Stan Lee’s right. We need a hero

By Joel A Hess

This week, an icon of entertainment, a storytelling, character-creating genius, died: Stan Lee. If there is anyone who is larger than life, it would be this man. He gave us so many superheroes and fantastical stories that it’s hard to imagine they all came from one man.

He said in a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, “I think everybody loves things that are bigger than life. … I think of them as fairy tales for grown-ups. We all grew up with giants and ogres and witches. Well, you get a little bit older and you’re too old to read fairy tales. But I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for those kind of things, things that are bigger than life and magical and very imaginative.”

Surely the ticket sales and comic book purchases demonstrate that most of us concur. Of course, Lee is not the only one to observe humanity’s hunger for the supernatural, let alone fantastic heroes. From Homer onward, many have explored this desire, if not hope.

Perhaps this imagination finds its source in the fall of humanity from the garden of Eden. Regardless of how we are raised, does everyone have an intrinsic error message that tells us things aren’t right and somewhere out there someone or something can make it right? Of course, even a child’s observation will yield this. Everyone is dying. Bad guys get away with doing bad things. Even when everyone seems to be “good,” the physical world itself can falter and swallow us up in a moment.

Or, as Eve reached out for the forbidden fruit, do we all want to be like God. Are we not satisfied with ourselves, our place, our role, our mundaneness?

Perhaps every religion follows Stan Lee’s script, an almost sad wish that we are more than what we appear to be. To be more blunt, are all religions the result of our imagination to transcend this dying world?

Many great minds have argued that this is true. I would agree with them too, if not for one particular heroic story. For sure we can find tracings of this hero in literature, paintings, and plays from sundry different cultures and creeds. Yet finding shades of this story in other storytellers does not negate its veracity but perhaps supports it.

But most importantly, this story and this hero have far too many witnesses to discount. It would be one thing if one fellow said he was given this story by an angel. But a variety of skeptical people touched, heard, smelled, tasted, and saw this hero and his act of heroism.

John writes saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” 1 John 1:1-4

God took on flesh, born of a virgin, and lay in a manger of all places. They were told to call Him Jesus, because He would save people from their sins. Like those heroes stories of old, this hero, this Messiah, went into the burning building and laid down His life for its residents. But not the good innocent citizens of Gotham. Jesus came to save the bad guy! The ones who started the fire, who held the hostages, who sought to take over the world, who stole the golden apple!

This hero did not come to punish the wicked but to save them. That he did, as Magneto, Barabbas, was freed, so were we all when Christ took his place. Yet three days later he did what no storyteller ever thought possible. He rose from the dead and freely gives this power over the grave to us all, villains and mortals.

Let us tell and retell this hero story over and over. Around campfires and garbage cans, water coolers and die machines, this great story comes to life. In prison cells and saloon stalls, beside hospital beds and before gravestones, this Hero and his promises bring hope to hopeless hearts.

Is it too good to believe? Yes. But it still happened and is happening. Every comic book Stan Lee published makes the case We need a hero. We have one. Jesus.