Where Stan Lee Came Up With Excelsior!

Stan Lee passed away on Monday, Nov. 12, leaving behind a wealth of colorful characters, powerful [...]

Stan Lee passed away on Monday, Nov. 12, leaving behind a wealth of colorful characters, powerful stories and one distinct catchphrase: "Excelsior!"

Lee was transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the early hours of Monday morning, according to a report by TMZ. He was picked up by ambulances for an undisclosed purpose, and he passed away at the hospital shortly after. Lee was 95 years old.

As a writer, producer, actor and all-around pop culture icon, Lee was in a league of his own. Among the many things he was known for was shouting "Excelsior!" to crowds at conventions or on TV and radio appearances. The word had a special meaning for Lee, as he explained to reporters from io9 back in 2007.

"I used to have a lot of expressions that I would end my comic book columns with: 'Hang Loose,' 'Face Front,' 'Nuff Said,'" he explained, "and I found that the competition was always imitating them and using them. So, I said I'm going to get one expression that they're not going to know what it means, and they won't know how to spell it. And that's where excelsior came from, and they never did take up on it, thank goodness."

The charming anecdote was right in line with Lee's entire ethos, as many pointed out on Monday. Lee empowered his readers to love the things that made them different, and turn those into their greatest strengths. The theme pervaded all of his work, including the superheroes he created. Lee developed underdogs into heroes and then traced their journeys to greatness, underscoring the need to stand out.

"Thank you Stan Lee for making people who feel different realize they are special," wrote Seth Rogen on Twitter on Monday.

Lee's work always invited the disenfranchised to see themselves as the stars in a story. Spider-Man was often taken as a parable about grief and bullying, while the X-Men were seen as a parralel for racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination. Along those same lines, Lee differentiated himself from his publishing peers with "Excelsior!" and trusted his fans to take up the cry. Today, no one can argue with the results.

Lee also referred to his comic publishing competitors often in his Marvel Bullpen Bulletins starting in the 1960s. He often playfully disparaged DC Comics, which he referred to as the "Distinguished Competition," a play on words many readers picked up on.

Over the years, both companies battled for dominance, and often came close to losing it all. However, if today's cultural landscape is any indication, Lee's unique brand of flair contained something timeless, and it will remain long after he is gone.