By now, pretty much everyone who follows any sort of pop culture and entertainment news knows that comic book legend, visionary and creator Stan Lee passed away yesterday at age 95.
Even those who aren’t comic book fans should know a little about the man, via the many obituaries and tributes to him. We should all know of his service in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, working his way from office assistant to the most prolific and influential name in Marvel Comics (and the comic book world as a whole). We should all know about his wife of 69 years passing away just last year, about his own failing health in the past year, and of his charitable work.
Once word got out of his passing, the tributes, comments, articles, and fan art emerged throughout the social media sphere, as well as images of people (including those who had worked in Marvel comic, film, and television properties) who had the opportunity to meet him and snap a pic with him. The tributes are still pouring in from everywhere.
I never got to meet him, but I have a signed copy of his and John Buschema's How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way I still treasure.
Since everyone has done such a thorough job celebrating his life and works, I’ll briefly celebrate one of my favorite things about Stan the Man: humor.
It always appeared to me, whatever Lee was doing, he had a little twinkle in his eye. You could tell he loved life and his station in it.
The most obvious and visible examples are his many Marvel cameos, which started out as just “Hey, that was Stan Lee,” sightings as far back as television’s The Incredible Hulk to full-on speaking roles. Some of these cameos mark some of the funnier moments in these films.
I always found it interesting that one of the classiest tributes came from the same franchise that produced his raunchiest cameo: Deadpool. In the first Deadpool, Lee gets to be the strip club deejay introducing the next act, “Let’s give it up for Chastity.” This caused actor T.J. Miller to hilariously reply, “Or as I like to call her, ‘Irony.’” In the second, Lee appeared simply as a beautiful piece of street art on the side of building.
Even this year, there were cameos in Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and The Wasp. This past weekend, my family and I finally got to see his latest in Venom. I had completely forgotten about Lee’s cameo when it came at the end. Everyone in the audience laughed at the gruff Venom symbiote voice quipping, “Who’s that guy?” Just the idea there was a being in the universe somewhere who didn’t instantly recognize Stan Lee was worth a laugh.
In Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on San Diego Comic-Con, Comic-Con Episode IV; A Fan’s Hope, I recall a glimpse of how Lee interacted with his fans with a playful smile on his face. When a young fan asked him who his favorite superhero was he exclaimed, “Silver Surfer! Bet you weren’t expecting that." (I admit to paraphrasing here, as it has been awhile since I’ve seen the film.)
One of the funniest encounters a comic book writer had with Lee was mentioned in the Brian Michael Bendis biopic graphic novel Total Sell Out. Bendis was a college kid doing sign work for a parade in which Lee was one of the guests of honor.
Bendis was carrying his contribution to the event, when the bus with guests pulled up in front of him. Lee steps out and yells, “Brian Bendis! Dang, it is really good to see you!”
Bendis, in awe, whispered, “You – you know my name?” to which Lee replied:
“You’re wearing a nametag, Schmuck.”
It’s hard not to laugh when you think of that in Lee's voice. Bendis recently did an update for this in his own wonderful tribute comic obituary for Lee, My Moments With Stan, in the New York Times.
Lee had his own sometimes off-color opinions and style on the business. One I remember seeing circulating was his response when asked if online comics would replace hard copy comic books, and he said: “Comics are like boobs. They look great on a computer, but I’d rather hold one in my hand.” That quote can be found as a meme, so take its accuracy with a grain of salty humor.
However, as much he loved to smile and laugh, Lee, the son of Jewish immigrants, was driven by what he found the greatest phrase ever written: The Golden Rule. He has been quoted in several sources commenting, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” was the greatest phrase ever written.
That, from what the endless list of accolades towards the man revealed, seemed to be Lee in a nutshell. Give what you hope others will give back. Love life and share that love of it with others.
Thank you, Mr. Lee, for the imagination, characters, service to your country, letting us all know that you can grow older with out “getting old,” and especially, for the laughs.
We love you, too. Godspeed…and Excelsior!