So, I don’t know if any of you have seen this, but there seems to be a fairly nasty hoax floating around the internet. I don’t know if it’s malice, or just ignorance that is responsible, but my timeline seems to be full of people participating in it. You might have yourself.
The hoax, as ridiculous as it is offensive, consists of people going on Facebook, and (get this!) posting that Stan Lee, the creative genius behind Marvel Comics, has died. I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is wrong. Stan Lee is not dead, just because his heart has stopped beating. They may bury him, they may cremate him, they can throw his casket into the ocean for all I care, but Stan Lee can never truly die, any more than Shakespeare can.
Now, I understand that that’s a bold comparison to make. To a lot of people, it might even be a laughable one. A lot of people look down on comic books for being lowbrow, uncultured. And you know what? I guess in some senses of the world, they are. But you know what else? I don’t care about those people. I don’t care about the literary opinion of anyone who can look at the guy who created Spider Man, one of the best coming of age stories of all time, or The Incredible Hulk, a more compelling Jekyll and Hyde than Robert Louis Stephenson ever managed, as anything less than a genius.
But you know what? Let’s assume Stan Lee wasn’t a literary genius. He’s still immortal. Even if you hate his comics, you can’t deny the impact he’s had on popular culture today. The most successful movie franchise in history, literally hundreds of stories, video-games, artworks, netflix shows and God knows what else, all exist because of the characters Stan Lee created. And sure, that might just be because superheroes are cool and badass and glamorous, but Stan Lee’s characters speak to us because he shows us what heroes are like when they’re not being cool and badass and glamorous. Because he shows us not just the powers, but the emotional cost of using them for the right reasons. Because his superheroes and super villains are just people like us, who have to deal with the same weaknesses and frailties we do, plus a little extra on the side. Iron Man’s alcoholism. Black Widow’s PTSD. Captain America’s clumsy fumbling with a world he doesn’t quite understand. It’s this understanding of human nature, along with his universe-creating imagination, that allowed Stan Lee to create the characters he did. And sure, Marvel was helped to it’s world-dominating status by Steve Ditko and Sam Rami and Kevin Feige and Robert Downey Junior and all the rest of them, but it was Stan Lee’s bottomless, deeply humane creativity that made it all possible. And when you think that Stan Lee achieved all this, despite being born into poverty on the eve of the Great Depression, despite growing up in a one-bedroom apartment he shared with his parents and brother…Well, it’s possible to believe in superheroes, isn’t it?