We all knew it was coming. Unlike his characters, Stan Lee was going to fade away eventually.
Yesterday we said goodbye to the man who created the entities that inspired a lot of us to build our own worlds and imagine our own heroes. And he did so in a way that was motivating, inspiring and — perhaps most of all — inclusive.
I’ll admit that I’m one of those late-comer geeks who got heavily into the comic book scene once the zeitgeist said it was OK. (Harry Potter was far more my thing.) But once I discovered this magical world that was Stan Lee’s Marvel comics creations — starting with Iron Man and stretching both forwards as the MCU unfolded and backward as I discovered his original work — I put him in the pantheon of great creators, not just of the 20th century but of all of literature.
I’m not afraid to say that Stan Lee is the Shakespeare of this epoch. Think about it: His numerous characters are canonical to our society, and their stories often convey greater meaning than what’s simply written on the page. They seek truth and justice, but are inherantly flawed, and those flaws are what make them relateable and likeable to us. They might have superhuman powers, but they’re still human under all of it.
Obviously Stan Lee and Shakespeare aren’t the only ones who figured out this magical formula for timeless, applicable characters. But they are in a limited class as far as how many they were able to create, how many iterations those characters have been able to endure, and how they’ve entered our common language. “To be, or not to be” is right up there with “Don’t hulk out on me.”
(OK, maybe not. But wouldn’t it be great if it was?)
Last year he released this message to fans, and it has stuck with me since I first saw it:
“(Our) stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin,” he says. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance and bigotry.”
The message of inclusion is right up there with my own credo to make my work for everyone and representative of anyone. I wrote a whole book with a character who could be cast with any actor, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or age — the point being to make it so anyone could see themselves in the narrator’s place. While Stan Lee’s characters were more concrete, being drawn on a page, he preached the message to the end that anyone should be allowed to connect with them, enjoy them, and share that passion with others.
To me, Stan Lee’s breadth of creativity is enough to immortalize him in our minds’ hall of Great Literary Figures. But his insistance that everyone be allowed to adore and adopt that work is what makes him one of the greatest figures, period.