First up, the great Stan Lee’s best MCU cameo appearance by far for me was his appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
It was the funniest. It was definitely the most expensive to produce (it’s ALL CGI). And it was the most absurd: to have Stan the Man sat on a space rock far out into the Cosmos and chatting to a group of Watchers, who turn their backs on him and walk away, is about the funniest cameo there possibly could be.
More importantly, while modern and general audiences may know Stan Lee primarily for his famous cameos in the MCU, my perception of Stan Lee will always be dominated by those classic old ‘Bullpen Bulletins’ in the pages of old Marvel Comics and by ‘Stan’s Soapbox’.
That’s the first and last thing I think of.
When I was a kid in my formative comic-book-reading years (early to mid 90s), those Stan Lee columns (complete with signature) were nearing their tail-end. But I was always intrigued by the permanent presence of this Stan Lee character and his frequent messages in the pages of various comics, even though at that time he wasn’t really actively contributing to creative output.
Who was he? What did he look like? And what did ‘excelsior’ mean anyway?
This was in pre-Internet days. I had no idea what he looked like for a long time. All I knew were his little messages, his signature, and his Favorite Uncle persona that was always evident even in just the written word. He was like the Godfather of Marvel Comics – you could, even as a kid, sense it long before you actually properly realised it.
Stan used those ‘soapboxes’ in a varied way: sometimes just to talk comics, sometimes to ramble about all kinds of random things, sometimes to take sly digs at the “Distinguished Competition” (DC), and also sometimes to talk to young readers about serious issues (such as racism: see this compilation).
I only properly knew what he looked liked when I later saw his cameo (long before the MCU existed) in the Kevin Smith movie ‘Mallrats’. And I was, like, “Shit, I know who that is! That’s Stan Lee! That’s the guy! That’s our guy!”
When I heard Stan had passed away yesterday, I went back through some of my old comics and randomly pulled some out to look back at some of the Bullpen Bulletins for Stan’s columns. The first one I happened to find was in the Claremont/Lee X-Men #3 (1991 – the one where Magneto ‘dies’). And, fittingly enough, Stan’s Soapbox column for that month is him mourning the passing of Vincent (“Vinnie”) Colletta – an artist from the old days (before it was even called ‘Marvel’, Stan informs us). “You will be missed”, Stan says.
There’s always the sense, especially from Stan Lee, that Marvel wasn’t some big corporation, but a family: in which all members and contributors were valued and could be both celebrated and be butt of the in-jokes. That was my view at least as an outsider and as a kid.
And if it was a family, then Stan Lee was the Respected Elder of the House.
Just as fittingly, on the opposite page to Stan’s tribute to ‘Vinnie’ in the aforementioned Bullpen Bulletin from X-Men #3 is Magneto telling Charles Xavier “Here I am and here I will remain”.
That also seems like a fitting sentiment: that someone like Stan Lee is there and will remain in the pages of the comic-book sagas and mythologies he helped create and give life to.
I’m curious to see what Marvel Comics do or say in their books next month. How they could even begin to talk about Stan Lee’s contribution or importance, I don’t know.
For all the arguments about whether Stan Lee has had too much credit over the years and at the expense of other creators and influencers, there’s no question whatsoever that he is a giant – not just of Marvel Comics and not even of comic books in general, but of popular culture and modern mythology.
RIP, Stan the Man. Excelsior.