There will be people who learn about the passing of Stan Lee and politely pause before shrugging off his contributions as child's play. And while it is true he became famous for the creation of Marvel Comics and characters such as Spider-Man, Black Panther, Thor and The Incredible Hulk, the reason why he is loved isn't child's play at all.
His famous characters may have started off as comics but they never stayed on the page. They outgrew the merchandising. They overflowed out of our televisions. They even are larger than their fictional lives portrayed on the big screen. That's because Stan Lee did more than create characters. He created hope and hope cannot be contained.
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Those who would hear of Stan Lee's passing and not feel a tremendous sense of loss do so, I would argue, because they are not able to see all that he gave the world. And that's OK. If everybody could lift Thor's hammer, it wouldn't be that special. Even Stan Lee said he was initially embarrassed to tell people what he did because other people were building bridges or going on to medical school. But he eventually understood that what he did was more than kid stuff.
His series "X-Men" and "Black Panther" are essentially manuals on discrimination and how to combat it. "Iron Man" explores the uneasy marriage of capitalism and weapons making. "Captain America" wrestles with patriotism: what to do when your country is on the wrong side?
Ultimately it doesn't matter if you know Stan Lee because we all know him by his principles. And principles aren't weakened if the author of those principles goes unnoticed. They are only weakened if they are not applied. So, as long as we remember this: "With great power comes great responsibility," Stan Lee lives. That's not to say that concept did not exist before Spider-Man's uncle said it to him.
In fact, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein are quoted saying something very similar many years before. Just as patriotism didn't start with Captain America, fighting discrimination didn't begin with the X-Men, and portraying women as leaders wasn't something Janet van Dyne -- also known as The Wasp -- introduced.
But these principles of integrity, equality, fairness were not a consistent element in American culture during the 1960s, 1970s or even 1980s. In fact, one could argue that the heroes who populated Stan Lee's universe were in direct opposition to the world in which he and his readers existed. But by planting and nurturing those seeds with imaginative worlds and inspiring adventures, who's to say that Lee did not help a generation of real-life heroes to emerge?
No, we don't have super strength and we can't fly, but we fight society's ills armed with the principles woven into the words of some of our favorites characters. This is how Stan Lee lives on. Not with T-shirts or blockbuster movies but by our willingness to use whatever power we have for good and not evil. To help those in need. To remember doing the right thing doesn't require us to be perfect, because many of the heroes of Marvel Universe are far from it.
But that's not why they were heroes in the first place. They were heroes because they were willing to try to help for good. Whenever we are willing to try to be our higher selves, those characters will have life -- and so Stan Lee will live on. Some folks would smirk and think that's just a bunch of fanboy malarkey, and that's OK.
As I said earlier, everyone can't lift Thor's hammer.
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