Even for many of the people who have never picked up a comic book, the name Stan Lee is synonymous with costumed superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-Men and many other modern-day warriors who are such a huge part of popular culture.
Lee, commonly referred to as the father of Marvel Comics and a legend in the comic book world, died Monday at 95. He was respected not only among his peers, but also the legions of fans worldwide who flocked to see him at conventions or who looked for his famous cameos in Marvel movies over the years.
So it is an understatement to say comic book fans were mourning Monday. As a lifelong fan of his work and the universe of characters he helped bring to life, I felt the terrible loss.
Although much has been written about Lee’s impact on the genre of comics he created or helped create — Black Panther, Mighty Thor and The Incredible Hulk, among others — and that he was instrumental in introducing audiences to some of the first African-American and female superheroes, his impact on individual fans will be his greatest legacy. In a world of so much darkness and cruelty, Lee’s brightly costumed creations and themes of idealism, selflessness and heroism in the face of overwhelming odds will be what I cherish most from his work.
I was exposed to Lee’s characters from a young age, starting with the X-Men animated series in the early 1990s. In subsequent years, I learned of his other costumed heroes through television, movies and video games, and developed a lifelong love of comic books. That fandom led to lasting friendships and a deep sense of belonging among the millions who also dream of being extraordinary.
Aside from their pure entertainment value, these characters have allowed countless comic book aficionados to believe there is good in each of us, and even the most ordinary among us is capable of extraordinary things.
Along with the fantastic powers exhibited by Lee’s heroes, the deeper lesson from his work is that no matter who we are or what we do, we are all capable of being heroes. After all, Spider-Man would be nothing without his innate sense of responsibility and dedication to doing right by his fellow humans. The X-Men would not exist were it not for Professor Charles Xavier’s pledge to protect the people of Earth, even those who hated and feared his family for their mutant abilities. Each of Lee’s characters strove for something deeply human — to help others live peacefully.
There’s much we can learn from Lee.
Mike Cusanelli is manager of research and digital production for Newsday Opinion.