Comic Odyssey: Remembering Stan Lee

By: Kevin Powers                                                                                  Nov. 14, 2018

Unfortunately, I never met Stan Lee. But I knew Stan Lee. We all knew Stan Lee. At 34 years old, Stan Lee has always been a part of my life, whether through his appearances in various mediums or through the characters he helped create. 

Strangely enough, I’ve been feet away from Stan Lee. Close enough to hear him regale a child with a story about creating Spider-Man. I’ve seen him on the Marvel stage at New York Comic Con, doing what he does best – selling the Marvel brand better than anyone ever could. I worked under the roof he helped build as an intern at what would become Marvel Studios in 2004.

I’ve always known Stan Lee.

That’s the thing about Stan Lee and his legacy. Sure, there’s criticism to be had about his relationships with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Those conversations will carry on forever. But the way I’ve always seen it is that there was one thing Stan did that Jack and Steve didn’t do with as much ferocity… sell the product.

Stan Lee was the co-creator for sure, but he was also the salesman. He was Marvel Comics’ biggest advocate, the face of the company. He made all of us feel welcome in a New York City that was full of mutants, super-soldiers, wall crawlers and wizards. 

The other day, a co-worker was posting a story about Stan Lee. When listing off the co-creations he included Iron Man, Black Panther, The X-Men and Hulk. I insisted he include The Avengers, but he didn’t want to because Stan didn’t create Captain America. This is true, but Stan helped mold the Cap we know today. In the 1940s, Cap (created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon) was one of hundreds of patriotic themed characters coming out of World War II. Avengers #4 by Lee and Kirby breathed new life into Cap. My coworker ultimately decided against it, and that’s fine, but it highlights part of the debate about Lee’s legacy.

However, until the day he passed away, even through all the horror stories of his final years, his “role” at Marvel, Stan still sold us not only on the Marvel characters, but whatever stories he was still working on. That’s one of the most remarkable things about Stan Lee. He never stopped creating. He never stopped wanting to tell stories. He never stopped selling us stories.

The state of our discourse is pretty bad thanks to Twitter and Facebook, but I was still appalled to see people go after the low-hanging fruit on the day the man died to criticize the relationships with collaborators. Yes, it’s an argument to be had, but that was not the day. Instead I loved the stories about Stan Lee from creators and fans alike. 

Stan Lee was – and still is – larger than life. 

I’ve known about Stan’s deteriorating health for a few years through friends that knew him. I knew he couldn’t see. I knew it was hard for him to get around. But there he was, still popping up on social media with the spirit of a man three times younger. There he was at comic-cons, thanking the fans, signing autographs. And even through the horrors of his final couple of years, he would still pop up in our lives to tell us how great comics are.

It’s true, I always wanted my picture with Stan Lee. I never took up the opportunity to pay for a photo op, but I did come close at NYCC a couple years ago – his final appearance. A friend was able to get a handful of buddies a photo with Lee in a green room. Unfortunately, my scheduling didn’t work out and I missed the chance. 

I’ve never been one for pictures with celebrities or public figures. I only have a few. One with Joe Quesada and one with two guys who once had a wrestling match in Brooklyn… but part of me did want that Stan Lee photo.

However, at the end of the day – for me – I don’t need that photo with Stan Lee. He’s been a part of our lives for so long, and he will continue to be a titan long after we are gone.

I’ll remember Stan Lee as a co-creator of myths and legends. A businessman who did what he thought was best for business. A salesman who sold millions on the ideas of himself, Kirby, Ditko and countless others.

He taught us that with great power MUST ALSO come great responsibility. He advocated for equality and justice. Even in his final years, he stood up against the movement known as Comicsgate. 

Stan Lee was larger than life and he will never die.