If I had kept it and kept it in good condition. It would be the closest I've ever had to a pension plan.
In February 1973, at age 10, I bought the first edition of the UK's new edition of something called Spider-Man Comics Weekly for 5p from my local store – and the addiction continued for a few years.
Previously, my chosen comics were something called Whizzer and Chips. Now Spider-Man has introduced me to a dark and disturbingly adult superhero world tied with depression, frustration, and failure to get the girl. The awful life of Peter Parker persuasively and seductively imitated our own banal humiliations; his alter ego was, therefore, a convincing fantasy of fulfilling desires.
His inventor, Stan Lee (in 1973 he was editor and chief commander, was no longer writing), composed cheerfully accessible "editor letters" to his fans and soon we were dedicated to Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Man Iron and all the rest – and aware of Lee as an avuncular figure.
Marvel Comics is sometimes described as the "New Wave French" outfit for DC Comics' blandly conventional "Hollywood Studio" whose creations were narrower: Lee introduced real superheroes with real problems and real vulnerabilities.
So, in a way, it's weird that Marvel really took it to the late 1990s to tap into its colossal mythical features for movies. There were men in black; the first Blade was fantastic and the first X-Men were challenging, exciting and bizarre. So Spider-Man began in 2002, reminding me of my long-lost excitement, and now this character seems to regenerate more often than Doctor Who. And almost every time, Lee indulged in a cheeky cameo from Hitchcock.
In less than 20 years, Lee has placed himself in a position of command, the Odin of the movie's superhero gods. It was if he had always been there. And thanks in large part to Lee and what he created, superhero movies dominate the landscape, for better or for worse.
These are the tents of modern Hollywood: they are the Establishment, not the New Wave, and they say that actors can not really grow until they are prepared to wear the elastic lycra of a fantasy of superheroes. The democratic business of consulting fans through social media and humbly attending fan conventions: this is a concept that Lee and Marvel have done a lot to establish. And the whole idea of the franchise – where else did it originate, but in the comic book, a continuous reiteration of a single set of characters?
Too late, Lee became the last great creator of Hollywood: a Walt Disney of masked crime fighters. He seemed to exist both before and after someone like John Lassiter of Pixar – he started working with comics in the late 1930s, and yet the huge screen dominance of his creations was only recently established.
In a way, he became a serious Hollywood figure after retirement age and was certainly one of the few active players who saw active US military service in World War II. When he appeared as a veteran in The Avengers of the Ultron Age or in the films of Captain America, it would have a very personal meaning.
Lee and Marvel have always had a touch of Midas: when they renounced Hulk's rights at the beginning of the last decade, a film version was released directed by Ang Lee – which I liked a lot, but which was received very coolly elsewhere. When Marvel regained Hulk's rights, the result was, at first, an incredibly horrible movie with Edward Norton – and Hulk only came seriously as part of the Avengers.
Now that commercial Hollywood is dominated by executives and focus groups, a real individual visibly calling the shots is a real rarity. Stan Lee is probably the last of the type: a legend of American pop culture.