If Spider-Man really spun his web above the New York skyline, Bruce Banner actually transformed into the green-skinned Hulk, or Professor X sat as headmaster over a school of mutant heroes, they would all be bowing their heads, and perhaps shedding tears today.
Stan Lee, Marvel Comics' frontman, and one of the most prolific comic book writers and creators of all time, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95 years old.
Although he worked in the comics industry since the late 1930's, Lee's star began to rise in the early 1960's, when, on assignment to invent a comic to compete with rival DC Comic's wildly popular “Justice League of America,” Lee and and co-creator Jack Kirby came up with “The Fantastic Four.”
Following the success of the Fantastic Four, several more creations sprang from the minds of Lee and his Marvel Comics cohorts. The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Daredevil all made their debuts before 1970.
I grew up in the 1970's and 80's, before the internet and social media. Comic books were our form of adolescent entertainment and escapism.
Many a day my brothers and I, avowed comic book nerds, could be seen swinging from trees as Spider-Man, lifting boulders as the Hulk, or searching for a neighborhood girl – unsuccessfully – willing to complete our team and go adventuring as the Fantastic Four.
None of us knew, however, as we poured over the latest pages of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, that Lee took his job as writer and creator every bit as seriously as did Charles Dickens, Herman Melville or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“A really great comic book story is every bit as creative and important as a great story done in any other form of media,” he once said.
Lee's creations and stories were important to us as kids, too; though we did not know it at the time.
Never one to be satisfied with taking the conventional route, Lee would tackle hot-button issues of the day in the pages of his comic books.
I, like so many others, learned of racial tolerance by reading how the X-Men fought hard to be accepted by society. We were awed by Iron-Man's might, yet grounded by how his alter-ego, Tony Stark, battled with alcoholism. Even Captain America fought an addiction to methamphetamine for a short time.
Superman was faster than a speeding bullet, Wonder Woman was a goddess and Batman was endlessly wealthy, and the world's greatest detective. Lee's characters, while possessing powers to which we, as children, could aspire, were flawed.
Reading about how Spider-Man, as Peter Parker, still had to deal with bullies in high school was endlessly attractive to a nerd like me, who spent half his weekends at the comic book store, and the other half in my backyard, acting out what I had just read.
Stan Lee wore a lot of hats during his lifetime in the comics industry. From office assistant to chairman emeritus, and every stop in between, he was as original a character as any of the super beings that leapt from his mind and onto the page.
To me, he will always be the guy who brought humanity to superheroes, and the man who touched the hearts, minds and imaginations of several generations of kids like me.