When I was growing up, my mom would persuade me to mind my manners, behave well and succeed in school with promises of a reward. Some of these rewards included ice cream sundaes after dinner, a weekend trip to the movies or, most often, a freshly packaged comic book.
When I’d get a new comic book, I would spend more time picking one out than I would actually reading it. The multitude of Marvel characters plastered on the covers were intoxicating to look at. With one glance at a Spider-Man issue, I could be transported to New York City where the Green Goblin was up to his old tricks. Another glance could throw me into an all-out mutant epic featuring the X-Men.
No matter what storyline or cover art piqued my interest, a man named Stan Lee was always behind these entrancing characters’ worlds.
Born on Dec. 28, 1922, in New York City, Lee began his career refilling inkwells for comic book artists. From here, he would slowly rise in rank to become the creative leader of Marvel Comics for over two decades. Lee is credited with creating some of comic book mythos’ most legendary and influential characters — including Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, to name just a few.
Before creating these iconic heroes, there was a time when Lee thought about quitting comics altogether. Following advice from his wife Joan, he began to write characters with flawed character traits. It was a radical shift in tone at the time, as most heroes were portrayed as being free of imperfections.
Lee’s ability to add humanity to his characters allowed readers to relate to the stories in a new and complex way. This element of Lee’s writing led him to establish some of the most developed and engaging stories that comic books have ever seen.
Though I was not alive to see Lee’s growth from a prosaic ink-filler to the industry’s creative leader, I have always known Lee as a loved and revered pop culture icon. From his laughable cameos in his Marvel movies to his TV series highlighting the superhuman nature of human beings, Lee has always been around to show us something interesting, something new and something bold.
That is why it was so saddening to hear of Lee’s death earlier this week on Nov. 12. He leaves behind the biggest legacy one could aspire to have. The characters he created have become universal role models for all of us to learn from.
Through print comics, television programs and, more famously, the Marvel cinematic universe, Lee’s impact on the world will continue. He was someone who was infinitely passionate about spreading joy through his art and someone I will always look up to.
Though Lee has left this universe behind, his superhuman spirit for the abnormal and extraordinary never will. Excelsior!