Can you imagine what it might have been like to live in the same time as the people who came up with the first stories about Hercules, Thor or Achilles? Those legends were so popular that they shaped human history, and to be able to learn from the people who made them would have been fascinating.
Those born after today will not have that chance, but we were lucky enough to share our time on Earth with a man who made such legends; Stan Lee.
Anyone who would suggest that Spider-Man or the Hulk hasn't become a part of worldwide culture is simply wrong. Even someone who has never read a comic book would know what you meant if you said you were about to "Hulk out," and almost every person in the English speaking world has heard the famous line "With great power comes great responsibility."
These wonderful ideas and a thousand more are a part of our cultural identity because of Stan Lee. His mind was unique; a one-in-a-billion creative that gave us characters that have spanned generations of influence. He was a businessman as well, and he managed to keep comic books alive when the industry was enduring undue persecution from zealots who couldn't or didn't care to understand the hobby.
Stan Lee gave minorities a new voice when he co-created the X-Men in the 60's. In those stories the people with powers were discriminated against in a way that people living under segregationist laws could empathize with. Thirty years later the X-Men became stand-ins for the next group receiving abuse in America, and the heroes of these stories had to "come out" as mutants.
He wasn't afraid to be bold, to be a nerd or to be generous and he was happy to lead by example. He became known for shouting "Excelsior!" as a personal catch phrase. It was easy to make fun of- and some did- but it brought people joy to see someone so comfortable with themselves that they could boldly shout a thing so strange.
Mr. Lee decided that it meant, "Onward and upward to greater glory!"
These days people are proud to be nerds, it's not illegal to be somewhere because of skin color, and we are close to a point where no one is made to feel ashamed for who they love. Stan Lee is not the only one responsible for these things, but he and leaders like him worked hard to make them happen.
We arguably live in a better world because of Stan Lee, which is fitting for someone who wrote comics for a living.
Stan Lee was not without controversy, and his life was not without struggle, but above all else Stan Lee was a hero.
Mr. Lee; those of us who grew up reading your work will always be grateful for what you've done. We will miss you, we will mourn you, but we won't forget to learn from you. Thank you, sir.