I never met Stan Lee. I almost certainly could have at some point, if I’d wanted to; half the nerds I know have a picture of themselves with him at some con or another. He passed away two full days ago and I’m still struggling with tears trying to write this. That seems an odd thing to say about a man I never met. Odd, but true.
Also true: I can think of two people, only one still with us, since JRR Tolkien passed away three years before I was born, whose work has had even close to as much of an influence on my life as Stan Lee’s did. I have been buying comic books for 3/4 of my life, and I probably have 80% of all the Iron Man comics ever printed. Today is Wednesday. It’s new comic book day. I went to the comic shop.
I go to the comic shop every Wednesday. And I have gone to the comic shop every Wednesday for goddamn near my entire adult life, excepting only a short period of time where I lived in Chicago and didn’t have a comic shop in Chicago yet so I was still getting my comics from my local store in South Bend. My two favorite superheroes are Iron Man and the Hulk. Spider-Man is right behind Superman. Number five probably slides around a bit more than the others, but Captain America is as good a choice as any.
Stan Lee created three of those five characters, and had an enormous influence on the history of the fifth. Did he come up with everything about them completely on his own? No, of course not. Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Jack Kirby; the contributions of these men can’t be denied, and they were towering figures in their own right. And we just lost Steve Ditko earlier this year, so it’s been a really bad year to be a Spider-Man fan.
(Steve Ditko designed the classic red-and-gold Iron Man armor. I just found that out. I don’t think I knew that before.)
This is one hundred percent true: I have no idea what my life would look like if Stan Lee had not been a part of it. I have no idea who I would be if I had never encountered Stan’s creations. You don’t get to spend most of your life marinating your brain in stories about superheroes every single week and not be changed by them. To say that Stan Lee was one of my heroes feels like it’s minimizing him.
It’s not enough. He was too big for this. I don’t have the words. I’m reading this over and the whole thing just feels stupid, like I’m not trying hard enough.
Stan was Jewish. Jews typically, or at least traditionally, don’t say “rest in peace.” A more appropriately Jewish phrase to honor the recently dead is May his memory be a blessing. And it’s also more appropriate to describe my relationship with Stan, a man who I never met and whose life’s nevertheless influenced me so deeply and thoroughly that I am unable to untangle what my life would be like had he never lived. His memory– and his creations– will live on, if not forever, but certainly well beyond whatever years may be left to me. Every day. But especially, and undeniably, every Wednesday.
Stan Lee’s life was a blessing. May his memory continue to be.