Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stan Lee

For my birthday, my wife and daughter have given me a great gift.  When he comes to the East Coast for the Baltimore Comic-Con, I'm going to get to meet Stan Lee.  They got me the VIP ride:  autograph, photo session, a few minutes of one-on-one time, and guaranteed seating at Stan's discussion panel.

I.  Can't.  Wait.

It may be the Baltimore Comic-Con, and not the huge San Diego Comic-Con (although Stan will be there, too) but it will be great to meet him.  Stan Lee, for those few of you who might not know who he is, has been a legend in the comics book industry for decades.  He started out in the so-called Golden Age of comics at Timely Comics in the 1940's when he was just a teenager.  He went on to become the editor and publisher at Marvel Comics (which evolved out of Timely Comics) and was the writer on most of Marvel's early classic comics.  He co-created Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the Invincible Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Uncanny X-Men.  He's appeared in a cameo in just about every Marvel Comics movie, some more memorable than others, but spotting him is always a treat, at least for me.  And the Baltimore Con is the perfect place to meet him.  It's a real old-school comic fan convention.  No TV shows, no movie premieres, no Hollywood hoopla; just fans of comic books getting to meet and talk comics with some of the greatest creators in the comic book industry.

I've written how Green Lantern #4 was the first comic book I ever read, finding it in a basket of magazines at my mother's hairdresser when I was a kid in the early 1960's.  Well, the second comic book I read, from the same basket, was Amazing Spider-Man #6, the first appearance of the villain known as The Lizard.  (This same villain is making his screen debut this weekend in the new Amazing Spider-Man movie and is played by the great British actor, Rhys Ifans.)

Stan's early Marvel comics were unlike anything that had been written before for kids.  His heroes, unlike DC's Superman and Batman, were fallible human beings who had trouble finding work or paying the rent.  Spider-Man himself was a neurotic, bullied, skinny teenaged science nerd who was an orphan, had a chronically ill guardian (his Aunt May) and a terrible boss in the person of Daily Bugle newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.  His love life was a disaster, unlike playboy Bruce Wayne or super reporter Clark Kent who had his choice of Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris or a bevy of other beauties whose initials were LL.  In issue #6, the Lizard comes about because a war veteran turned scientist tries to restore the arm he lost in the war by attempting to replicate a lizard's ability to regrow lost limbs.  It of course goes tragically awry, and to make matters worse, this selfsame scientist just happens to be Spider-Man's idol and science mentor.  Spidey needs to figure out a way to beat the Lizard without actually hurting the human being inside him.

When I was 9, this just blew me away.  Spider-Man was a bullied kid at school, just like I was.  His dad was dead; mine was an abusive a-hole.  Spidey had problems with his friends, his schoolwork, making money, and just generally getting through each day with the guilt he felt for allowing his beloved uncle to be killed by a prowler -- a prowler that Spider-Man could have stopped earlier, and didn't.  He learned the lesson which is Stan Lee's gift to all of us, that With Great Power Must Come Great Responsibility.

I didn't get much in the way of moral guidance from my own father.  I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that I didn't get much in the way of learning about lying, cheating or stealing from my dad.  Stan Lee, on the other hand, taught me a lot about how to live a moral life.  His heroes often struggled with choosing between doing the Right Thing, and doing the Easy Thing.  They always ultimately chose the Right Thing, but usually with serious personal cost.  Stan Lee taught me that there always choices, and always consequences.

I no longer have that copy of Amazing Spider-man #6, and if I did, it would probably not be in any kind of shape for Stan to autograph.  And replacing it with one in decent condition would cost, quite literally, thousands of dollars.  I do, however, have a reprint copy, and I plan to have Stan sign it for me.

A lot of people will tell you that when you get something autographed, you should never have it personalized or made out to you because it will be worth far more if it's a generic signature.  Well, to hell with that.  I will be asking Stan to make that Lizard comic out to me, and it will be priceless.  It sure isn't going to wind up on eBay.  I haven't had the chance to geek out with a lot of famous celebrities and creators, but the few from whom I have received autographs have always made them out to me, personally.  This autograph, from this man, on this comic is going to mean a great deal to me.  Maybe only to me, but to me.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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