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November 23, 2018 at 12:09 PM EST

After guiding countless heroes and villains from comic book pages to the screen, Stan Lee left behind a legacy that transcends many worlds. Below, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige shares what “The Man” meant to him.

You’ve heard the legend, which I think is true, that when Stan Lee was a young writer at Marvel Comics he was tired of doing the same old thing, and his wife, Joan, encouraged him to write the kind of stories he wanted to read.

That’s what led to the Fantastic Four. Then Hulk, and Spider-Man. Then Iron Man, and the X-Men, and everything else. He realized in the midst of his amazing 1960s run what he was creating, that people were responding to his characters the same way he responded to ancient myths that he read as a kid, and he went, “Wait a minute. Lemme turn one of those characters into a hero.” And we got Thor, we got Odin, we got Loki, we got Hela.

Stan was a charismatic, well-spoken cheerleader for his characters and for the medium of comics in general. Also, he was a very progressive storyteller. He took risks, and he wrote what he believed.

You see the quote going around from one of his old “Stan’s Soapbox” columns about how “a story without a message is like a man without a soul.” Wow, is that true, and wow, that is apparent in all the stories he told.

What director Ryan Coogler was able to do with Black Panther would not exist if not for Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby taking a quote-unquote “risk” bringing in an African — not even African-American, an African — character to their stories who was smarter and wealthier and more technologically advanced than any other hero. This was at the height of the civil rights movement, and that’s astounding to me. He really had a good heart.

He believed in the best of humanity. He also believed in the flaws of humanity, and that the flaws could be overcome.

Stan explored intimate questions and struggles, and he had a desire for understanding identity. It might be an obvious thing to say, but Stan Lee got his messages across in a way that was also compelling and entertaining, and held an audience’s interest.

Some of his lessons are unspoken. He didn’t come to set and read the scripts and review the cuts. He came in, did a cameo that excited everybody, and would let his work speak for itself.

He was very nice in my interactions with him, including what ended up being my final conversation with him about two weeks before he died.

I went to his house to see him, and he reminisced about the cameos. We were talking about what was coming up, always looking to the future.

Did he know that his time was running out? I don’t know. In hindsight, he was slightly more wistful than I’d seen him before. He talked about the past more than I had ever heard him talk about the past. So maybe on some level, he knew.

When I sat down by his chair in our last meeting, the very first thing he said was: “I know you want me to star in the next movie, but I have to just stick to the cameos. You’ll have to leave the starring roles to the other actors. I’m sorry.”

Evan Hurd/Sygma/Corbis via Getty Images

He would show up to the movie sets game for anything. But one thing he would always do is try to add more lines. He always would joke — but not really joke — about wanting more lines, although he understood why we couldn’t.

God forbid he would start to overshadow the hero. That was something a character like Stan Lee could easily do.

A version of this story appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or buy it here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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