Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid

Poor Jesus and the Virgin Mary. From the perspective of the “kids” (what family, mostly my sister, called my two brothers and me when we were still cute), no gods from religion’s orthodoxy could compete with the superhero gods from Marvel Comics. And unlike the Biblical gods, superheroes did not demand worship, although worship them we undoubtedly did. Iron man and Thor and Captain America invited us to revel in their sagas, serialized stories of mounting peril and unerring redemption. We also imagined ourselves as Thor, Captain America, and Ironman; no religion allows you to step into God’s shoes.

Our only problem is that we were too poor to afford comics. Enter Amparo, a real life Santa Claus. One of my mom’s oldest and closest friends, Amparo would show up (always on foot, few people owned cars in el segundo) with a bag stuffed with magazines (Mad, for example) and lots of comics. All in good condition. She never explained how or from whom she acquired her stash. No one in our neighborhood could afford them, much less throw them out.  She was as poor or perhaps even poorer than us, but looking back, I would not be surprised if she bought the comics. Like I said, she was Santa Claus. Her hair was always unkept and short (she scratched her head to coax out answers and memories which came out in slow chunks) and her face was chiseled into a welcoming grin. She cussed like a cholo, especially to one of my older brothers with whom she joked. Amparo means protection or shelter. It should have meant education. The only thing we read growing up were comics, and mostly comics that Amparo brought. (She would also bring news, like she woke my mom one morning to tell her that RFK had been assassinated). The language of comics was grandiloquent which demanded from the reader a certain mastery of English. Reading comics explains why I tested far beyond my expected reading levels and why a teacher asked if my family read to me (they did not).

If Amparo was Santa, Stan Lee was Santa’s master elf, the mastermind behind our superheroes. Each Marvel comic book had a column by Mr. Lee which he signed with Excelsior, which he interpreted as “Onward and upward to greater glory!” I read each column and was warmed by his optimism. Marvel so motivated me that I once wrote in and Marvel published my letter to the editor in Doctor Strange. At least I think it was Doctor Strange. I kept the edition for years, but lost it decades ago.

Now we visit New York City often and, given the opportunity, we go the rooftop to be awestruck by the panorama of lights, the iconic skyline. I also invariably imagine myself doing impossible feats of parkour, of scaling walls like Spiderman, of hurdling obstacles like Daredevil, and of making things right for humanity.  Excelsior, indeed.

Oscar Gonzalez lives in Allen, Texas, a town with tons of comic books that he hasn’t read. He can be reached at: