Some people, inexplicably, have that thing—an unmistakable, but unquantifiable, inner light. Like the sun radiating joy, but in human form. In my eyes, that was Stan Lee. He was a brilliant talent who gave the world so many gifts, who influenced the world and culture in ways that will shake out decades beyond. It’s mindboggling to consider the reach of his work—not just those who voraciously devoured his comics and their various evolutions, but those he inspired to create. Kevin Smith comes to mind, first and foremost. The admiration between the two has always been wonderful. And the way Smith admired Stan was a pure kind of love.
Even from a distance, Stan Lee radiated a rare kind of enthusiasm, unabashed and secure in intention. There was no shame in his game. And there was something of him in everything he made, which is true, I think, of most people who create art. After he died—when I finally stopped shouting Nooooo at the reality, like Luke Skywalker discovering Vader was his pops—I sat down and read through all the tributes I could find. The outpouring of love was a thing of beauty, seeing the stories from people who worked with him, those who loved him, often accompanied by photos taken with the man himself—it warmed my heart.
It’s weird, honestly, to think we live in a world without Stan Lee. It seems impossible, because we had him for ninety-five years. And my stars and garters, what a gift. And yes, what a loss, that hole in the world where he once stood. A staunch reminder that all art, especially comics, has always been political (or did you not read a word of Captain America or Stan’s Soapbox?). A persuading voice to do good, even when things seem impossible.
The man may be gone, but his work is still here. His legacy is indelible. And I find comfort in that. Stan (co-)created so many things that were important—perhaps essential—to my childhood. No, not just to my childhood, but to me as a person. It’s so cliché to say that I wouldn’t be who I am today without Stan Lee, a man I never had the pleasure of meeting. But isn’t that the power of art—to open a door, to influence, to illuminate even at a distance? I was a tiny geek who liked to spin the comic rack at the local convenience store. Hell, I recently named my adopted cat Thor. (Spoiler alert: the tiny grey monster does, indeed, make a racket that sounds like actual thunder, despite being only six pounds.) As I grew up, Stan’s influence on my life changed (but in medium only—I devoured every animated incarnation of X-Men, Spider-Man, etc.), but it never wavered.
Peggy Carter is my own personal patronus. For that alone, I am grateful to the man behind so many heroes, so many legends. Despite the fact that the characters often had superpowers, the lesson that when you can do good, you do good—that has always stuck with me. It’s never easy to plant yourself like a tree. In fact, when it matters, it most assuredly won’t be a walk in the park. But heroes, good people always rise to the occasion, finding the courage amid the fear, not amid its absence.
From here on, we live in a world without Stan Lee, but his heart is still here, carried in every lesson we learned from his work. When given the opportunity, we can all be Peter Parker or T’Challa. I would advise on only being parts of Tony Stark, but that’s a judgement call. Point is, we lived in a time with Stan Lee. We had 95 years of his genius, and that makes us all pretty lucky.