‘Devastated’ seems to be the only word I can think of right now that at least partly describes the way I’m feeling. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of you. It’s a strange emotion when one of your heroes passes away, especially when you don’t know them personally and they’re probably unaware of your existence. But in some strange way you still feel a deep connection to them through their incredible contribution to your life. While the death of any influential person can be upsetting, I’ve never been hit quite so hard as I have with the passing of Stan Lee.
It’s a difficult feeling to express so I’ve decided to write something down that will hopefully act as a kind of therapy for myself and maybe even help someone reading this who is feeling something similar. With all that said I didn’t want to write a retelling of Stan Lee’s life story as you can find that in many other places (which I recommend you do) but I wanted to write a retelling of his influence on my life and what he means to me personally.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I first became aware of Stan Lee’s work but it’s through the early Marvel cartoons and TV shows like Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk that I was first introduced to a lot of his characters. Growing up on the Isle Of Wight as a comic book fan could prove difficult. Back then I didn’t have access to awesome comic shops like ‘Fantastic Store’ and the Internet barely existed until I was older. Instead I would scour the shelves at the local newsagent in the hope of finding anything superhero related. Occasionally I would get lucky and manage to find a copy of ‘2000 AD’ or something similar. It wasn’t until Marvel began reprinting their various comics in to easily available collections that my obsession started. The first comic I remember regularly collecting was ‘The Exploits Of Spider-Man’ in the early 90’s.
This was my gateway in to the world of comics and to a larger extent my first glimpse in to an amazing new universe. After this there was no turning back for me and I started absorbing everything superhero related I could find. This was also where I first discovered Stan Lee’s unique and powerful writing style that has had a lasting impact on me and in many ways shaped the person I am today. More importantly, his beautifully crafted storytelling changed the face of the genre.
Stan Lee taught me that even though comics were entertaining action-packed escapism they could also be something more. They could be dramatic, emotional and sometimes even tragic. He humanised these larger than life characters and showed that the person underneath the mask was just as important as their superhuman persona. They could be flawed, make mistakes and face their own moral dilemmas. He showed that putting on a pair of tights and fighting crime doesn’t suddenly make all the personal struggles disappear. He taught me that at the end of the day, there is no escape from the difficulties of real life and that you have to keep going as best you can. That no matter how much you get knocked down the underdog can always rise up and face adversity. Of course, I have to mention that through Spider-Man, the lesson he drummed in to all of us over countless issues, cartoons and movies is that “With great power, comes great responsibility”.
That’s not to say that his stories were without a sense of fun and adventure. He created wonderous worlds for everyone to explore. I understand that he didn’t do all of this alone, there were many other writers and artists involved, but to me it always seemed like he was the driving force at the centre. Although I was an avid reader of Stan Lee’s work from a young age it wasn’t until watching a TV show called ‘The Marvel Action Hour’ that I really learned who he was. The show consisted of two animated episodes of Fantastic Four and Iron Man. Introducing each of these would be a short segment in which Stan Lee would talk directly to the audience. It was here that he would invite me in to these fantastical realms of action, suspense and excitement. I was enthralled in this universe by watching these shows, reading these comics, attempting to draw the characters and playing with the action figures. To say that these various things shaped my childhood is an understatement.
This early introduction to Stan Lee as a person as well as many other interviews and appearances over the years gave me a sense of who the man behind the writing was. While I’m not naïve enough to think that there wasn’t an element of promotion involved it never felt like a sales pitch or marketing. Instead he had this infectious enthusiasm for this universe he helped to create. There was always a genuine sense of wonder and joy that he shared with us all, whether through a TV screen, cinema screen or comic book page.
There’s so much more I could mention but I hope this helps to convey the mix of emotions that I, and I’m sure many of you are feeling right now. Maybe ‘devastated’ is a good word for it. Honestly, I don’t know that many people will ever read this, or you will find any comfort in my words. It has however, helped me to remember why Stan Lee’s creativity and ability to craft timeless tales was such an important factor in my life. Now I invite you to do the same, share your memories, stories, thoughts and feelings with us or each other, so that we can celebrate the legend and continue his legacy. ‘Nuff said.
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