(originally written for Comic Book Marketplace #67, March 1999)
Today, the world reeled from the sad news that we had lost a legend. In conversations online, we all shared our memories of “The Man,” and in doing so, I talked about one of my proudest professional moments. This is that moment, now represented here in tribute to the person that shaped so much of my childhood, my ethics, my morality, and my understanding of right and wrong, justice, and heroism. Thank you Stan, it was an honor to chat with you “in character…”
[A Brief Note of Explanation: This article was written back in 1999 during a time when legendary Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee was understandably tired of being asked the same questions over and over again about his work on the amazing arachnid adventurer. But he agreed to the interview on one condition; he wanted Spider-Man himself to interview him! I was drafted into service to play the role of the wall-crawler – a task I had been preparing for my entire life – and let me tell you, it was a thrill to interview Stan ‘as’ Spidey! But let me assure you of one thing; while the Spider-Man segments of this interview were generated by me, Stan’s replies were straight from “The Man” himself. And now, the article that was originally billed as “A Unique, Historic Event in the Annals of Comicdom!”]
Hey there, true believers! It’s me, your ever-lovin’, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and boy have I got a story to tell you! Y’know, I’ve been fighting the good fight and trying to make ends meet for over thirty years now, and I’ll tell ya, after some pretty rough times and a few tight spots I thought I’d never get out of, things are finally starting to look up for your favorite amazing arachnid! I’ve got a great new job doing what I love – science – and some snazzy New York digs for when it’s time to head home and rest the ol’ noggin. And how could I forget MJ? She’s the best wife a harried hero could hope for, and she’s a knock-out to boot!
But that’s not why we’re here today. I wanted to share with you an incredible experience I recently had, one I just couldn’t keep to my cuddly self any longer! After four decades of battling lunatic bad guys, taking care of Aunt May, and snapping the odd picture for the Daily Bugle and its resident curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson, I finally had the chance to sit down and chat with the man who made it all possible – the man who created me and allowed all of you loyal fans the chance to see into my world! That’s right, I’m talking about Stan “The Man” Lee himself, the guy who charted the course to new heights of fantasy and adventure with Marvel Comics, and the amazing writer who thought up yours truly!
You’ve probably heard more about Stan over the years than I could even think to tell you, but here for the first time, you can read what happened when I had the chance to put my creator on the spot and ask him the really tough questions. So what are ya waiting for, an engraved invitation? Read on, oh dedicated Spider-phile!
Hi, Stan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Hey there, Spidey! It sure is a thrill to finally meet you face to face!
Gosh, It’s kinda tough for me not to get a little tongue-tied, but I guess it’s not every day a guy gets the chance to quiz his own maker about the meaning behind it all. I’d hate to mess this up, so I suppose I should get right to the heart of it and ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask: Why me? I mean, look at all the crud I have to deal with every day! People who despise me, an aunt who suffers a near fatal heart attack every five minutes, a boss who barely acknowledges my talent while thoroughly trashing my alter ego in the papers, and weird, super-powered nutcases who only want to pound me into the pavement! I don’t get the glory like Torchie and his FF buddies, and I’m not exactly on a level with Thor and Doc Strange when it comes to the big stuff. How d’ya expect a regular guy like me to handle all this, proportional spider-strength notwithstanding?
Fact is, Spidey, I wanted you to be typical of every guy who reads comics and wishes he had super powers. I wanted to show that such powers can be as much of a curse as a blessing. And I’ve a hunch my titanically talented partner, Steve Ditko, felt the same way, ’cause he sure joined me in dreaming up the wildest sort of woes for you month after month. But, hey, things haven’t been all bad with you, have they? I mean, you’re married to a beautiful girl and live in one of the world’s most exciting cities – and you don’t have to pound the keys of a computer night and day, worrying about making deadlines, like certain superhero writers I could mention!
Well, OK, maybe that came off a bit too ungrateful. After all, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, Stan. Actually, that brings to mind something else – did you create me in your own image? Maybe that’s corny, but is there anything of you in little ol’ me?
Actually, you’re right. I did think of myself when I first dreamed you up. I figure I’m a pretty typical guy who has pretty typical problems, so why should you be different? Think about it – nothing ever turns out perfect for anyone, right? So join the crowd, Bunky.
I hear ya. Still, thinking back over the years, is there anything you’d change about me if you could go back and do it again? I know I’d probably ask to be a better seamstress, but that’s just me. After a few tattered costumes, you get to wishing you could thread a needle on the first try.
Nah. I like you just the way you are. After all, after more than 30 years I’ve sort of gotten used to you.
Thanks, I’ve grown attached to me too. Y’know, I mentioned Torchie before, and it occurs to me, I haven’t exactly been alone in this thing. There’ve been people who stuck with me, like ol’ Hornhead (Daredevil), Doc Connors, even Reed and the FF. But the matchstick and I have this weird friendship that even we don’t quite understand. We started out hating each other, but now I’d crawl into a burning building for the guy (not that he’d need help in that case). In a weird way, he’s like the brother I never had. Is any of this drawn from your life? Besides me and Storm, you’ve had similar sibling relationships in the FF and the early X-Men too. Childhood memories? I’m a biochemist, not a psychologist, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
Sure, there are people I started out disliking who eventually turned into good friends of mine. And I have a brother, Larry Lieber, who does a great job drawing your adventures in 500 newspapers every weekday – although I must admit I’ve always liked him. Friends and relationships are important to me, so I wanted them to be important to you, too.
