Why Science Fiction Owes So Much To Stan Lee



It occurred to me that there might be someone out there now, or in the future, who wants to know what the big deal was about Stan Lee.

Stan Lee is one of the masterminds of science fiction. Granted, he didn’t write every plot for every comic book, but he did present the basis for the stories. The spectrum of his science fiction was impressively broad. For instance, a short list of the sci-fi themes he thrilled readers with would have to include radiation, genetic mutation, atom manipulation, cybernetic augmentation, interstellar travel, and extra sensory perception.

My favorite of his themes is still gamma rays.

Whenever someone asks one of those questions about the mysteries of life, the answer is “Gamma rays.” Sometimes I say it with a laugh; sometimes I’ll say it with a straight face because I gotta make them believe.

Why do my shoes wear out so fast? “Gamma rays.”

How do people get so smart? “Gamma rays.”

How did you get all that lumber in the back of your truck? “Gamma rays.”

How do I lose my car keys when they’re in plain sight? “Gamma rays.”

Why did the satellite signal just go out? “Gamma rays.”

Gamma radiation was one of Stan Lee’s trademark reasons for super stretchiness, the ability to create force field shields around yourself, skin that’s hard like stone, and flames coming out of your hands. Radiation itself, in Stan Lee’s incredible imaginary universe, could do lots of great things and turn ordinary people into fantastic mutants or beneficial man-size bugs.

He helped fashion a science fiction universe that includes so many characters we can hardly count them.

Through Stan Lee we have some choice words in our vocabularies. In the Marvel comics you’ll find yellow narrative strips, sometimes even accompanied with a caricature of Stan Lee himself. In those strips he would have something about the story, and hints to help you know what was going on, since some of the stories could be really complicated. The narrative might say something like, “Back when Cap’n America met Red Skull in ISH 95.” ISH meant “issue”.

Comics came out in really short episodic bursts, with only a few pages to tell the story, so of course the writers and artists would helpfully point you to an issue where the critical parts of the story were. Stan might continue, “Find out whether Cap gets capped or if his shield saves him, next ISH. ‘Nuff said.” That was one of Stan’s signature lines: ‘Nuff said.

Then there’s that word “thwip”, which should be in the dictionary, if it isn’t. The definition: the sound of Spiderman’s webs shooting out and attaching to something. It may not be a word that you use much in everyday life (though it could be), but it’s definitely a Marvel comics staple. Without that word, and some of the other comic action words like chuff!, crash!, pow!, splang!, some of the comics just wouldn’t be as much fun.

Stan Lee helped many of us young men and women realize that we could invent worlds of such rich fascination that we could lose ourselves inside. He led us to invent our own super-powered characters. He even led us to love science and the experiments that drive us to learn new things about the physical universe in which we live.

Though many of us were disappointed to learn that getting bit by a spider wouldn’t give us spider talents, we still loved the world of the web-slinger. And though we discovered we couldn’t have psychic super-powers by radioactive waste, we still enjoyed thinking about the possibilities. Every child who’s ever picked up a comic book, with Stan’s stamp of “Excelsior!” within the pages, has found a fantastic world where the ordinary could be extraordinary. The same joy is experienced by adults who allow themselves to suspend their disbelief for the moments it takes to turn the pages on a brightly colored action landscape.

Thanks Stan Lee! See you on the other side of the great divide.

Published by Kurt Gailey

This is where I'm supposed to brag about how I've written seven novels, twelve screenplays, thousands of short stories, four self-help books, and one children's early-reader, but I'd rather stay humble. You can find out about things I've written or follow my barchive (web archive, aka 'blog) at xenosthesia.com or follow me on twitter @kurt_gailey. I love sports and music and books, so if you're an athlete or in a band or you're a writer, give me a follow and I'll most likely follow you back. I've even been known to promote other people's projects.

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