As a writer, I am often asked what novelists are my favorites or provide me with inspiration. I've written about it at length when discussing self-publishing and once specifically about PJ O'Rourke. But as much as I get asked about writers, I never get asked about people I consider great storytellers. I was saddened today to hear of the passing of one of the great ones: Stan Lee.
I was told that as you get older, the first thing you do when you hear someone has died is to subtract their rage from yours. Considering Stan's age, those numbers are not much of a concern since it is still a two-digit number representing over three decades. So, after a bit of math, my thoughts moved on to the things which most impressed me about the man and his storytelling. In the end, I came up with three things, in particular, the man did which will forever impress me. Allowing the hero to be flawed, providing a satisfying ending to each story while allowing the universe to exist forever, and having fun in the world you created.
Stan created or helped to create a zillion or so superheroes. The primary signature of Stan's creations is that every hero, no matter how powerful, is somehow flawed and very human. From Peter Parker's (Spiderman) insecurities and the pain of his uncle's death to Wade Wilson (Dead Pool) who is entirely ruthless-- each and every hero will ultimately have to face and overcome their own flaws. To me, it was one of the greatest gifts a storyteller could ever give an audience. After all, we all have our own shortcomings, and Stan gave us heroes just like us-- flawed.
I'll be the first to admit at first read some of his stories ended in less than satisfying ways. However, because he made his universe endless, the next story would always provide the answers which were missing from the first and gave a plausible way for things to go on. This serialized method of storytelling is not new, but Stan took the time to perfect the craft. He could leave you hanging, but you let him because you knew eventually you would get a satisfying payoff.
Stan made cameo appearances in every superhero movie made from his stories. Fans would spend the entire film waiting for his arrival and more than a few tried to piece the cameos together to create a new story. He also appeared as himself on many TV shows, hosted a game show for people who wanted to create their own superhero, and an extensive social media presence. In almost every instance, he was visibly having fun being there. After all who wouldn't have fun being Stan Lee?
As with the passing of anyone worthy of admiration, I found myself considering the main regret I had which was that I never met the man. Of course, spending three seconds shaking hands of someone who inspired you and maybe getting a picture seems trivial. But as I pondered that thought, it occurred to me that I had met Stan- many, many times. I met him through all of my favorite Marvel characters: Capt. America, Spider-Man, Drax, Iron Man, Dead Pool, Star-Lord, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Loki, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, … with my introduction of these characters to my grandchildren, Stan Lee will be telling stories forever.