The Marvel Comics maestro gave his superheroes a city that’s colorful, dangerous, quippy, and full of heart. It might be his greatest creation.

Lee was a creator behind some of the most dynamic figures in the superhero genre. Like Lee himself, a native son of the Bronx, his heroes are all New Yorkers.

© Marvel Comics

“New York is a large city… and, in such a vast, sprawling metropolis you’ll find all kinds of characters and kooks!”

Stan Lee wrote those words in 1964 to set the opening scene for Daredevil #4. When a man strolls into a Manhattan bank dressed head to toe in purple—from his suit to his hair to his skin—nobody bats an eye, Lee’s floating text balloon explains. It was a mood.

“What an odd-looking man!” offers one passerby, her sense of shock still intact, as the villainous Killgrave exits the bank with a bag full of cash. Her companion figures it out: “Hmmph… probably some new type of beatnik!”

Lee embodied that sardonic everyman New Yorker. Over the past decade, the impresario delighted audiences in that wisecracking role, through cameo appearances in all umpteen Hollywood blockbusters that make up the Marvel cinematic universe. These were always homages to the New York he brought to life in his pages. Marvel’s maestro died on Monday at 95, leaving behind a behemoth engine for pop culture and a conflicted legacy as a creator. Whatever else he was or wasn’t, Lee was an essential New York storyteller, up there with Lou Reed, Funkmaster Flex, Keith Haring, and Jane Jacobs.