When I was as a kid, happily watching X-Men: The Animated Series with Spider-Man pajamas on, Stan Lee often seemed like he was just another superhero. He was the grinning, sarcastic, grandfatherly figure behind all the magic, holding his hand out and inviting you to join the fun. For me, as someone whose maternal grandparents were New York Jews, there was always something familial about Lee’s presence in my favorite superhero stories; the New York accent, the creativity, the combination between heartfelt sentiment and witty humor.
Superheroes always save the day, and so, as a little kid, it seemed hard to imagine a world without Stan Lee. But I remember one day, when my elementary school self watched an interview with Lee, and I suddenly realized he was getting older—which caused the second, scarier realization that at some point, he’d die. At such a young age, this thought saddened me deeply. If Stan Lee died, would all of the superheroes still be around? Would the magic die?
Now, that day has come, and in certain respects, it’s important to realize than while the world has lost Stan Lee, Lee himself finally has the chance to rest. In his final years, he faced many struggles, from the loss of his wife to his ailing health to the much-documented elder abuse saga, all of which was heart-wrenching to watch. Still, the loss of Stan Lee hits almost every superhero fan heavily. If there’s one thing that’s deeply heartening to see, it’s the wave of love and affection for him visible today, exploding across social media: a love that he fostered for decades and decades, whether he was creating superheroes, writing for “Stan’s Soapbox,” or making gleeful cameo appearances in every Marvel movie.
Stan Lee wasn’t the only creative force behind Marvel Comics, of course—you can’t ever forget to mention Kirby, Ditko, and Romita, to name just a few—but there’s no question, to me, that Lee was the guiding agent, the force of nature that turned Marvel into the phenomenon it is today. He was a man who poured all of his love, energy, and enthusiasm into an art form once perceived as silly and childish, and successfully transformed it into the biggest force in pop culture today. When measuring the impact of characters like Spider-Man and movies like Black Panther, it’s easy to see that, in the end, Lee became one of the single most influential creative voices of the 20th and 21st century, though he probably didn’t realize it at the time. By creating so many colorful figures who fought to make the world a better place, he inspired countless weird, awkward children to see these heroic characters in themselves, and to try to do the same thing. Everyone identifies with at least one superhero, and it was truly Stan Lee’s focus on these characters which made that possible.
Though I never met Stan Lee in person—I once saw him from a distance, which was amazing enough—I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll miss him, as if a distant family member died. Of course, I’m hardly alone in that sentiment. I’d imagine that millions of people across the world today, millions of adults who grew up on superheroes and kids who love superheroes today, are mourning Lee’s death, and remembering his legacy.
The news of Stan Lee’s death hits just as hard and heavy as everyone thought it would. However, the magic that he put out into the world isn’t dead, and never will be. All the concepts that Stan helped create, from worlds to world-eaters to multiverses to geeky teenagers with spider-powers, live on, and countless more kids will be drawn into the Marvel Universe for years to come.
Thanks for everything, Stan. Rest in peace, and excelsior.