A Tribute to Stan Lee
As a kid, I was mortified of spiders. I also loved Spider-Man. The irony wasn’t lost on me, even then. Now, that fear’s mostly gone away, but my love for Spidey?
Well, if you saw me around campus this Halloween head-to-toe in a makeshift thrift store Spider-Man costume, then you probably know the answer to that question. Yeah, the love’s not gone -- it’ll probably never truly be gone. Phases come and go, but the Webhead stays with me.
I don’t even particularly like superheroes in general. I think there are only so many ways to tell a “save the world from giant blue death laser / space MacGuffin” story before it gets a little boring. Stories like that, they’ve got characters and action and plot up the wazoo, but what they don’t have is grounding. Sure, Superman movies can make you feel like you’re flying right there next to him, but the act of flight loses its meaning once you’ve been up there so long you forget what solid ground feels like.
Spidey never had that problem, at least in the original run of comics or in his better adaptations (Think Tobey Maguire, not Andrew Garfield). And that’s because Spider-Man is never the hero: Peter Parker is. Peter’s the one who has to punch Mysterio’s fishbowl off and still make it home by dinner. Peter’s the one who worries about bank robberies as much as he worries about asking Liz Allan to prom. Peter’s the one who has to sacrifice what’s good for Peter in exchange for what’s good for Spider-Man, for the people of the city -- and sometimes, he has to do the opposite. You come for the “web-slingin’ ass-kickin’” and you stay for the man behind the mask, the character who is endearingly and constantly relatable. Peter, just like the rest of us, deals with life’s eternal balancing act. And though we can’t climb walls or shoot webs, we’re right beside him when he screws up, because we’ve all been there.
It’s the human in superhuman that counts. Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko both understood that. And this year, both of them passed. I generally don’t take celebrity deaths very hard. But with Stan Lee gone, it feels to me like the end of an era, the closing of a book.
But I know that’s not the right way to think about it. If there’s any lesson I’ve taken from Lee’s Marvel Universe as a whole, it’s that even in the face of Galactus, of the Skrulls, of those weird black goo creatures that make up Venom, humanity always wins in the end. And, if that’s as true as I think it is, Lee and Ditko have found an untarnishable legacy in Spider-Man, because Spidey is about as human as you can get.
And to that, only one word comes to mind: “Excelsior!”
November 2, 1927 - June 29, 2018
December 28, 1922 - November 12, 2018