I do not want to spoil Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (unless saying it’s really really good is a spoiler) so I will simply say this here, above the cut: while the requisite Stan Lee Cameo can feel a bit gratuitous or creaky at times, Lee’s appearance in Spider-Verse is absolutely, completely, no reservations perfect.
I’ll talk about why (WITH FULL SPOILERS) below.
There are many many things to be said about Stan Lee (and I am not gonna say them here) but the Stan Lee Cameo was a singular part of Marvel’s forays into movies. Initially cute or funny, as the MCU took over Hollywood the cameos started to feel a little gratuitous, or played on a dirty old man cliché that felt more tired each time, but a few of them (“What’s the matter with you kids? You never seen a spaceship before?”) were amazing. There was also speculation that Lee was actually a Watcher, an idea that was kinda sorta confirmed, but also mocked, in Lee’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. Two appearances. And there are apparently posthumous cameos coming up in Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, but I might close my eyes and plug my ears.
Because his appearance in Into the Spider-Verse is such a perfect tribute, and such a great encapsulation of both Stan Lee The Public Figure and Stan Lee The Comics Genius, that I think I want that to be how I mentally say goodbye.
After Peter Parker dies, Miles Morales is left with nascent spider-powers, a busted
MacGuffin thumb drive, and a lot of confusion. So he does what sad teens have done for decades: he turns to Stan Lee. Not his comics in this case, but Stan’s Costume Shop, where he can buy his own Spidey suit. He lines up, has an obviously little-kid-sized packaged suit, and tearfully comes up to the counter. Stan sees what he’s holding and says, “I’m gonna miss him,” and I pretty much lost it right there (and I’m not the only one), so the rest of this might be a little blurry.
“Can I return it if it doesn’t fit?” Miles asks Stan.
“It always fits,” Stan replies. “Eventually.”
Oh, reader. Now, Stan Lee was not Miles Morales’ creator—that honor goes to Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Sara Pichelli (artist)—but he was Spider-Man’s co-creator. He was the one who put all the fabulous quips and working class angst into Peter Parker’s mouth. And here he is, giving a benediction to his universe’s latest Spider-Man. In this moment he becomes the first person to believe Miles can become New York City’s new hero.
And then of course the heartfelt moment is immediately undercut by Miles glancing off to the side and seeing a sign that says “NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES EVER!!!” just behind The Man’s kindly face. And that’s perfect, too, because in Stan Lee’s universe, the gags and quips and silliness are just as important as the emotion. Being funny is just as vital to Spider-Man’s heroism as his bravery. It’s part of his bravery. This mix of silliness and heart is what carries Miles through Peter Parker’s memorial (MJ echoes Lee’s sentiment, saying “We’re all Spider-Man now”), and finally through all of the adventures and dangers that come with being a Spider-Person.
But in the very end of the film, after many people have believed in him and encouraged him, and Miles has learned to be the hero we all knew he could be, it’s Stan the Man’s message he returns to.
“Anyone can wear the mask,” he tells us, as he webslings and soars over New York, off to save the day.