I have a very short list of old white dudes that I hold dear to my heart in regards to fandom. In fact while I ruminate on why that list is so short may or may not be an indication of who is more responsible for the ills of the world but hey that’s a story for another day, kids.
My first introduction to the Marvel universe and its cast of characters came to me when I was fairly young looking at the iconic X-Men in their 90’s animated series that aired on television and also in the tattered comic books I received as hand me downs. My first true venture into comics I soon became enamored with the plight of those destined to protect a people that hated them and I quickly understood their story to be an allegory, more or less standing in for being “the other”. Of course being created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the days of the Civil Rights Movement, it was a call for those different — those who looked and were categorized as other — those who were non white, those who practiced a different faith and later as I grew a bit older those who weren’t defacto straight.
Making this connection at such a young age not only made me a Marvel fan for life but helped instill in me a love for the medium of comics and also made me realize the power of a strong narrative. Making this connection as a child helped me realize the power of a narrative that comes from a personal and intimate place — comic book bros and comic gaters may try to rewrite history and ignore that many of their favorite comic book characters were created by Jewish Americans who despised discrimination and facism and sought to create worlds in which their heroes fight against such, inspiring countless people in their readership for decades to come.
I’ve heard the phrase that “everyone has a story” and I don’t deny that. Yet I’d argue that not everyone is a storyteller. That itself is a craft that one can take a lifetime honing.
It doesn’t take long to see what narratives are at play when you look at the world today, especially in these tiring days in this country today: Caravans of brown skinned refugees escaping a country that is strife with crime, political persecution and poverty are instantly labeled as those who would kill, rape and take summer homes. Video clips of unarmed Black folks being assaulted and killed by police officers are circulated with awful conservative commentary alongside with the images of slain Black teenagers used to grossly encourage people to vote on billboards. Women see a familiar pattern repeating: if you go to the Supreme Court, the highest in the land to call out your abuser, to let the people know of a predator, it is you not him that will be punished — it will be you.
It takes a talented storyteller to take the narratives of the day and in turn, help create worlds that feature characters, flawed people that others can use themselves in and have them fight against prejudice and the circumstances that try to take them out.
Now I will admit that I haven’t kept up with the more recent storylines in comics with the X-Men, nor will I tell a bold faced lie and tell you their live action films are my favorite — but I will say that the regardless of which adaptation or new takes of my favorite heroes have been hit or miss, the X-Men remain one of the brightest memories of my childhood and surely a team that I credit in aiding in boosting my desire to learn how to read. I wanted to be able to read more of their adventures. I wanted to write my own stories where someone who looked me who was different, who was “the other” was the hero. Thinking back on this quote by Stan from an IGN interview: The more you read, the better you’re going to become as a storyteller”, makes me smile.
Stanley Martin Lieber better known to the world as Stan Lee, a story teller went on the create even more fantastic stories with more fantastic characters including Captain America, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Black Panther and so many more.
Narratives have power and reach.
Stories have weight.
And stories will live forever, way longer than any of us will be here.
To add content to Stan’s beloved catchphrase “Excelsior!” that we’ve heard over the years, he mentioned in an interview with Playboy that it is “an old word that means upward and onward to greater glory…Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time”.
Regardless of what faith in a deity and/ or afterlife you may or may not have, what a incredibly moving image it is to picture good ol’ Stan ascending somewhere where he is separated from the suffering in life like illness and reunited with his wife Joan who recently passed a year ago and also with Jack Kirby and all the many good friends that passed on from this life before him.
Excelsior, Stan Lee!
Thank you for much for your time here on this Earth.
Last photo: Stan Lee by Richard Cartwright/ABC via Getty Images
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