Like most of us, I grew up hearing the voice of Stan Lee, usually associated with Marvel’s spate of Saturday morning cartoons in the 1990s (including the much beloved, and somewhat obscure “Pryde of the X-Men” standalone episode). And now, sadly, that voice is silenced.
Stan Lee died Monday at 95. I’m certainly not the only geek/nerd/aficionado to eulogize him this week, nor likely the most eloquent. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him, after all.
The battle for Lee’s cultural legacy began almost the instant the news of his passing hit the internet. Was he a bombastic, effusive creative genius, or did he play the comics industry’s self-aggrandizing Edison to Kirby and Ditko’s Tesla? That’s a debate for better (or worse) minds than mine. I only admired him from afar.
You absolutely couldn’t mistake Lee’s presence. He had a trademark look - mustache, big glasses, salt and pepper hair, and a constant, toothy grin - than transcended the eras and the changes in fashion. No matter the photo you see of him, no matter the decade, you know immediately that it’s Stan Lee.
What makes him important for me, I think, is this major point: Stan Lee made it OK to be a geek. In a culture now where “geek” is a term whose possession is fought over by all kinds of groups, and where so-called “geek culture” is ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when liking comic books, when talking about superheroes, was something for nerds and outcasts. It got you laughed at, not applauded. I remember those days vividly.
But Stan Lee was an adult who was out there, talking about comic books. He MADE comic books, created the heroes that we loved. Smiling, excited, bright-eyed behind the glasses, Lee personified the kind of ebullience we all felt inside about our nascent, hidden nerdy passions, but he had the courage to let it out. And so could we. Stan Lee made it OK to be a geek.
Without him, literally, the “geek industrial complex” that exists now would never have come into being. Unlike Scott McCloud, comics’ modern apologist, who has tried to argue why the medium should be looked at from an artistic perspective, Lee knew that comics and superheroes were fun. They were entertaining. And they were nothing to be ashamed of.
Stan Lee made it OK to be a geek.
So unfurl that geek flag, today, folks. Do something nerdy for ol’ Stan. It’s what he would have wanted.