“It’s hard to believe that one vengeance-crazed man has trapped both the Spider-Friends and the X-Men! But he’s more than a man. He’s part robot, part living computer, and his mad scheme of revenge threatens to destroy the entire X-Men mansion, and everyone inside!”
That is the voiceover narration from season 3, episode 7 of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, from an episode called “The X-Men Adventure.” I taped that episode on VHS, and watched it countless times. This was also the first time I heard the voice I would come to recognize as Stan Lee.
As far as someone who loved what Stan Lee created, I’m no one special. His ideas and stories inspired and entertained countless others. His original creations have gone on in different iterations, endured twists and turns over half a century at the time of writing this, and have evolved in ways that Stan himself could not have fathomed at the time. Countless movies, video games, TV shows, cartoons, hats, T-shirts and more were all created off of the ideas of one man for someone like me to enjoy.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point wasn’t to touch just one person and change the course of their life. Stan inspired enough people to want to continue his works, and to love them enough to want to see their stories continue, even to the point of wanting to bring them to life on the big screen. What Stan created wasn’t just pop culture or symbols or a cinematic universe. He created legends. He created templates that were used to tell morality tales, play with known mythology and conceive characters we would come to know as well as our best friends.
My favorite story about Stan Lee was from the 1970s. Stan wrote a story arc about drug abuse that lasted 3 issues in Amazing Spider-Man. At the time, comics were not allowed to include drug abuse in their issues at all, whether in a positive or negative light. This was during Nixon’s war on drugs, where he declared drugs “public enemy number 1.” Comics were heavily screened for content by the Comics Code Authority, and those that passed the test were given a seal of approval on the cover. Stan submitted his Spider-Man story to the CCA, but was denied the seal because it had drug references in it. They were represented in a negative light, but it didn’t matter; no drugs, end of story. But Stan published it without the seal of approval.
Marvel Comics got so much mail praising the story arc that the Comics Code was rewritten within a week, which started a wave of topical comics story arcs. Comics from then on were seen as relevant reflections of the country at the time.
That is badassery at its finest.
I never got to meet the man, but he gave me so much. He gave me Wednesday nights spent at comic shops discussing the news of the heroes. He gave me friends who I had a common experience with just from the words and pictures on a page. He gave me stories that made me laugh and cry and think about for long after. He gave me icons in my childhood that would help to shape the person I am today. For that, I say thank you, Mr. Lee. Thank you on behalf of countless others you’ve touched. Thank you for giving us a world and a universe and a community. We’ll miss you.