When I was a boy I discovered a parallel Universe. It was in a Woolworth’s drugstore next to the old Flower Theater in Silver Spring Maryland. I felt its magical magnetic pull, more powerful than a million planet-devouring black-holes as I approached the newsstand that stood next to the checkout aisle where my parents queued and was pulled into the life and legacy of Stan Lee.
My parents were already bothered by the sleet and freezing rain that awaited us outside in the cold windy late December evening and grew more annoyed by the customary purchase requests of a 6-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. Undaunted by their irritations, which in actuality were due more to their own domestic discontentment than anything else, I explored the newsstand, eager for something to cure the agonized boredom of grocery shopping with two disagreeable parents and a pesky little sister.
I perused the familiar periodicals; Time, Newsweek, Consumer Reports, Sports Illustrated, and peeked at plastic-wrapped Playboys and Penthouses that lay tantalizingly out of reach. But off to one corner, in the discount section of old unsold issues, lay a 4-for-1 promo-pack of Marvel comics; Classic X-men #21, The Uncanny X-men #229 , Marvel Tales #206, and another less memorable title. It was a deal my frugal contrarian parents could not counter.
The Fantastic Four…
These first four comic books became my vanguard into the alternate reality of the life and legacy of Stan Lee. They formed the foundation of a comic book collection that would eventually number close to five hundred by the start of my junior year of high school when I would finally stop collecting due to new-found fascinations with teenage girls and things to do with a driver’s license that competed for my attention and limited pocket cash.
Although they now lay preserved in plastic and packed away in old dusty shoe-boxes, those comic books had a lasting impact on my life. They were a definitive part of my childhood and helped mold me into the man I became, and the writer and storyteller I hope to become.
The life and legacy of Stan Lee changed the world. Like the bite of a radioactive spider, or the swallow of a super-soldier serum, or the mutagenic blast from an atomic bomb, he gave every child super powers. He made us all-powerful Gods in a reality where childhood could be lonely and frightening.
He gave us superhuman strength and speed, enhanced senses and lightening-fast reflexes, telepathy, and telekinesis. He taught us how to fly and climb skyscrapers, showed us how to face our intergalactic fears and conquer our inter-dimensional demons, how to recognize the gloved-hand of tyranny and the laughing-face of evil, and how to fight for freedom and stand for justice.
He helped craft an indelible Universe in which childhood was to be kept sacred and eternal, the unifying ideal in an alternate reality where we could truly be children and remain so forever, even as the “real” world grew more lonely and frightening. His world was a place we could all share and where we could grow up together regardless of time, place, race, religion, nationality, social class, or the other external biases of the poisoned reality that would contaminate us as adults.
The life and legacy of Stan Lee created a sanctuary in which childhood could be nurtured and adulthood could be held at bay – a place where we could escape and engage in enlightening journeys and take part in amazing adventures.
In his Universe we could participate in the great comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances of the human experience. There were bumbling quests for magical relics that taught us friendship and teamwork. There were ancient tales of betrayal and revenge that taught us courage and perseverance. There were miracles and mistakes made by doomed demigods that taught us wisdom and honor. There were passionate love-affairs strewn across vast quantities of space and time that taught us patience and virtue.
We could learn about the intricacies of the human condition from a friendly neighborhood Spiderman, or from a patriotic super-soldier frozen in ice, or from an alcoholic billionaire in an iron-suit. We could gain valuable insight into the minds of men from a wise professor at the Xavier Academy for Gifted Youngsters, or from a Sorcerer Supreme in his Sanctum Sanctorum, or from an ancient Watcher in a citadel on the far-side of the moon. In his Universe lay a hundred-thousand teachers and a hundred-million lessons.
In this vast sanctuary of childhood that Stan Lee helped create, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge grew within us. Comic books made us dream, and those dreams made us want to conquer the unknown, to bridge the gap between fantasy, science-fiction, and what the grown-up overlords told us was reality.
We wanted to unravel the secrets of the Universe and become like Henry Pym, Tony Stark, or Reed Richards. Perhaps one day we could learn how to shrink to the size of a proton and explore the quantum realm, or build super-powered suits of metal to probe the cosmos, or construct perpetual engines that could harness unlimited exotic energy.
We could be heroes. We could change the world. We didn’t need to be struck by a glowing meteor, or recite some ancient spell, or be born of some extinct alien race. We all possessed secret hidden powers and could transform ourselves into engineers and entrepreneurs, pilots and presidents, athletes and astronomers, biologists and botanists, astronauts and archaeologists, doctors and detectives, and countless other professional mild-mannered superheroes. All we needed was the life and legacy of Stan Lee to teach us how to dream.
And in this lies his greatest gift and lasting legacy, for in dreaming the way he asked us to dream, we practice unbounded imagination and boldly explore the realms of infinite possibility; we return to the sanctuary of childhood, free to be who we are, to return to what we were, to become something new, something more powerful – to evolve into better visions of ourselves.
Stan Lee gave me a gift on that cold December evening when I was 11 years old in the form of a 4-for-1 promo-pack of Marvel comics. He started me on an epic journey, and even though I’m without a star-ship and a crew of misfits, I continue – undaunted.
He gave me a Universe to explore and feel safe in, filled with super-powered protagonists and vainglorious villains bent on destruction and domination. He taught me that my greatest gift was my imagination, and that I should never let the cold cruel Universe take that away. He told me that I was special, that I was the most powerful being in the Universe, capable of doing anything I wished, going anywhere I wanted to go, and being anyone I wanted to be. The life and legacy of Stan Lee taught us how to be an eternal child and how to dream like children, forever.
So tonight, let the Asgardian legions trumpet this great Lord to the golden halls of Valhalla. Let their war-song shake the Nine Realms. Let the armadas of the Kree and Skrull empires come to halt and fire their cannons in respect. Let the Shi’ar imperial guard carry his banner to the farthest reaches of space, so that all the tongues of the Universe may know his name. Let the Celestials come forth and kneel and let great Galactus quiet his loud hunger.
The Mad Titan Thanos shall weep while his mistress Death carries out her mournful duty. The X-men shall bear his adamantium casket, along with the Mighty Avengers, and the Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange shall cast an unbreakable spell so that no devil or demon may disturb his eternal slumber. The Hulk will unleash a primal scream and Thor will crack open the heavens. And every hero and villain, fanboy and nerd, child and child-at-heart, shall chant in salute… Excelsior! Excelsior! Excelsior!
If you liked this piece, please check out my articles on the history of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, the myths and realities of Martial Arts, the love affair between America and Donald Trump, and the history of Reggae music! Check back weekly for new pieces, and don’t forget to “like” “share” and “follow us” on social media!