Are they ever! And man, I must be the hardest working man in comics, appearing in several monthly titles, a cartoon, that newspaper strip, even occasional books and television. It gets pretty hard to keep track of where I am and who I’m fighting from one minute to the next! I’ve also been from the sewers of New York to the realm of Dormammu! I still feel like just a simple guy at heart, but I’ve seen some weird stuff. What made me the Marvel ambassador of good will throughout the universe? I could use a nap sometimes (or some R&R with MJ).
If you think it’s been confusing to you, imagine what it’s been like for me! I didn’t even write most of your stories after the first unforgettable years, so I can hardly remember all the places you’ve been or the nutcases you’ve met up with. Anyway, stop griping, willya? You don’t hear me complaining to you!
Sorry, Stan. I have to admit, when it comes to Rogues’ Galleries, I think I’ve got that Dark Knight guy beat with megalomaniacs like Doc Doom, criminal masterminds like the Kingpin, mad scientists like Ock, and full-blown lunatics like the Green Goblin (all of them). I’ve fought some real losers too, like the Gibbon, the Kangaroo (sheesh!), and even just a Guy named Joe. Any of these jokers (oops) stick out in your mind as your favorites? Any of ’em you wish you could sweep under the rug?
Wouldja believe I love each and every one of our villains, the great ones and the icky ones. Without them, you’d be just another shutterbug that no one ever heard of. Hey, if you were really considerate, you ought to send those burgeoning baddies a bonus check every year to show your gratitude. But if I hadda pick a favorite, it would probably be Doc Ock. As for a Guy named Joe, you’ve gotta admit it took a lot of guts to inflict so offbeat a villain on our defenseless readers.
True, but then you’ve also given them some great gals to gaze at too. For a guy who always seems to be down on his luck, I’ve had my share of romance, from the early days of Betty Brant … to Gwen … and finally, MJ. Were any of these women based on people you knew in real life? I can tell you, some of the heartache certainly felt real.
I knew a lot of fabulous females in my wild youth, so I guess I probably based every one of your relationships on someone or some incident I dimly remembered. Chances are, every writer does that, either consciously or unconsciously. And as for the heartache, sorry, but it goes with the territory, kid.
Right before you left me (Stan stopped scripting Amazing Spider-Man with #100), I was getting in to some really tight scrapes, from riots on college campuses and in prisons to the effects of drug addiction on my best friend. You took some pretty strong stands, and you even went without the Comics Code to make a point. Not that I disagreed with you – I’ve always been kind of a morally conscious, opinionated guy – but why did you start to tell these politically-oriented stories? Was it because I was more ‘normal’ than say a Norse god or a Master of the Mystic Arts, or was it something else?
You hit the nail on the head, pal. It was because you were the most normal of the lot – that is, if you can call a web-swingin’, wall-crawlin’, masked do-gooder with the proportionate strength of a spider “normal!”
OK, here’s one I just have to ask. Why did you leave? We stuck through some pretty tough times before you decided to go, and to top it all off, within a couple years of you leaving me, some other guy came along and killed my best girl Gwendy! I mean, talk about the ol’ Parker luck running true to form! My life became a nightmare without you!
You’ll never know how it broke me up when I had to put you in the care of others, sonny boy. But there was no way out. My life just became too complicated for me to continue as a script writer. I had to go around the country lecturing and doing interviews and getting involved with our animated cartoons and movie and TV projects. Then, before I knew it, I was named publisher and I had to hang with the “suits.” You think you had problems in your life? Some day I’ll tell you what it’s like dealing with suits! As for what happened to Gwen (I always loved calling her Gwendy), I think I felt as broken up as you did about her tragic fate – after all, you just fell in love with her, but Jazzy Johnny Romita and I created the lady!
I know our time is running short, so I have one more thing to say, creator o’ mine. As you well know, I never had a real father when I was growing up, but Uncle Ben was the best father I could ever hope for. In a way, you’re as much my dad as he ever was, so … aw shucks, what I’m trying to say is, are you proud of me? Have I done OK? I’ve tried to live up to the great power and great responsibility jazz, and I only hope it’s been enough.
Am I proud of you? Look, the only way I can put it is – I hope I can be half the man you are, Petey! You’ve taken the worst life has to offer and always come back undaunted and ready to face whatever new challenges may await you. You may not have been perfect, but who is? It’s even been rumored that I myself may have a fault or two, impossible as that may seem! But the most important thing is you always did your best, and nobody can do better than that. I’d say more, you wonderful ol’ webhead, but I know you hate to see a grown man cry! Excelsior! – Stan (Dad!)
Thanks for sharing this special event with me, and I’ll see ya all in the funny papers! – Spidey
©1999 Arnold T. Blumberg