My husband, who is now visually disabled, has a wonderful story about his very first Stan Lee comic book. I thought it was a perfect tribute to Stan.
When he was little, my husband came down with a really bad case of pneumonia. He had a high fever and kept having vivid fever induced nightmares. He wasn’t eating because he saw trash in all his food and drinks. His dad was a Navy medic and even he couldn’t get my husband’s fever down. So, he ended up being placed in a children’s sick ward at the hospital his dad worked at. It was probably the first time he was away from both his mom and dad and he was scared.
For as long as he can remember, my husband has loved comic books. When he was tiny, he was a fan of Harvey Comics like Baby Huey, Hot Stuff, Casper, and Spooky. So, when he was in the hospital, his mom brought a new comic book to read to him. It wasn’t a Harvey Comic, it was an issue of the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The gorgeous artwork, the Star Trek like science fiction, the cover to cover action, and the nobility of the Thing and the Silver Surfer had a profound impact on him. This comic book made being brave easier and made being in the hospital a little less scary. That was his very first Stan Lee comic.
Earl Vallery made this fantastic Thing Cake.
When he got older, he began purchasing back issues and reprints of silver age Marvel Comics. His favorites where those written by Stan Lee. The heroes in Stan’s stories were easy to relate to – the Fantastic Four were a family; Peter Parker was a teenage super hero and not a side kick; Tony Stark had an injured heart; Matt Murdock was blind; Don Blake was lame; Charles Xavier was in a wheel chair; and the Silver Surfer gave up everything to save a world that wasn’t his home.
The supporting cast was almost cooler than the heroes – Peter Parker had MJ, Gwen, Jonah, and Robbie. The Fantastic Four had the Wyatt Wingfoot, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, and the Black Panther, while Thor had the Warriors Three.
The villains were amazing. Doctor Doom was the Fantastic Four’s arch enemy, but he was also the ruler of a country where there was no hunger or poverty. The Hulk was a monster who skirted the line between good and evil. After his original title was canceled, he was portrayed as a villain for years. Magneto was evil, but many of his motivations made sense. Was Galactus evil? He destroyed planets, but did that make him evil?
The other thing that made Stan’s villains amazing was there ability to be redeemed. Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Black Widow all started out as villains. One of the coolest runs of the Avengers is Cap’s Kooky Quartet where Captain America leads a team consisting of thee reformed villains – Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Even the Silver Surfer at one point found planets for Galactus to consume.
The settings were out of this world. Just in the Fantastic Four, you had Wakanda, Latvaria, Atlantis, the Great Refuge, The Blue Area of the Moon, The Negative Zone, and the Microworld.
All this made for wonderful stories, but as a little kid, my husband didn’t know any of that. All he knew was that if the Thing and the Silver Surfer could be brave, so could he.
Stan - Thanks for a wonderful life lesson and for so many wonderful stories.