Lee was responsible for creating and co-creating several comic book superheroes who are more popular today than they were when they appeared in the Marvel comic books during the 1960s and ’70s. These superheroes include Spider-man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Ant-Man.
The primary reason for Lee’s success was his ability to transform what he called “cardboard figures” into “real flesh-and-blood characters.” His formula for creating superheroes included instilling within them insecurities and character flaws that his readers could identify with.
While some of his characters had trouble paying their rent and getting dates with girls, others struggled with their over-sized egos and the conflicts that arose between them and their loved ones.
Lee also had a way of portraying the villains he created with sympathetic and complex backstories that provided legitimate reasons why the villain turned to the dark side. This created a conflict within the reader because while the reader wanted to have compassion and sympathy for a villain, there was always a conflicting desire to hate the villain.
Most of the superheroes that Lee created acquired their supernatural powers when a scientific-based accident or event failed or went bad. For example, Spider-man acquired his powers after he was bitten by a radioactive spider. The Incredible Hulk materialized after a physically weak, socially withdrawn doctor by the name of Bruce Banner was accidentally exposed to gamma rays. The Fantastic Four acquired their powers after they were exposed to cosmic rays during a scientific mission in outer space.
For many years, Lee didn’t garner much respect because to the outside world, he was nothing more than a comic book writer. He finally received the recognition he deserved when The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. At that time, the business media was highly critical of Disney for paying so much money for what was considered to be nothing more than a large collection of comic book characters. It didn’t take Disney long to prove that its critics were wrong. To date, Disney has grossed more than $17.5 billion in worldwide revenue from the movies that have been released with Marvel characters.
So why have the Marvel movies been so popular and generated so much revenue? The primary reasons are because the movies stimulate the imaginations of both children and adults to fantasize about impossible things they would love to be able to do, and allows them to fantasize about powers they would love to possess, but will never be able to acquire.
While I’m a fan of the Marvel movies, I am acutely aware of the fact that while the movies have entertainment value, they also allow viewers to enter into a fantasy world that will never exist for them.
If you think about it, much of the technology that we use today encourages people to regularly escape from reality and enter into a fantasy world in which they are allowed to imagine themselves performing heroic acts.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter allow people to hide behind their electronic devices and say and do things they would never say or do if they were face to face with another person. While they gladly use movies and social media to live out their fantasies and imagine themselves as heroes and courageous warriors, they have no problem using the social media tools that are at their disposal to criticize, threaten, and insult other people in order to build themselves up.
They want desperately to become heroes without having to endure the sacrifice, humility, fortitude, and courage that are required to become a real hero. One definition of a “hero” is “a man who is admired for his achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.”
I was very fortunate to grow up in a large extended family of men and women who showed great courage and were admired for their achievements and noble qualities. These family members included my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other relatives. I also benefited greatly from the example and leadership of a handful of my teachers and coaches.
All the people I’m referring to were ordinary people who for various reasons throughout their lives found themselves in situations where they had to rise above their ordinariness so they could do heroic things. But before they were ever able to do anything that was heroic, they first had to become noble.
So how does a person go about becoming noble?
In order to become truly noble, a person must learn and practice the virtues of humility, courage, charity, compassion, loyalty, commitment, tenacity, resilience, empathy, integrity, fortitude, and justice. A person learns these virtues through the instruction and example of parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, and other people who are in a position of influence.
I worry about the majority of children and young people in our country because instead of learning these virtues, they are allowed to waste their precious youth on video games, social media, and a stimulating and seductive 24/7 digital environment that allows them to escape from reality and fantasize about whatever they want, without the need to learn the basic virtues that for thousands of years have been the foundation for which true achievement and nobility have been built.
I’m all for celebrating the life of Stan Lee, the entertainment genius who was known and loved by the millions of fans who populate the Marvel Universe. But let’s not forget the true everyday heroes who do not have supernatural powers, but still manage to do heroic things such as save lives, fight for their country, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, and comfort the sorrowful.