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Stanley Martin Lieber was born on December 28th, 1922, in New York City. Over the course of his 95-years-long and amazingly eventful life, which ended in Los Angeles on November 12, 2018, he came to inhabit many titles and many positions within the entertainment industry: Inkwell-filler. Proofer. Writer. Editor-in-Chief. Publisher. Chairman. The Man.

But the position he held most proudly in that life was ambassador. It was unofficial, of course; there isn't really an office at Marvel or DC for "Ambassador of Superhero Comics," but Stan Lee held it all the same, for longer than anyone else ever had (or ever will), and used the powers of that office to spend damn near every waking hour of his life making the strongest case to anyone who would listen—be it a hardened movie executive, or a small ring of awed children at a comics convention—that superheroes didn't just make their fictional worlds better through feats of strength and sacrifice, but they made our worlds better, too.

Like many of the superheroes whose mythical stories have been consumed, regurgitated, re-interpreted, and canonized in the 50-plus years since he and Jack Kirby co-created much of the Marvel universe—a universe that now bestrides the world of pop culture like a colossus (or more accurately, a Galactus)—Lee was a flawed character. His gleeful proselytizing on the positive power of comics was always cut with a streak of winking shamelessness. His numerous successes tended to leave friends and family bewildered in his wake, and his inability to slow down in the pursuit of both social progress and financial prosperity often meant people got run over on his way to some new mountaintop or another.

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Whatever his skills as a storyteller, his skills as a salesman were unmatched: the comics industry would not look, sound, or work the way it does today if Stan Lee had not been there to steer it. This is not a hyperbolic bit of carnival barking befitting The Man himself. It's basic, observable truth—and a complicated one. More than any writer, artist, or editor, Stan Lee—a wiry, mustachioed, bespectacled dynamo apparently made entirely of energy and ideas—encompassed within his frame all the potential, pitfalls, power, and problems that seem to keep the superhero machine churning in a state of perpetually arrested development.

Stan Lee was the personification of comics in all its world-beating, complicated, well-meaning-but-still-hurtful, happy-yet-maddening glory. Down to the part where even after he's exited the story, he doesn't stay gone: He will be seen on theater screens this Christmas in Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse, in next summer's Avengers 4, and depending on how many cameo appearances were filmed before his passing, possibly for years. Life got the best of Stan Lee very few times. It only seems appropriate that death also fails to stop him from lighting up imaginations for generations to come.

Excelsior forever.

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