Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Stan Lee, R.I.P.


Stan Lee has died. And with that, we’ve lost the last luminary of the Golden Age of comics.

I owe the man a lot. He and his creative partner Jack Kirby shaped my early life, helping me to understand that while each of us would always have problems to deal with, there was a universe of adventure awaiting our exploration.

Kirby was the cosmic explorer, a man overfilled with big ideas and the drawing ability to set them down on paper. It was Lee, though, who supplied the underlying humanity — whether it was the tortured Ben Grimm trying to hold onto his sense of self while trapped within the body of a monster, or, even, the imposter who’d taken Ben’s guise but who, as he learned about Ben’s noble character, sacrificed himself to save the rest of the Fantastic Four. Kirby’s later comics, without Lee, were fun but soulless; Lee’s few attempts at comics without Kirby were all spin and no groove. While DC characters like the Flash and Green Lantern had all the personal luster of a subcommittee hearing, Marvel’s characters were conflicted and torn:  Tony Stark, the munitions maker with the damaged heart trying to protect those closest to him while supplying arms; Thor, trying to balance the competing demands of godhood, an overbearing father, and the mortals he was drawn to; Bruce Banner, a sensitive scientist struggling with the rage he personified as the Hulk. The Silver Surfer, in particular, trying to find his proper place in a universe that’s been closed off to him. These and many more speak to Stan Lee’s gift for archetypal character.

I’ve run into Stan Lee many, many, many times over the course of my life, and not just at comics conventions. At the Beverly Center, a mall on the west side of town, I was going down one side of an escalator while he was rising on the other, his lovely wife in tow. I’ve seen him on the street or at events here and there throughout the past 30 years. A client of mine had Stan Lee consulting for him. About four years ago, I literally almost collided with him in a crowded stairwell at a hotel, where he was pursued by admirers. This is a man who was famous as early as 50 years ago, speaking on college campuses and even putting on a show at Madison Square Garden. The Marvel movies of the past 10-plus years, with his signature cameos, only increased his fame.

Last night, as I was leaving the gym, I came across a white Dish satellite panel van, its interior lights left on, I assumed, by a driver who was now working out in the gym. I was tired — bedraggled, even — but made my way back around the corner and around another corner and into the gym to tell the man at the front desk that someone had left his lights on and that they should make an announcement. This wasn’t on a par with warning people about the imminence of Galactus, but it still reflects the sort of values I learned from my parents and in indelible ink from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and that I try to practice every day.

His work, though easily mocked as lowbrow pop culture, was an inspiration to millions of us. He also brought delight to a lot of lonely bookish kids like me all across the world.


3 Responses to “Stan Lee, R.I.P.”

  1. Don Randall Says:

    Eloquent & Heartfelt….knowing your love of all things Comic …thank you for putting voice to what so many of us are feeling.Excelsior indeed!

  2. Wendy Says:

    This is beautiful and eloquently expresses my nostalgic sentiment and sadness at this loss. And gratitude for all that I’ve received having always known his works. I didn’t get a chance to meet him in person but I still enjoyed a very real connection to him and his humanity through his story telling. Thank you Lee for sharing this post with me!

  3. Uncle Rich Says:

    So many good memories, like the run of AMAZING ADULT FANTASY with Twilight Zone type stories written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko. The humor he injected into THE FANTASTIC FOUR. How the original young X-MEN were such outsiders. And on and on. So much to be thankful for.

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