A man inseparable from his catchphrase, “Excelsior!” Stan Lee translated it once on Twitter, elucidating that the Latin word meant, “upward and onward, to greater glory!” The exclamation point is the most important marker of Stan Lee’s optimism. His ability to accomplish something he wanted or could was boundless.
The legendary Marvel Comics writer, editor, and publisher passed away on Monday at the ripe age of 95. And now it is difficult to imagine the world without him. As his eyesight failed and buzzes of elder abuse circulated, even in his twilight years, Stan Lee was a force to be reckoned with. In his final interview in October, he announced that he was still working on new projects.
There are very few people that have left a deep impact on modern pop culture as Stan Lee who skyrocketed the career of a tiny pulp magazine called Timely Comics that became the mammoth of the industry—Marvel. Born as Stanley Martin Lieber in December 1922 at an apartment on West 98th Street in Manhattan, he worked under a pseudonym when he was only 19.
Lee’s jaw-dropping output is something to reflect on, especially today when his creations are dominating the film industry. No matter how much his creations earned, Lee never lost his sight of more human scale.
As far as Lee’s story is concerned, his story could be as small as a single city like New York, where his family had fought the Great Depression in a single room apartment. It was a city that never had a kind side for comic book writers. Before creating the Fantastic Four, he vented out to his wife, “” I used to think what I did was not very important. We’re writing nonsense. It’s a stupid business for a grownup to be in.”
However, Lee never lost faith in developing connection with readers. Stories of him meeting young fans are not uncommon. He once enthusiastically encouraged an aspiring 11-year-old comic artist who presented Lee with his work, by saying, “Son of a gun, you’re a triple threat.”
Lee was very well aware of the readers who looked up to their favorite superheroes for moral clarity and guidance—like one Spider-Man comic once famously proclaimed, “with great power there must also come great responsibility.”
Lee’s entire career height was dominated by the Civil Right Movement, which was often reflected in his work. He said, “It wasn’t a huge deal to me. It was a very normal, natural thing. A good many of our people here in America are not white. You’ve got to recognize that, and you’ve got to include them in whatever you do.”
T’Challa—Marvel’s first black superhero—was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X while creating the X-Men, focused on the discrimination and trials that the mutant squad faced.
Though Lee was more explicit in his editorial columns, which he used to soapbox. Like he wrote in 1968, “Let’s lay it right on the line. Racism and bigotry are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed supervillains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”
The same column was re-shared in August 2017, after a white supremacist killed a counter-protestor in Charlottesville.
Of course, in the real world, it wasn’t that simple. Like any reader of Lee’s comics would have known, he wasn’t attracted to adapting the easy way out. He mused in that same 1968 column, “Sooner or later we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is to ever be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.”
Face front, True Believers!