Spider-Man may swing across towering Manhattan skyscrapers, Captain America may have fought in World War II, and Thor may wield the powerful Mjolnir hammer. But none could save the ultimate real-life superhero—Stan Lee.
The legendary comic book writer, editor, publisher and cameo virtuoso died on Monday, Nov. 12, at the age of 95, after revealing he’d been battling pneumonia earlier this February.
Lee was a visionary who saw the benefits of establishing partnerships between the comic book and various entertainment industries, including television, film, gaming and merchandise during his eight-decade career. He notably collaborated with fellow co-writers and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, both of whom have also died, and led to the birth of many landmark characters in Marvel Comics’ ever-growing pantheon.
This has caused popular characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Black Panther and Daredevil to withstand the test of time and remain relevant today. The characters’ massive fanbase continues to increase exponentially, with the growing popularity of both cosplay and comic conventions.
While Stan Lee’s impact on global popular culture is certainly felt, local fans have also expressed just how he meant to them individually.
Jeff Ayers, who runs broadcasting and helps make regular podcasts under “Fueled by Death Cast” for the Ballston Spa-based Death Wish Coffee Company, said that he was “bummed like with the rest of the world.” He first began suspecting around four months ago that Lee’s end was near when Lee began canceling on comic conventions and other public appearances due to battling pneumonia.
“I began thinking we were gonna lose him soon, but I’m glad now that he’s not suffering,” he said.
Ayers revealed that Death Wish Coffee’s new Ballston Spa studio includes a decorated wall filled with past guests and framed signed comic books. One of those comic books is 1963’s The Amazing Spider-Man #93 issue which Lee himself signed, “but I never met him,” he noted.
Death Wish Coffee has also entered the comic book market with its own “Odinforce” comic, a fantastical story about a crew of Vikings searching for the mythical Odinforce, hence the name, which debuted in April 2016. Ayers indicates that the series’ third issue will come out by the end of this year.
Ayers said that the public now lives in a “Geek Renaissance” because reading comic books and enjoying comic book-inspired properties are more socially accepted as compared to past decades. This was aided by the immense success of the films and TV series both within and before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its related marketing and gaming.
“When I was a kid, I was beaten up and ridiculed for reading comic books,” he recalled. “But now it’s the opposite. If you’re not into comic books or Marvel stuff, you’re the nerd.”
Elsewhere, Herb “DW” Cloutier—the Glens Falls-based owner, program director, producer and co-host of several podcasts on the Earplug Podcast Network and Fanboys, Inc. which have focused on subjects such as comic books, entertainment and pop culture—admitted that Lee’s passing was “bound to happen, as sad as that’s to say, and we all thought he could outlive all of us and live forever.”
He recalled that he did meet Lee in person at a comic convention several years ago. While he wasn’t exactly sure what the event was or when it took place, he did remember that “he was very nice and genuine.”
He similarly echoed Ayers’ “Geek Renaissance” statement by saying that Lee was like the ambassador for comic books, its pop culture movement and “the geeks and nerds” who rallied by it. “He stood up for us when it wasn’t cool back in the day,” he said. “Now, it’s accepted and mainstream. Before, it was just a segmented small part of society.”
While both enjoy DC Comics too, Ayers and Cloutier individually agreed that Marvel succeeded more because its characters, location settings and storylines were more relatable and accessible to the public.
“I can’t relate much to Superman or Batman since one’s an alien and the other’s a billionaire, but you can relate to Spidey more because he has to pay rent, has girlfriend problems and has to take care of Aunt May. From the ’70s to now, we can still relate to those issues,” Cloutier explained. “It’s like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were in their New York City offices and looked out and imagined Spider-Man swinging by or Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen. And you can go to Hell’s Kitchen and Manhattan, and it’s like you could see Spider-Man swinging across the skyline.”
He added that while fighting supervillains is fun, what makes the heroes such accessible characters is how they go through hard times like raising a family, facing marriage troubles, and addressing social issues such as racism, sexism and acceptance.
Meanwhile, Ayers said, “I gravitated more to Marvel as a kid because Marvel seemed like the reality as it was set in reality. Heroes were all swinging across actual places in New York City that I can go and see. I had to suspend that disbelief in DC Comics as they were set in fictional places like Metropolis and Gotham. But Marvel is like, ‘34th Street is where Spider-Man fought the Hulk,’ and you can go there and check it out yourself and imagine it.
When asked about their favorite Stan Lee cameo on any Marvel property which Lee is famous for, Ayers first brought up his comical appearance as a FedEx delivery man in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” where he mispronounced Iron Man/Tony Stark’s name as “Tony Stank.” He also enjoyed Lee’s cameo in the original 2002 “Spider-Man” film in which he pulled a little girl away from a falling piece of debris while the titular hero and the Green Goblin were battling above.
Cloutier said he had many favorites himself but specifically recalled Lee as a mail carrier named Willie Lumpkin in the 2005 “Fantastic Four” movie “because it was one of his first real cameos.”
Before his passing, Lee had filmed and recorded cameos in a few upcoming projects indluding “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Captain Marvel” and aptly, the fourth Avengers film, which would be a bittersweet send-off for audiences.
Cloutier believes that while Lee may be gone, “he’ll always be with us no matter where we are, whether it’s reading comics, watching the movies or traveling through Manhattan.”
Ayers said that he hopes more people would read comic books because all the Marvel films, TV series and gaming stemmed from them and it’s one way to celebrate Lee’s role as a champion for the comic book industry. “Support your local comic book stores like Saratoga’s Comic Depot. That’s where I get my comics.”
He concluded, “There’s a hero and villain for everybody.”