Last week, in the 616th consecutive adventure of an RPG game the wife and I call “The Unleashing,” I introduced more than 15 new characters. About half of these new creations had taken over a small town on the distant former prison planet that my wife’s character had come to rule as queen. She and her cohorts came to the rescue of Ultich, the abducted town, and engaged these villains only to find they were a part of a much larger roving outlaw gang called “The Exiles.” Essence, who is Mrs C’s character, had encountered forces from this conglomeration of outlaws before but never like this. This particular contingent had seized this particular town to get her attention. They wanted to defect. They wanted to be good guys and wanted to serve the benevolent queen of resurgent Vekna. The conflict occurred when a bevy of their fellow gang members arrived to teach them that “Once an Exile, Always an Exile.” Essence, her comrades, and the refugees seeking asylum battled the arriving ne’er-do-wells and won.
The battle itself consumed about 10% of our total gaming time. As always, the character development part of our storyline took up most of our interaction. I love designing characters and introducing their various personalities and perspectives. Mrs C loves interacting with them. That is the gist of our gaming life, for more than two dozen years.
And all of that would be impossible without Stan Lee.
I was maybe 5 years old. My middle brother David, about 10 years older than me, had shown me this stack of really cool, colorful magazines he had in his room and I saw where he’d put them away when we were done. He left the house. I stole them. I spent all day absorbing those books, with the intention of putting them back where I found them before he came home (I assume, at this point, from school). I never did. He walked in and saw them strewn about me on the couch. I figured I was dead.
“Are those my comics?” he said to me.
“Yes,” I confessed.
“Don’t go getting into my stuff, Tommy,” he said. And then he said something that would change my life.
“But you can have them.”
If memory serves there were about a dozen books in that stack. They were all Marvel Comics. One of them was The Incredible Hulk battling weird giants on a desert island. Another had Daredevil, “The Man Without Fear,” carrying a fella from a swamp with the Man-Thing chasing him. Another one featured the Hulk again along with some guys called “The Defenders” and they were fighting more colorful figures with a blurb that read “The Squadron Sinister Strikes Again!” I remember wondering why that read “Squadron Sinister” instead of “Sinister Squadron.” It seemed like bad grammar. My favorites, though, were the Avengers comics. But each and every one of these wondrous four-color comics said the same thing at the top of the first page:
“Stan Lee Presents:”
I remember thinking that this Stan guy was (1) very busy, and (2) really cool.
It turned out I was right.
Stan Lee started writing comics in 1941, when Marvel was still called Timely. Before that, for a couple of years, he was the staff gopher. A couple of weeks after his writing debut he was named the editor-in-chief of Timely Comics. He remained in that role until 1972. Along the way he helped create, and wrote all the early issues of, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man. He founded the Avengers and brought Captain America and the Sub-Mariner back from Timely limbo. And, folks, these are just a few of the things he did.
I’m not here to tell you the history of Stan Lee. You’ve either already known that, learned about it this week, will learn about it soon, or you don’t really care to hear it. That’s okay. I didn’t open this page to tell you about the life of Stan Lee, I opened it to tell you what Stan Lee meant to me.
Everything, my friends. Stan Lee meant everything to me.
Last week there would not be a 616th adventure of my wife’s favorite game without Stan Lee. I would not walk into the warehouse at work and fire spider webs or repulsor beams at imaginary enemies without Stan Lee. The characters I create and personalities I imbue into them would not be as rich without Stan Lee. I probably would not care as much about the world as I do without Stan Lee. My brain would not have formed this way. I would have been someone else without Stan Lee.
He didn’t raise me. I had good parents, and six great brothers and sisters, to watch over me. But Stan Lee’s characters enriched me, guided me, taught me to strive for more and hope for better. They taught me that, each day, we will face a new adversity and, each day, we must overcome. The world depends on it. If not the whole world, then the world within the pages of our own book, of our own lives. I owe all of that to Stan Lee.
Stan Lee died on Monday, November 12th, 2018. He was 95 years old. When he was 52 he changed the trajectory of my entire life. Thank you for that, Stan Lee. Thank you for a life well-lived in the service of our imaginations. Rest forever. Your legacy will last an eternity.