Stan ‘the Man’ Lee will forever hold a place in my heart. Like a lot of people, I love his charisma and talent. And, of course I love the comic book universe he helped to create.
Unbeknownst to Stan, he has also helped me overcome the biggest challenge of my life: My disability. Like millions of people around the world, I have some complex health issues. My daily life is affected in numerous ways and it’s an ever-present thing. It’ll never go away.
So, how did Stan Lee help me? Well, before I got sick, I was a bit of a nerd and Marvel comics were my favorites. One of my earliest memories is buying a comic because I saw the words ‘Stan Lee Presents’ on it and I considered that a mark of quality even though I had no idea who he was back then.
Later in life, I got sick. Really sick and I almost died. I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do some of the things I had once taken for granted. Then it struck me. I’ve been reading about people with disabilities all my life and those guys OWNED IT! The majority of Silver Age heroes had some kind of disability and part of their journey was overcoming it.
Professor X a.k.a Charles Xavier - Paraplegia
Yeah, okay, so this one is obvious. The juxtaposition of the most powerful mind in the world in the body of a man who is unable to use his legs has been at the core of the character from the beginning. Sure, he’s been able to overcome it from time to time (alien tech suit, cloned body, etc.), but at his core, he’s a wheelchair user.
Iron Man a.k.a Tony Stark - Heart Condition
Originally, Tony Stark had to wear the Iron Man armor in order to recharge the heart that kept him alive. Over the years, he’s been less reliant on the armor, though, depending on the writer. Nonetheless, his heart complications are what changed him and made his heroic nature come to the fore.
Thor as Donald Blake - Crippled Leg
Fans of the comic books will know the origin story, but for those that have only seen the movies, I’ll do a quick recap. Dr. Donald Blake was created by Odin to be the host for his son Thor.
Odin decided that it was time Thor learned humility. Odin had Thor surrender his hammer to him, and then sent him to Earth in the mortal guise of a crippled young medical student named Donald Blake, stripped of his memory of his true identity. As Blake, Thor learned the value of humble perseverance in dealing with his injured leg, and he came to care for the sick and dying, first as a medical student, and later as a successful physician.
After Thor had spent ten years in the role of Blake, Odin planted within Blake's mind the suggestion to take a vacation in Norway. There, Blake encountered a party of alien Kronans, also known as the Stone Men from Saturn. Blake fled from the Kronans into a cavern, the very same one that had served as Thor's birthplace millennia ago, where Odin had left Thor's hammer in the enchanted form of a wooden cane. Trapped in the cavern by a great boulder, Blake struck the boulder with the cane in frustrated anger, and was transformed back into his true godly form of Thor. – Marvel Wikia
Daredevil a.k.a Matt Murdock - Blindness
Again, one of the more obvious entries on this list. Matt Murdock, in an act of sheer bravery, saves the life of an old man only to be injured by chemicals that leave him blind. Unlike a lot of hero's origins, his story starts when he's a kid. Matt had to overcome his disability in a harsh, unforgiving world. He didn’t have the money of Xavier, or the option to become a god like Thor. He’s on his own; blind, and broke, but even though, he still makes a success of himself. in more than one way.
Hulk a.k.a Bruce Banner - Multiple Personality Disorder
This one is a little vague. Hulk has been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder several times, but this ruling has been refuted countless times over the years. During Peter David’s run penning the comics, Doc Samson diagnoses the Hulk with MPD, so I’m going with that. It certainly fits to a degree.
Yeah, it was the Gamma bomb that created the Hulk, but the underlying psychology was in place since Bruce's early childhood. Banner's struggle to hold his life together, despite what is often a hidden disability, is one that is shared by millions of people every day. Just because people can’t see it on the surface doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The Thing a.k.a. Ben Grimm - Physical Disfigurement
This one is a long-shot. Sure, Ben Grimm’s "condition" doesn’t exactly count as a disability, but as the inverse of the Hulk, it works. He’s a normal guy underneath it all, but is still shunned for his rocky appearance. Think Rocky Dennis in Mask or a person with a plain to see disability. He’s judged and abused. It’s a harsh reality for many people but Ben Grimm never allows it stop him from being the best he can be.
The X-Men a.k.a. All of Them
The X-Men have always been a metaphor for civil rights, and in later years, gay and LGBT rights. From my perspective, they also share a great deal with the disabled community. They just want to be accepted by a world that doesn’t understand them and isn’t keen to adapt to them.
There are plenty of others worth mentioning: Hawkeye uses a hearing aid, and Captain America had Polio prior to becoming our heroic Super Soldier.
For me, it’s these Silver Age heroes created by Stan Lee (and others, Jack Kirby most notably) that showed me that although having disability might be a lifelong fixture, it wouldn’t be the thing to define me. Professor X is a telepath, teacher, and superhero despite also happening to use a wheelchair. Daredevil is the Man Without Fear and a damned good lawyer even though he is blind. Which shows me that, yes, while I may always fight against a chronic condition, like the idols of my childhood (and adulthood), it won’t ever define or stop me.
Thanks, Stan - for everything.