Even superheroes die…

A tribute to Stan Lee

It’s only some days since Stan Lee, the creative mind behind many of Marvel’s superheroes, died. He led a long life, through the 20th and into the first two decades of 21st Century. He drew inspiration from his experiences during the Second World War and Cold War to create his characters, becoming the talent behind the comics that became the model for all others.

He was in time to see his creations go to print, turn to colour, become animated and, last but not least – thanks to the recent advances in CGI – hit the big screen as live-action films.

Stan Lee was directly involved in the creation of many of the most well-loved superheroes: Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, Captain America to name but a few, all of whom have gone on to transform Marvel into an Empire (not the Empire, although both are now Disney IP).

So just what is it that makes Stan Lee’s ideas so innovative and these heroes so iconic and successful?

It could be that Stan Lee really did succeed in creating heroes for our times. In short, he brought figures from ancient myth and legend into the contemporary world: weapons and armour (even plot armour) were modernized, yes, and one battlefield, the Kingdom to be protected, was swapped out for another, the planet … yet all this dresses up what remains constant. The ideals of the pure heart and of heroic chivalry are left unchanged, save perhaps with an occasional seasoning of some modern pop culture or narcissism.

It’s for precisely this reason that we can see ourselves in Stan Lee’s characters: who of us hasn’t dreamt, at least once in his or her life (and, let’s admit it, not just when we were children!), to possess superpowers we could use in the spirit of a true hero to fight against the bad guys and their (proverbial) injustice?

Yet Stan Lee and Marvel have one last thing to teach us: even superheroes die. Indeed, they’re neither eternal nor invincible, but must, like everyone else, deal with the inexorable passage of time and with a world they can depart in a slightly better condition, while knowing it will never be perfect; a world that will keep on living and which will one day be in need of change again. This point is clearly made in some of the most recent films produced by Marvel (think the Avengers and X-Men, for example).

As a result, even superheroes must, in the end, set aside their trust in their superpowers, in the strength of arms, if they would pass on a deeper wisdom, seemingly fragile: the ideals, values and hopes that cannot be imposed on others, only witnessed.

This, too, is what superheroes teach us, as our inner superheroes know all too well…      

R.I.P. Stan Lee.

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