strange beliefs and religions that make what humans believe in appear rather mundane.
I've seen characters with opposing viewpoints put aside their enmity to tackle a common foe or to fight for the greater good, willing to put aside their ego because it's the right thing to do; I've seen minorities fighting for the right to be recognised as existing at all.
I've seen monsters do more good than men; I've watched relationships begin and end; I've seen other dimensions, time periods, realities; I've seen heroes fighting heroes and villains fighting villains; I've seen all the myriad complexities of what humanity has to offer.
And I discovered this as a kid growing up reading comics; comics that wouldn't exist in their current form - if at all - if not for Stan Lee. Everything I've written above about what I experienced growing up reading comics might seem a little obvious and hardly worth mentioning.
The thing is, if it wasn't for Stan Lee (and Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and more), comics might still be just male heroes battling villains, winning the day, and then going home to their love interest. And that's it. With a few exceptions, that was pretty much what superhero comics were before Lee and Kirby unveiled the Fantastic Four and ushered in the 'Marvel Age'.
The stories no longer took place in fictional locations like Gotham or Metropolis, but mainly New York where Lee and Kirby lived and knew so well. Their characters weren't infallible champions of justice who always won the day, but regular people who could screw up on a regular basis.
Their love lives were almost as tangled as the battles they fought, with long-term successful romances in Marvel comics proving rare even to this day. People actually related to the larger-than-life characters and so did I.
While not a Lee creation, my favourite Marvel character while growing up was Colossus. He was tall, quiet, and he liked to draw - which mirrored me pretty perfectly at the time. The thing is, Colossus would never have existed without Lee's involvement in creating the X-Men.
And that's the key thing to recognise about Stan Lee: even if you like something superhero or comic book-related that he had no involvement in, how that story is being told and the creators making it are both almost certainly influenced by the work Lee did over fifty years ago.
One of the year's most-loved games (although not by me), Spider-Man, wouldn't exist without him. Or even look at God of War, where you've got to imagine that Kratos' ability to throw and recall his axe is inspired by Thor, who far more people will recognise from Marvel rather than actual Norse mythology.
I don't read comics any more, as I'll wait for them to be combined into larger collections instead, but I now have the Marvel Cinematic Universe as my on-going superhero 'fix'. Worth mentioning: the MCU is the single biggest franchise in the history of cinema - and it wouldn't exist if not for Stan Lee.
Before his death, Lee apparently filmed his cameos for Captain Marvel and Avengers 4, so we'll still get to see him on-screen at least twice more. It's unclear whether he had filmed something for Spider-Man: Far From Home, although it would be a fitting final appearance for Lee to appear in a movie based on the most successful character he helped bring to life.
And I think it is going to be the MCU that will really seal that he's gone. Marvel Studios will surely put some acknowledgement in all three films next year, and we're still going to see him in at least two of them. So, even in 2019, he won't really be gone.
No, it will be when a new Marvel Studios movie comes out and the movie finishes. Someone will ask where the Stan Lee cameo was because they didn't see him and then it will really hit home. There was no cameo and neither will there ever be another one.