I don’t have many personal heros. I’m pretty much over the whole idea of hero worship.
Maybe a few musicians. That’s about it.
And Stan Lee.
I discovered comic books when I was — let’s see, checking databases for release dates on my first comics — 11 or so. About the same age as my daughter now.
Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, I think, was the first one I bought, in a 7-11 store on Winchester Blvd in Campbell, CA.
I’d read a few before that. Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, and of course, Freak Brothers, though that’s a very different breed of comix.
But my friend David — I’ve mentioned him before — brought a stack of comics to school one day, and I devoured them.
I started with a couple comic books. Claw the Unconquered, Kamandi, I can’t remember what else. Pretty soon I was buying Conan, Iron Man, Avengers, then later, X-Men. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Between my brother and I, we bought every title Marvel published.
Back issues, and special giant-size editions. Anything. Everything. Whatever our allowance and odd jobs and lawn-mowing could pay for. But only Marvel. We hadted DC; and for a reason, this was Marvel’s greatest era, and one of DC’s lowest.
Marvel’s universe – complex, layered, interwoven – this was where I lived. Heros, battles, issues of cosmic importance. I battled Galactus with the Fantastic Four, Dread Dormammu with Doctor Strange, Fu Manchu with Shang-Chi. I fought Magneto with the X-men, Kingpin with Daredevil, hoards of whomever Conan fought, hacking and slashing.
I remember my mother asking me why I loved comics; I tried to explain. It wasn’t just whack-thump and it’s all over badguys; it was an ongoing saga. It was a character-driven drama.
“Oh, it’s like a soap-opera,” she said, with no irony I was able to detect at the time, though I imagine it was there.
My heros were the guys who made these things. Byrne, Buscema, Ditko, Steranko, Miller, a dozen more whose names escape me just now. These guys did something for which I absolutely worshipped them.
And above it all were two names.
Lee. And Kirby.
Jack ‘King’ Kirby and Stan Lee. The guys who, together, invented most of what we now know as the Marvel universe. Almost every major comic of the era had one of these names, or characters birthed from these minds.
These two men didn’t just write and draw comics. They built a universe, and invented a new kind of storytelling. In some tiny way, they changed the world.
Others have come since. There are better artists, better writers. But that isn’t what makes these guys my heros; it isn’t that they did it best. It’s that they did it first.
Kirby died a few years back. Lee’s still with us, and living a life of glee, clearly. He gets bit parts in movies like Mallrats and Spiderman, just because of who he is.
But it’s good to see him get the credit he should have. Everything Marvel is today, everything it was since the 1960′s, it owes to these two men. No amount of money can repay the cultural debt I feel Lee is owed, but it’s good to see Marvel fork over some fuckin’ dough to the man who made them.
Rock on, Stan. Thanks.