I spoke, in passing, about the influence Spider-Man had on me growing up in my review of the video game some weeks ago. I try not to repeat myself here, but today I’ll defy that and revisit this. I grew up the son of a poor immigrant family in New York City. I was the chubby, nerdy Indian kid. The Flash Thompsons, Eddie Brocks, and Norman Osborns of my world bullied me in a variety of ways growing up.
What Stan Lee managed to do, not just for me with Peter Parker, but for millions of others with an entire pantheon was create characters and adventures that were simultaneously reflections of his readers as well as escapes. It’s challenging enough for a writer to accomplish just one of those things. Stan Lee pulled off both- and in so doing he created not just a world, but an entire universe all his own.
There’ll be plenty of ink poured out today and for years to come on his accomplishments and impact. Maybe there are better writers than I who’ll do so, but I feel this loss and ending of an era today. I met Stan Lee at E3 2009, it was a passing promotional event for a Marvel video game. You don’t often get these chances in life, but I was able to shake his hand and tell him, “Thank you for the inspiration.” He laughed and told me, “don’t mention it.”
I’m sure there are millions of others who could say the same to him and mean it. Maybe you don’t get it because comics weren’t your thing, but that’s exactly why Stan’s legacy and characters mean so much: he gave us bullied and outcast nerds something to believe in. He gave us something to be inspired by. It wasn’t just that I identified with the nerdy, financially struggling Peter Parker, it was that he never gave up and always struggled to do what was right.
Plenty of discourse is exhausted on why Batman is more interesting than Superman, and I think that’s even clearer in Spider-Man’s popularity: he’s not rich, nor is he the strongest, and he can’t fly (and his powers aren’t exactly the ones you’d dream up on a list of fantasy power trips). It’s his morality, his perseverance and character that put him in the upper echelon of modern legends. Sure, he isn’t invincible, he can be hurt but never broken. Who I am, the good I try to embody in my own small ways with the capabilities and skills I have, Stan Lee by way of Peter Parker is a major influence on the man I am.
The fact that I could go on in this way about a dozen more characters is tremendous. I’m here in awe of the sum of this man’s accomplishments and am glad he lived to see them reach such mainstream appreciation and a whole future generation of kids he’ll inspire to be the best heroes they can be.
To the legend, excelsior. Thanks again for the inspiration.