Excelsior: A Eulogy for Stan Lee

Y'know, I guess one person really can make a difference.
"You know, my motto is 'Excelsior.' That's an old word that means 'Upward and onward to greater glory.' It's on the seal of the state of New York. Keep moving forward, and if it's time to go, it's time. Nothing lasts forever." -Stan Lee

On November 12, 2018, a legend exited the world. Stanley Martin Lieber, known to people all over the world as Stan Lee, was an inspiration, a keen mind, and a top-notch storyteller. He contributed countless comic book stories, worlds, and characters to the annals of comic history, in large part responsible for the Marvel Age of comics. He was in the U.S. Army, working to serve his country and do his part in an age of despair and war. He was a loving and faithful husband, married to his wife Joan for 69 years before she passed away in 2017. He never wanted to be famous for his stories; he only hoped that people would enjoy what he wrote and that he would keep his job so he could feed his family.

But he was famous for his stories. He got a job with Timely comics in 1939, filling inkwells, getting lunch for the artists, and erasing pencils from finished pages. Soon he was writing filler text for the comics, and he was given the job of writing issues of a backup feature, 'Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent,' in 1941. In that same year, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left Timely, and Stan was installed as interim editor. He was the editor-in-chief of Timely until 1972. Stan wrote comics for Timely, generally referred to as Atlas Comics by the '50s, in a number of genres, but was not particularly satisfied with his work. He considered leaving the field of comics by the end of the '50s. And then, about that time, DC Comics created the Justice League. Their JL comics and the new version of The Flash (Barry Allen) were selling very well, and Stan's publisher Martin Goodman wanted him to replicate DC's success. He and Jack Kirby responded with the Fantastic Four. Lee's characters were flawed and human, not the perfect paragons of virtue that had come before, and audiences loved it. Stan and Kirby went on to create Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and the X-Men. And along with Steve Ditko, Stan came up with the character of Spider-Man. By this time, Atlas Comics went by the name of Marvel. Today, these characters are some of the most recognizable in the world, and make billions of dollars at the box office.

Stan grew up poor in a small apartment in Manhattan. No one would ever have guessed that the boy delivering sandwiches for a pharmacy would one day create the most beloved and compelling stories the world has ever known. Stan's humble beginnings also helped him to avoid the egotism and vices so many famous men have slipped into. The Stan Lee foundation was devoted to providing access to literacy resources and promoting culture, diversity, and the arts. In his last days, Stan's estate was mismanaged, and his money was spent on sketchy fake charities and other things he never would have supported. Even through this, he continued to be an honorable and gracious man, maintaining the whole time that the $300,000 of his money that went to the man who ruined him was a gift. Stan had no tolerance for blind hatred or racism, and he was always committed to making the world a better and kinder place. The bad guys who hated people and threatened the safety and security of the world were always defeated after all was said and done; good triumphed over evil.

Many know Stan best for his many cameos in Marvel films. This actually started in the comics, as artists drew him in as a background character in different scenes. Stan appeared in every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as many of the X-Men films, the Fantastic Four movies, and both Spider-Man franchises. His most recent appearance was in Venom (2018), giving Eddie Brock and Venom some sage advice at the end.

As a man, Stan Lee was an inspiration to us all - to be better, to be kinder, and to help those in need like the characters he populated his world's with. As a storyteller, he was a genius who will be remembered for generations to come for his brilliantly devised characters and clever stories. As a friend and a family member, most of us can only imagine that he will be missed. Excelsior was his motto - a call to improve and push ourselves and stretch our limits. He will live on in his example, his stories, and his impression on those he left behind.

'Nuff said.

3 comments:

Chris said...

Beautifully said! Stan Lee truly was a hero in his own right, because his creativity inspired so many, his creations entertained hundreds of millions of people and will continue to do so for decades. It's sad to see such a legend pass away, but at the same time, it's wonderful that he got to live such a long life, and in good health 'til the very end, too! It must have been marvelous (pun intended) for him to watch so many of the characters he created become such huge and successful pop culture icons in recent years.

Billie Doux said...

This is lovely, CoramDeo -- thank you. I knew so little about Stan Lee.

yodudeyo100 said...

Very well written, he was a wonderful soul and I wish him well and hope him and Joan have found peace together forever.