Arts District

Baltimore’s Comic Book Community Reacts to the Passing of Marvel’s Stan Lee

Locals remember time spent with the 95-year-old comic genius.

The superhero of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, passed away on Monday at the age of 95. The editor and publisher of the famed comic book franchise made being different just like having a super power.

Lee, who developed the catchphrase, “Excelsior!” will be forever memorialized through his thousands of pages of stories of the underdog with special abilities and through the numerous cameos in every Marvel film to date. An outpouring of love and memories have been flooding the internet since the announcement of this death and locals are mourning the loss of the comic book king as well.

“He basically taught me in ways, that I can’t conceive consciously, basic themes of morality, ethics, and what a hero is,” said local writer, publisher, and pop culture enthusiast Arnold T. Blumberg. “He also taught me how it’s important to have empathy for your fellow human beings. All these things came through in his characters.”

Blumberg, who formerly worked for Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, also remembers an opportunity of a lifetime to interview Lee—something that is very rare—but the conditions were what is most memorable about the meeting.

“He said, ‘I’ll do it only if you have Spider-Man interview me,’” he recalls. “So, I got to be Spider-Man for Stan Lee and got to ask him questions. It still one of the most beautiful and heartfelt things that came out of all of that. It was such a joy and an honor to do.”

Lee, who began in the comic book business in 1939, created countless characters who became household names like Spider-Man, Black Panther, X-Men, the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, and Captain America. In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time—led by Avengers: Infinity War‘s $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year—have featured Marvel characters.

Under him, Marvel transformed the comic book world by developing characters with self-doubt and the mental state of average people, often including trends and social causes of the time while injecting his sense of humor.

By humanizing his heroes giving them flaws and insecurities that disguise their super powers, Lee tried “to make them real flesh-and-blood characters with personality,” he told The Washington Post in 1992. Although Lee was very bombastic and had a cartoonish public figure, his storytelling was very rhythmic and followed certain patterns that made it easy for readers to become lost in the characters’ stories.

“His characters were very consistent in tone,” Blumberg said. “You recognized a Stan Lee story when you read it. You knew what characters were coming out of his brain.”

Beyond his characters, Lee was an inspiration to misfits all over the world, including Bryan Levy, manager of Collectors Corner on Charles Street. Levy says that Lee’s Spider-Man comics were the first he’d ever read and is the reason he’s working in comics now.

“Part of the genius of Stan’s work is that, for a long time, the comic world and the pop culture world has been moving on without him, but his legacy lives on,” Levy said. “The characters and the comics he created are bigger than him.”

When Lee decided to step away from actually writing the comics, he found other ways to keep himself relevant by making cameos in various Marvel films and television shows. Those blink-of-an-eye features over the years—beginning with the 2000 release of X-Men—made him one of the highest paid actors of all time grossing $24 billion.

It’s too soon to know yet whether we will still be able to spot Lee in any upcoming Marvel films, but his presence will be felt even if he’s not making a cameo as a snarky bus driver or DJ in a club. Blumberg has heard rumors of Lee having body scans done, so we may see him in our favorite Marvel films.

“He was really one of the last representatives of a certain time and place and there’s no replacing that,” Blumberg said. “The fact that the movie series based on the characters he co-created has become a mainstream blockbuster success is a testament to how his work is now globally loved and will definitely stand the test of time. We won’t have a person like him again.”