Easing into nerd culture can be hugely intimidating, especially if you don’t exactly fit the status quo (which is white and male). There is this sort of vastness that characterizes comics—a feeling that you’ll never be able to grasp all of it the way “true nerds” seemingly have (which, again, often means “white and male” nerds). When toxic pockets of fandom use that white male privilege to gatekeep the culture, thus excluding others from something that should be open to everyone, it makes you wonder if comics—or nerd culture, in general—is actually meant for you.
Yet, there are always these safe beacons that anyone can flock towards—even if you’ve never touched a comic book in your life. Spider-Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Black Panther, and the Avengers are just a few worlds that have long transcended their original pages, permeating our childhoods through film and television. They are part of the Marvel universe. They are massive and accessible, and make everyone feel like they have a place in this wildly imaginative universe. More than that, they make us consider what the world could look like if everyone lived as the best version of themselves.
The co-creator of Marvel spent the majority of his life fashioning a universe of possibilities that people could escape to. It was a universe where things that held them back on this plane of existence—things out of their control, like race, gender, and ability—could actually make them heroes.
For some, loving Marvel comics was more than just a hobby; it was how they found belonging.
That’s why anyone who weaponizes Lee’s work in attempts to exclude, discriminate, and perpetuate hatred will find themselves in direct conflict with the creator himself. As early as the 1960s, Lee used his platform to explicitly call out racism and bigotry, challenging readers to identify and stomp out hatred.
Lee reminded the public of his words in 2017 when white supremacists marched and incited violence in Charlottesville—some of whom donned Captain America helmets and shields. In a video released in October 2017, Lee shared a quick message on Marvel’s continued mission to reflect the world around us, emphasizing their inclusiveness: “Those stories have room for everyone regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin. The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.”
His life’s work was built on the notion that everyone should operate with a clear understanding of right and wrong, and that we had a responsibility to each other—and to ourselves—to know the difference.
These superheroes weren’t just creations of fantasy; they were blueprints for how we should treat and protect each other.
It’s very hard to imagine a culture without Stan Lee’s seemingly youthful presence. That’s likely because what he has given us—this solar system of real life heroism and fantastic possibilities—is far greater than any of us can fathom. The Marvel Universe has a benevolent impact that will likely outlive us all. Stan Lee has cemented an evergreen legacy that, if implemented properly, can continue to heal, inspire, and welcome those who have always felt they exist on the outskirts. Hopefully, those who wish to carry on his spirit recognize this, and advance the fun and inclusiveness of nerd culture so it’s a little less intimidating for all.