Comic book creator Lee gave us hope in the face of darkness

Many still take comfort from their childhood superheroes

FILE: Stan Lee, founder of Marvel Entertainment Inc., poses for a photograph with a life size model of his superhero Spider-Man while in his office in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008. Lee, who brought a modern sensibility to comic books and provided lucrative fodder for Hollywood as co-creator of such sympathetically imperfect superheroes as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men and Iron Man, has died. He was 95. Photographer: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg
Powered by automated translation

"I used to think what I did was not very important," Stan Lee said recently. "People are building bridges and engaging in medical research and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes." Indeed, it might seem unusual to regular readers of the Opinion pages for us to mark the passing of a comic-book creator. But to his legions of fans around the world, Marvel Comics writer and editor Lee, who died on Monday at the age of 95, sparked the imaginations of children and adults alike, and spun worlds offering escapism and hope. He helped create memorable superheroes like The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Iron Man, dreaming up worlds in which good eventually triumphed over evil, yet those imbued with superhuman powers had feet of clay. They had recognisable human traits and were fallible, like us, but used their powers to rectify mistakes and resolve moral dilemmas.

It might seem simplistic, but in a world in which wars are raging and the worst of humanity is too often on display, we could all do with superhuman powers to see light at the end of the tunnel and to live through the darkest of times. It is no coincidence Lee was born into poverty. The son of Romanian immigrants, he survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, which left an indelible impression on him and taught him to seek hope in the midst of one of the bleakest episodes in US history. That resulted in the creation of timeless figures: crimefighters with deep moral cores. Many people fondly remember the superheroes they grew up with, childhood icons who offered protection, inspiration and comfort at a vulnerable time. Some hold fiercely onto those memories as adults – one only has to see the number of people dressing up as their role models at the annual Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai to realise as much. Yet what those iconic figures represent is so much more than a fantastical sense of escapism. They give us hope that in the face of great darkness, there is a greater good. And as Lee would no doubt agree, that's pretty marvellous.