This is a Latin term that has been the top trend on Google for several hours, for many reasons. Many like-minded nerds weren’t aware this was a word, much less a popular moniker of achievement. Others knew to whom this phrase of encouragement and motivation belonged, but were uncertain what it meant.
For decades, many believed it meant Ever upward. It was on the state of New York’s seal so everyone listened. While the more popular saying is a loose translation, it’s not literal.
Take it from a guy who studied a language no one uses except role players in ‘Julius Caesar’. The literal meaning is from the late 18th century (as an exclamation): from Latin, comparative of excelsus, from ex- ‘out, beyond’ + celsus ‘lofty.’
Let that sink in a little: Beyond lofty.
That is the one thing a blossoming New Yorker born during the Depression would become. His meager beginnings forced him to take side jobs, one being as a part-time gofer — a grunt who just wanted to be in the company of others — for Timely Publications.
This is how he met two other young men named Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Both had some propensity to draw and tell stories, and would later create (with this new kid) some red, white, and blue swole warrior named Captain America. Before he could do that, he chose to serve America in the U.S. Army and enlisted in World War II.
He often made appearances in the right places — war, a fledgling comic company, in the right place at the absolute right time. Those cameos became his calling card. For the man who would become known as Stan “The Man” Lee, ever upward was his direction but beyond lofty was his destination.
And as we all mourn his loss and cherish his impact, we can celebrate all those times Stan showed up where you least expected him.
Here are Stan Lee’s Top 10 Cameos Ever.
10. Spider Man: Homecoming
Do you remember watching this? By now, we knew it was coming but didn’t know how or when. And when happened, we sat in awe because it was like the man was in his own backyard talking to his kinfolk on a stoop somewhere. Maybe it was because he didn’t play some anonymous trade worker, he was ‘Gary.’ His embrace of citizenship emboldened his bravery and that puffery motivated him to stop auto theft. That’s when Spidey is alerted by the car alarm and some cantakerous old fart named Gary shouts, “Don’t make me come down there, you punk.” The problem? He yelled that at the friendly neighborhood guy instead of the bad guy. Good times.
9. The Avengers
Coming from a man whose home is New York, where is his inspiration was in New York, and how most of his settings are in New York, and then he pops up on some TV B-roll playing chess quoted as exclaiming, “Superheroes in New York. Gimme a break!” Simple. Short. And silly. Exactly what we needed in a post-cred scene!
8. Fantastic Four
This is one of the easily forgotten cameos so what makes it so great? History, something Stan Lee honored every chance he had. Prior to creating Dr. Reed Richards and his quartet of cosmic faithful, he developed a bit character named Willie Lump. Close to half-a-century later, there’s Willie… delivering mail to none other than Reed Richards.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Stan Lee was always a man of the people. The guy was beloved, which is why he loved “giving back” screen time in the comic book movies that beared his inspiration. But in Ultron, he may not have remembered that donation. Here, we find a military vet (again, history) flexing his stelo in the middle of a super party. He gets hammered on Asgardian brown drink and gets carried off muttering “Excelsior.”
Ever wonder why Kevin Smith is such a Marvel homer? He had a real relationship with Stan Lee. However contagious we can only imagine that would be. Did you know Stan showed up in a Kevin Smith film? And he actually talked for more than three minutes, here offering some lovelorn dude romance tips. Coming from a guy of his prestige, and he brags about here, the irony is good for a giggle.
5. Big Hero 6
Anyone see this? If I didn’t have kids, I would have missed it too. Yet, there I am, warming a seat in the theater clutching a tepid soft drink and some really bad popcorn, but the kids were happy. I got to see a kid nerd movie and then that happened. Here comes Stan Lee, as a father to someone who loves heroes. Hmmm… waxing a little nostalgic and borderline prophetic too. Fitting.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man
If you have a problem with this cameo being this high, you either only love DC or you just don’t get it. Here, we find our favorite webhead getting pushed around by a big giant lizard. As the fight squanders into a library, we find Stan listening to some wax via headphones — some really old ones. A horrendous fight is going on behind him. He almost gets clobbered by a table. And he doesn’t have a clue. You have to believe that was life for him when creating his characters. Nothing else mattered around him. Awesome.
3. Spider-Man 3
“I guess one man can make a difference. Enough said.” Yup. Don’t need to say more than that here either. Look what you did, Stan.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Stan Lee was many things to many people, but to the Marvel Universe (not just the cinematic one), he was clearly its main “Watcher.” And in this anticipated sequel, we saw that allegory come full circle. There he is, an older astronaut swapping tales of accomplishment with his own creation — and, arguably his self-homage — to ‘The Watchers.’ Everyone believed it. Everyone loved it. Today, we honor it.
1. X-Men: Apocalypse
As we alluded to earlier, serendipity was a theme in Stan Lee’s life. He was where he needed to be to take advantage of the right situation. This is one of the most somber timing stories in Stan’s life, but given the circumstances, the story fits. In the midst of nuclear missiles being fired in the sky, we happen across Stan and his trademark shades reflecting the fumes of the missiles on its path to his doom. As the camera pans out, we see him clutching his real-life wife, Joan. Neither said a word. Joan would die less than a year later. Again, the end of the world met the end of his.
Excelsior, Mr. Lee. Ever Upward and Beyond Lofty.