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On November 12, 2018, Stan Lee died. His words crafted the Marvel Universe, introducing the world to beloved characters such as The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and so, so many more. Many of his stories featured a flawed hero facing insurmountable odds, enduring hardships, standing up for what is right, and somehow always managing to come out stronger than they were before. His stories were always meant to inspire readers to choose what’s right over what’s easy.
What made Stan’s stories so engaging was the way he gave humanity to his characters. Unlike the Distinguished Competition, Marvel’s heroes suffered from deeply human flaws and problems. Thor possessed an incredible arrogance that put the people he cared for in danger. Bruce Banner had terrible anger issues that he internalized, resulting in violent outbursts as the Hulk. The X-Men fought prejudice and extremism in an effort to be accepted by the public that feared and hated them. Spider-Man had to contest with homework, relationship problems, and bullies. Spidey even had to fight crime whilst fighting off a cold. Stan’s superheroes were as relatable as they were fantastical. None of the Distinguished Competition’s characters were as relatable as Stan’s (not at the time anyways).
These characters were so relatable that they were inspiring. Stan’s heroes wouldn’t give up, no matter the circumstances. They wouldn’t let hardships like hate, personal loss, or even injury stop them from fighting for what they believed in. These stories he wrote inspired so many fans to apply the same determination and resilience to their real life. If Spider-Man wouldn’t stop getting up after repeatedly getting knocked down, then no one else should.
Stan was a man of conviction, who frequently used his position as a writer and the public face of Marvel to affect positive change in the real world, much like the way his characters used their influence to positively change their fictitious world. Stan recognized his influential position, and used to it to promote peace, love, and acceptance. He truly believed the words he first wrote for Amazing Fantasy #15: "With great power, there must also come... great responsibility!" In the back pages of Marvel’s comic books, “Stan’s Soapbox” was Stan’s way to voice his beliefs and opinions on tough subjects to his fans. In addition to his column, his characters would often preach equality, self-growth, and being true to one’s self. And, much like today’s celebrities, Stan was often admonished by readers who disagreed with his moralistic way of storytelling, asking him why he didn’t just tell entertaining stories and kept his own opinions to himself. Stan gave the very eloquent answer below:
Perhaps the greatest lesson Stan ever taught his readers, as cliché as it may sound, is to never give up on their dreams. Case in point: Stan had always planned on being a professional writer, but in the 1950s, while he was writing for Atlas Comics, he was writing stories he didn’t care about, stories without substance or a message. Stories with no “soul.” When he was tasked with creating a superhero team to compete with the Distinguished Competition’s Justice League of America, he wanted to quit, but his beloved wife Joan told him to stick around for at least one last comic. She told him to write a book the way he wanted to, and if he got into trouble, he was going to quit anyways, so he had nothing to lose. That comic turned out to be the Fantastic Four, which marked the beginning of the Marvel Universe. Because he wrote a comic his way, because he didn’t give up, he created stories loved by millions. He wanted to write the Great American Novel, but he created so much more.
Stan has left behind an impressive legacy. A legacy of doing what’s right when it would be far easier not to. A legacy of never giving up, even when the situation seems dark. A legacy of acceptance, tolerance, and not squandering opportunities. He gave the world an entire universe filled with characters. Characters that will continue to inspire and entertain millions for decades to come. Stan Lee may be gone from this Earth, but he will live forever in the hearts and minds of everyone his stories have touched.
Rest in peace, Stan. And thank you.