If you call yourself a lover of comic books and didn't feel some type of way when news of Stan Lee's passing hit the world earlier today, you're playing yourself. If it wasn't for the work Lee put in during his prolific tenure at Marvel Comics, the world of Hollywood today would look very different than it does right now.
Arguments aside on what "credit" truly means when it comes to creating comic book characters, Lee's fingerprints are all over some of today's biggest characters: Spider-Man, the Black Panther, the Hulk, Daredevil, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. AKA characters at the forefront of Marvel's decade(-plus) of dominance in the television and film circuit.
Lee was at the forefront of world-building. In 1961, when Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the Fantastic Four, they not only built the foundation for the future of Marvel as a publisher, but they reimagined how these characters interacted with other characters under the same umbrella. Cultivating super squads like the Avengers wasn't a "new" thing, but assembling a squad that truly fit the idea of being "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" was momentous for the readers who consumed the evolving stories of each of the individual characters.
Stan Lee was also representing for more than just the white boys buying comic books. While the world of comic books has had a long way to go to attempt to escape its racist past, Lee was instrumental in creating Falcon, who was Marvel's first African-American superhero. He was also part of the creative force behind the X-Men, a unit that many saw as reflecting the issues of race in America during the Civil Rights movement (with many comparing Professor X and Magneto to Rev. Martin Luther King, Kr. and Malcolm X, respectively). Those were big shifts that he was on the forefront of, and he wasn't mincing words when it came to keeping it a buck about racism.
One of the most important things Lee ushered in was the union of reader and creator. It was Stan Lee who made sure that the comics creators' names were highlighted (including those of the letterer and inker), as well as including news about Marvel employees in different bulletin pages in the comics. As a kid, I didn't recognize who Stan Lee was from the plethora of cameos he has made in Marvel films, or from being the face of the company (which he eventually became). I remember a caricature of Stan screaming "Excelsior!" at the end of my favorite comic books. That was some peak "Puff Daddy during Bad Boy's heyday" shit, but also went a long way in helping solidify Marvel's brand and voice, which aligns with the comic book reader I was and the comic book fan I grew up to be.
Keep in mind, I stan Marvel. Always have, always will. Stan Lee's hard work and continued championing of the brand helped heads like me—black kids who would escape into this massive shared universe—expand our minds and escape this hell of a world. And, if you're someone like me, that knowledge coupled with the advancements in today's filmmaking, makes hitting the theater two-to-three times a year even more exciting. Hopefully, the number of pre-recorded cameos for Lee hasn't run dry. Either way, Lee's certified in these streets as a legend and a true GOAT in the world of comic books. Rest easy.