I grew up a kid that was sick a lot. At one point our family doctor told my mom that he thought I had Leukemia due to how often I’d been sick in my relatively short life of 4 years. My mom insisted he check me for allergies, so as to “humor” her he did and found out I was deathly allergic to cats, mold, dust, and mildew. I was immediately put on allergy shots, my mom became a clean freak, and my death sentence of Leukemia was sidelined, fortunately for me(also sidelined was our Siamese cat Herbie.)
Though this didn’t stop me from being sick. If I wasn’t suffering from an ear infection then I had bronchitis. This meant that a lot of the time I was in the house while all the other kids were outside getting into adventures and breaking property that didn’t belong to them. This meant I honed my imagination into a sharp and deadly tool. Action figures, Tonka trucks, and Hot Wheels were engaged in battle and adventure quite often in the Hubner home. I may have been sick, but that wasn’t going to stop me from creating a little mayhem in the living room or my bedroom.
Often on those days I was sick my dad would stop at the newsstand in town and grab me a comic book on his way home from work(when I got older it was Fangoria magazine.) My favorites were Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. Reason being was that as a kid I traumatized myself by watching Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as Bruce Banner and The Hulk, respectively, on TV. I loved watching that show every week, but I’d hide behind the chair whenever the opening credits started, as when Banner was trying to change his tire in the thunder and rain he gets mad and transforms into the Hulk. The combo of the green eyes, pouring rain, lightning, and the ripping jeans freaked me out. I could watch the rest of the show, but that opening segment scared the hell out of me.
I was also a huge fan of the Spiderman cartoon from the late 60s. I would watch it religiously every afternoon on Channel 55. From the catchy theme song to the realistic artwork to the amazing villains Peter Parker would engage the cartoon felt like a time machine back to a simpler time. A time before wheezing, allergies, antibiotics,…a time before me. A few years later in 1981 Saturday mornings brought The Amazing Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk Hour. The first half hour was Peter Parker grown up and a college student living with Bobby Drake(Iceman) and Angelica Jones(Firestar) with Peter’s Aunt May. College students by day, superheroes by night. The second half hour was the anger management issues of scientist Bruce Banner.
This was where I first heard the voice of Stan Lee. He narrated the episodes after season two. For the first time I got to hear the man himself talk about “webslingers”. He called me a webslinger. I felt like I was part of the club. This Brooklyn-born WWII vet that created an empire of superheroes and villains was talking directly to me.
My imagination time was pretty much bought out by George Lucas and Hasbro until at 10 years old I discovered rock and roll, but Stan Lee’s impact on my early years was overwhelming. I never had more than a small stack of comics, but his characters in animated form helped a little kid that was sick all the time have something to look forward to on quiet afternoons and cold, Midwest Saturday mornings.
Many years later when I’d long outgrown the illnesses and became the dad stopping off to grab a little something for his own sick kid at home, I rediscovered the world Stan Lee had created. My son and I began hitting up the comic book store in town when he was 5-years old. At first it was just fun to grab a stack of .50 comics so he could go home and have some fuel for the imagination. But then the boy started to truly sponge up these weathered little colored rags filled with adventures of heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk. Then it was Wolverine, Professor X, Jean Grey, and Magneto. Pretty soon it was the Fantastic Four, X-Force, and Red Hulk. By the time my son was 9 his room had amassed quite a collection of Marvel action figures, graphic novels, and posters that donned his walls. One of the highlights of the week was our trip to Chimp’s Comix to grab the next adventure of Daredevil and Moon Knight in print. We’d found out about the Hall of Heroes over in Elkhart, Indiana and took a trip over there in 2014(his sisters went along as well, and I think they even enjoyed it.)
I was never a hardcore comic book collector, but I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always loved building worlds and adventures out of nothing, and Stan Lee was one of the biggest dreamers to have come along. He took the problems of the real world and put them in fantastical adventures within the pages of colored print. He gave us superheroes that were down to earth, relatable, and sympathetic. Peter Parker was a science nerd that was picked on, Bruce Banner was a scientist with anger issues, the Fantastic Four were a dysfunctional family with superpowers, and X-Men were shunned because they were different. These were characters that were both saving the world, and yet could’ve been living next door. Hell, they could’ve been you or me.
Stan Lee died at the ripe old age of 95 yesterday. He lived to see the characters he created with the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr, and many others go from monthly adventures in print to an empire of the fantastical. He lived to see his characters become bigger than he ever could’ve imagined. From titans of the newsstand to pillars of the box office.
His stories will live forever, wherever there’s a kid open to the possibility of greatness. And who has the imagination to bring them to life.
“I don’t know where the hell I’ll be in five years. Maybe I’ll be producing movies maybe I’ll be on a corner selling apples. I don’t know, but I’m having a hell of a lot of fun.” – Stan Lee