My lunch got off to a bad start on November 12 because of the news bulletin that rattled my phone.
“Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee dead at 95.”
Back when I was a columnist for the late, lamented “Comics Buyer’s Guide” magazine, I had the privilege of contributing to a special issue commemorating the 75th birthday of “Smilin’ Stan.”
I don’t remember what I scribbled; but it was surely inadequate praise for the force of nature who had co-created The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, The X-Men, Dr. Strange, The Black Panther, Ant-Man, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and so many other concepts.
At the time, Stan “The Man” had already been a part of my life for more than 30 years. I may or may not have encountered Marvel Comics earlier, but I definitely remember buying “Amazing Spider-Man” issue 37 and “Fantastic Four” issue 51 (both cover-dated June 1966). A couple of months later, Grandmother Adams bought me the 25-cent double-sized “Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics” issue 4 at Puckett’s Grocery in Eagleville, Tennessee and I was hooked for life.
I doodled Marvel characters with abandon, took comfort from “Daredevil” issue 32 when I broke my arm in the summer of 1967 and wore a Dr. Doom costume from Kuhn’s Variety Store for Halloween. A decade later, I was clipping the Spider-Man comic strip in the “Nashville Banner.” Via newspaper syndication, I’ve had my own pale version of Stan’s “soapbox.” I’m delighted that my son displays two stuffed Spider-Man toys in his bedroom.
In the two decades since I wrote about Stan’s birthday, he had been a tireless elder statesman and goodwill ambassador for the comics medium.
Stan’s death was a special blow for my fellow diehard comic book fans (those who can recount every origin story, debate every match-up and hyperventilate over every continuity glitch), but we did not own him. He belonged to the world — casual readers/moviegoers as well as the geeks.
Comics collectors are supposed to treasure “mint” condition comics, but it does my heart good to see a battered vintage comic. I like to imagine that once upon a time, it brought momentary joy to a youngster dreading the dentist’s chair or a homesick soldier waiting for a bus or a “new kid in town” struggling to make new friends.
Most likely, that battered comic wound up in a garage sale or flea market precisely because its previous owner (blasphemy alert!) “outgrew” comics. But for one magical moment (or for a few precious years), the thousands of stories produced by Stan Lee and his contemporaries made life a little more bearable.
The news of Stan’s death can be a teachable moment.
You don’t always have to be a doting aunt or a dedicated mentor or a neighbor of 50 years in order to impact someone’s life.
You can make or break someone’s day with the way you respond to that young entrepreneur selling lemonade, that frail senior struggling with an armload of groceries or that police officer who feels he has a thankless job.
Stan’s message of “With great power comes great responsibility” doesn’t apply just to those who possess awesome mutant abilities, a magical hammer or strength enhanced by gamma radiation exposure.
Our slightest gestures of kindness or selfishness can wield great power. That gives us the responsibility of choosing to make the world better.
Thanks, Stan. ‘Nuff said.
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.