Stan Lee’s cameo in Runaway, courtesy of EW
I am 12 years old and I’m ill. I’m sitting in the back of my mum’s car, waiting for her and my dad to finish shopping. I’ve got the same cold I will have for the next two years, I’m tired, I’m sore. I feel every inch of my lumpy misshapen kid body. I’m 5’11 already and big with it. I’m pretty sure I’ve just been drafted into the secondary school rugby team. I’ve got stuff on my mind.
They bring me back a comic. It’s got an orange cover with a guy whose skin is steel throwing a car (with Spider-Man on it) at a larger, angrier guy in orange with a bucket helmet. I start reading and don’t look up until we stop again. We’re home.
I’m 15 and I have a burning need for things to make sense. This is due to three equally important reasons; one of my closest friends is dealing with a disease that will eventually kill him, my hormones are screaming around my body at the speed of ‘DO SOMETHING!’ and Stryfe and Cable have the same face.
This makes no sense. This is some bullshit. I want ANSWERS and I get them by picking up the polybagged, limited edition (ha) issues of X-Cutioner’s Song and pour over them in my form room. I get the answers I’m looking for. None of them make much sense but hey, at least Stryfe is killed and we never have to worry about that asshole again, right?
I’m in my mid-20s and running a comic shop. I have recently run to work, dry shaving as I go, with the Clerks theme playing as I ran. There is a damaged, super high-end GI Joe behind the counter holding a sign saying ‘I’m Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today’. I am living the dream.
The dream, unfortunately, involves watching Marvel slowly bleed to death. The X-Men movie is ALMOST out but as nascent comics journalists report, it turns out they took a massive bath to get that deal made and it may not be enough to save them. They’re in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They just sold their conference room doors. If they go down, they kill the store, or at least badly damage it. And if they take down enough stores, they kill the industry.
There is nothing I can do but learn. So that’s what I do. I read a lot of comics discussion boards. I read a lot of comics. I start writing comics journalism. I start writing comics. Marvel stay open and so do we.
I’m in my mid-30s and I’m in New York. We stay on the 43rd floor of a hotel on Times Square and watch the city go by beneath us, both taking turns healing from the situations we left to get here. The following day, we see Avengers at the movies and walk the length of Central Park. It’s like walking on the moon, hyper real. Alien. Somehow where I am now.
Later, I write a blog post, my first in a very long time, about how New York is music, how the city is information encoded. I round it off with this:
“Spidey’s town, Sinatara’s town, Batman’s town, Gershwin’s town. All here, all unique, all apart and all connected, all woven into the movements of concrete and steel, yellow cab and squad car, residents and visitors, fiction and reality. Notes on sheet music, words hammered out on an old typewriter, the endless liquid stream of information at Times Square One. This is a symphony in Avenue Major. This is New York. “
And New York is Stan’s town. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and the rest created not just a universe of characters but a fictional landscape I found my way onto in that car ride. The evolution of that landscape has created some of the best stories told in Western literature and some of the worst. It’s brought amazing talents to the attention of the public and it’s buried them for no good reason. It’s made horrific choices and endlessly smart ones. It has, in short, been an at times depressingly accurate model of the real world; untidy, complex, occasionally stupid. I mean, look at Stryfe’s hat.
But above all else, it’s endured, often despite its best efforts. The world Lee helped create and would become a figurehead for is a modern living myth and one that means different things to everyone, at different times. The city that never sleeps, populated by the heroes who never quite catch a break, overseen by their smiling, benevolent, always just on deadline deities. Spidey’s town. Daredevil’s town. Jessica’s town. Bobby’s town. Our town. Stan’s town.
Thank you, sir. May peace be upon you.