Stan Lee's marvelous lessons

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Michael Warren

I confess. I have been a deeply committed fan of Stan Lee and his creations since I was a young boy. Even as a judge, author, non-profit leader, and informal educator, I still learn from him. By now, you probably know the outline of his story. A poor, first generation errand boy turned multinational millionaire mogul (he would have appreciated the alliteration of 3 m’s in a row (think Stephen Strange, Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Matt Murdock, but I digress)). I have learned from many mentors and experiences, but it was Stan Lee and his magnificent team who taught me a multiverse of lessons. Here I present the Fantastic Four:

1. With great power, comes great responsibility. First appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15 in connection with Spider Man’s origin story, this maxim is a cardinal rule that should guide the actions of anyone wielding authority. When Peter Parker discovered his spidey powers, he determined to exploit them to make money. That path led him to letting an armed criminal escape a crime scene, and that very thug later murdered his adoptive father Uncle Ben. Peter was devastated, but he determined right then to dedicate his super powers to achieving good. By doing so, he redeemed his soul and his uncle’s faith, and saved the world too many times to count. Just avoid the tragedy, and use your power responsibly.

2. Anyone can be redeemed. Parker was not the sole character who turned tragedy into redemption. The brilliant surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange was an arrogant, greedy, egotistical, #&@+! After ruining his hands in a car accident of his own making, his career was destroyed, and he hit rock bottom having spent all of his money fruitlessly trying to heal his hands. Out of desperation, he found the Ancient One, the Sorceror Supreme, and became his acolyte. Strange threw away everything he knew to learn an art he scoffed at for his entire life. By undergoing years of disciplined, difficult, brutal and dangerous training, he became the Master of the Mystic Arts. The Ancient One never repaired his hands—but saved his soul. Strange consistently sacrifices his own happiness, and risks his life, to defend an oblivious humanity. The most self-centered man in the world became the most sacrificial. Strange shows us that with some hard work, we can all find the goodness inside to help our fellow man. No need to crash your car—start serving others now.

3. Mind power conquers all. Although the powers wielded by the heroes of the Marvel Universe are astonishing, in the end what triumphs is creativity and solid thinking. Many tales involve the heroes facing Herculean odds and overwhelming power trying to smash them to smithereens. The heroes prevail, not because of brawn alone, but because they can creatively think of solutions to defeat their foes. Time and time again the heroes outwit stronger villains. We don’t all have to be the God of Thunder to win battles—use your brain, think ahead, plan, be creative, and use your ingenuity to prevail.

4. Never Surrender. No matter what happens, heroes like the Wolverine, Black Panther, Captain America, Wasp, Captain Marvel, Warlock, and Iron Man simply don’t give up. They are surprised, tripped up, smacked down, trapped, encircled, and beaten to a pulp—and they don’t give up. They lose their homes, their businesses, their friends, their families, their reputations—and they don’t give up. They are betrayed, marooned, tied up, tied down, frozen in ice, tossed into other dimensions, enchanted—and they don’t give up. The lesson here? You can win—just don’t give up.
We have lost an irreplaceable creative genius with the passing of Stan Lee, but Lee’s Lessons can guide future generations. Excelsior! ‘Nuff said.

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Michael Warren is an Oakland County Michigan Circuit Court judge and co-founder, with his daughter Leah, of Patriot Week (www.patriotweek.org). He is also the author of America’s Survival Guide and a former member of the Michigan State Board of Education.