At 85, Marvel superhero creator Stan Lee is hardly spending his senior years waxing nostalgic about how he created Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and two heroes hitting the big screen this summer: Iron Man (burning up theaters now) and The Incredible Hulk (opening June 13).
“Virtually every major character that I created at Marvel is being turned into movies,” Lee says in his POW! Entertainment offices. “When I go to the theater to see these, I’m able to just sit there and enjoy the movies without thinking, ‘Hey, I created that.’ “
Adding to his arsenal of old favorites, Lee is dreaming up new characters every day. He has turned his likeness into a Japanese anime hero for a graphic novel, signed a deal to create a line of comics for Virgin mogul Richard Branson and is developing animated series around Ringo Starr and Hugh Hefner. (Hef’s Super Bunnies finds the Playboy founder doing double duty as a secret agent.)
He also is producing a documentary about his own super life. As part of a first-look deal with Disney, he is designing new superheroes specifically for the big screen. The first batch includes characters named Blaze, Nick Ratchet and Tigress. Hmm … might the statue on his desk of a tiger roaming through a jungle be a Tigress model?
Hardly. It’s an ashtray that Joan, his wife of 60 years, brought back from England decades ago. “It’s a promotional item for Bengal Gin,” Lee says, examining the tiger’s underbelly.
Every modern-day superhero sensation spawns a line of merchandising, but Lee says he does not take that into consideration when dreaming up new characters.
“I try to think of a hero or a heroine or a story that people will enjoy and want to see more of,” he says. “If you come up with the right item, you can always find a way to have dolls and toys and games, but that’s not what is on my mind originally.”
A man who values fun more than most anything, he concedes that the first Hulk movie (in 2003) proved “a little too depressing. Not a lot of fun there.” He has higher hopes for the next installment, for which he shot a cameo just two weeks ago.
He hints that he will be seen staring incredulously at something while marveling, “Wow.”
“I’m a ham, so I tried to prolong it to ‘WOWWWW,’ ” Lee says. “But the director, Louis Leterrier, said: ‘No, Stan. Just give us a little ‘whoa.’ ”
Lee’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameos have become routine in each of Marvel’s superhero films. It “started out (with 2000’s X-Men) as a courtesy, but they’re beginning to realize that’s what brings people into the theaters,” Lee says, joking. “I’m amazed that DC Comics hasn’t used me in Batman or Superman. Think of the talk that would cause.”
Says Kevin Feige, president of production for Marvel Studios:”It’s the best string of cameos since Alfred Hitchcock would walk by in his films. Everyone’s favorite day on set on a Marvel movie is the day Stan comes in and does his cameo.”
Lee’s cameo in Iron Man finds him dressed just like new business partner Hefner. In the scene, Lee is smoking a pipe with his arms around three blondes when he is approached by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.
“Stan was pretty happy with his beautiful blondes,” reports Iron Man director Jon Favreau.
But given the choice, he wouldn’t dream of swapping places with 82-year-old Hef.
“No way,” he says without a second thought. “I like what I do, and I know he likes what he does. I wouldn’t switch with anybody. I have a good time, and I enjoy other people having a good time, too.”
Watch the video here.