I’m sure there will be a lot of articles about what a great visionary Stan Lee was. They will talk about his creativity, his flair for the dramatic, his ability to tell a story, his humor, and more. They will be accurate and not tell enough about this great man. This is not how I intend to approach this.
I never met Stan Lee, but he impacted my life in ways he would never know. I grew up a nerd in an era when being a nerd wasn’t cool. I always loved superheroes. I remember Saturday mornings with Batman, Captain Marvel, and the Super Friends. I had really lousy action figures that were all basically the same “Ken” body with different costumes. I also had this really cool Captain America and the Falcon black light poster.
My dad saved me from burning the house to the ground when I was 10. I had the Human Torch action figure. I ran fishing line from the top of the garage to the mailbox. He came home from work about the time I was climbing up to the roof with my Human Torch, matches, and a gas can. In retrospect, a different accelerant might have made it more spectacular. I’ll never know now. Dad made sure of that.
In spite of my obvious creativity and scholarly excellence, I was still a nerd. In 1976, I moved from a town of 150,000 people to a town of 1,000. I had long hair and platform shoes. I walked into a classroom of red plaid flannel shirts and “high and tight” haircuts. They started calling me names the first day and never stopped. I was picked on, beat up, and had my sexuality questioned every school day from then until I graduated high school in 1982. This is not an exaggeration. I had to find my escape somehow and Stan Lee provided one.
Every Thursday, I would walk to the drug store and order a Vanilla Coke. I still haven’t found sodas as good as that old fountain. Then I would walk over to the comic book rack and see which new entries came in that week. I read Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Avengers, Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, anything that was there. But my favorite was Captain America. If Cap was in it, I read it. And therein, I found my escape. I fought my battles. I overcame my fears. In fact, Captain America is staring at me as I write this.
At the back of the comics was a letter from Stan Lee. Over the years, I felt like I got to know him. He was my cool uncle that I never met. He actually made me look up words in the comics, like “excelsior” (onward and upward to greater glory), because his corny dialogue between Captain America and the Red Skull contained words that I didn’t know. I know them now. I’m grateful for that.
Stan Lee started a club called F.O.O.M. That stands for Friends of Old Marvel. What else was I going to do but join? I got cards and stickers. You know, nerd stuff. At one point, I had a Howard the Duck for President pin. I had no idea how valuable that stuff would be later in life. I joined that club and got that stuff because Stan Lee said to. It was all just my connection to a world created by a better man than we deserved.
I never met Stan Lee. But he enriched my life. He taught me to think creatively. He taught me about nobility. He taught me to stand up for myself and fight. I still got mocked every day, but the day I had enough and fought back like my heroes did, was the day I stopped getting beat up. Stan Lee did that. He helped me understand that a nerd has a heroic place in our world. I’m grateful for him. Even though we never met, I will miss him. With his passing, I have but one thing left to say: Excelsior!
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.