The City Of Marvels
In the City of Marvels, THere’s never a dull moment for the old man who never rests. His life almost requires that he remain in ubiquitous HERO mode. Like today, when distress signals are coming in from everywhere within this major metropolis.
You’d think that after 93 years, Stan Lee would be done doodling with the universe he helped form from the void. Just put down the pen and finally find something else out there to fill his days — maybe a little gardening activity, or some friendly games of shuffleboard with friends in sunny retirementville — rather than continuously laboring to develop new heroes or villains to populate his ever-expanding cosmos.
But no. The god of the comic book realm refuses to rest on the seventh or any other day, rejects any suggestion that he offer his trademark motto “Excelsior!” for the final time and call it a career. Instead, he’ll give the command again and again, let there be more after their kind, and it’s done. Fresh and exciting characters — male, female and every type of creature — to thrill and stretch the imaginations of his followers.
You see, he may have been born Stanley Martin Lieber before taking on the pseudonym and later the legal moniker Stan Lee, but from the beginning, “Creator” always was his preferred name.
“I’m always developing new things,” confirms Lee, the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics who’s best known for breathing life into iconic superheroes Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, X-Men and more. “For
example, I did a new hero called Lucky Man a short time ago. It’s now a television series in England and will be coming here to the States shortly. England had it for the first season and just renewed it for another season, and I’m thinking one of the American networks will pick it up soon.”
And there is no end in sight. In the days ahead, there will be a genesis of even more super and villainous beings for Lee to fashion from the dust. “I’ve got a few other characters that we’re doing motion pictures about,” says Lee, his voice layered with excitement. “We’re sidestepping the comic book part and going straight to movies. I’m not allowed to say anything specific about them, but you’ll see — they’ll be out in about a year.”
Which begs the question: In his growing universe, is there finally room for a Polynesian superhero — please!? “That would be beautiful — a hero wearing a lei!” responds Lee after this writer decides to float the idea. “You know what? Let’s cut this interview short. I’ve got to start writing that story now!”
Always a step ahead of the pack, Lee has good reason to keep his interviews brief. The demand for his services, whether it is as a writer, editor, television host, author or actor (his onscreen cameos have become one of the best parts of Marvel’s film and TV projects) remains constant. And that’s not even taking into account the sheer amount of time he gives to fans at comic-cons, collectible shows and various autograph signings across the globe.
His hectic schedule includes a stopover in Honolulu next month, when he’ll appear April 15 at Hawaii Convention Center for a special panel discussion/Q&A event, and April 16-17 at Other Realms Ltd., The Comic and Game Specialist, located at Nimitz Center (see sidebar). There, he’ll sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, who’ll likely shower him with lei and praise for bringing them so much joy over the years as they’ve watched their heroes and villains make the successful jump from comic book pages to the tube, video games and, ultimately, the big screen.
“You know, when people say nice things to me, I usually say, ‘Wow! I should have done more!'” says Lee, who lists History Channel’s Stan Lee’s Superhumans, a show that analyzes people with remarkable skills and abilities, as one of his favorite creations. “But, yes, the comments sure make me happy. I mean it would have to make you feel good, right?”
Born to Jewish immigrant parents in New York City and raised during The Great Depression on the prose of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, Lee decided early on in life that he would make others happy through his own writings. As a teenager, he cut his teeth by penning obituaries for a news agency and press releases for the National Tuberculosis Center. Then, shortly after graduating high school early at age 16, he landed a job as an office assistant at Timely Comics, which would eventually morph into Marvel Comics. In his early 20s, Lee was promoted to interim editor and, during World War II, served domestically in the U.S. Army while perfecting his craft as both an illustrator and writer.
By the late 1950s, he was asked to initiate a new superhero outfit after rival DC Comics launched the highly popular Justice League of America. Teaming up with artist Jack Kirby, Lee unveiled his first creation, The Fantastic Four, which became an immediate hit among comic book readers. Additional characters soon followed, including the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and what would eventually be Marvel’s most popular character, Spider-Man — each of which was infused with his creator’s best traits. “All of their good qualities resemble me,” says Lee in pure tongue-in-cheek fashion. “I’m as strong as the Hulk, I’m as scientific as Iron Man, I’m as brave as Dare-devil!”
“All of their good qualities resemble me,” says Lee in pure tonguein-cheek fashion. “I’m as strong as the Hulk, I’m as scientific as Iron Man, I’m as brave as Daredevil!”
Thus began a whirlwind of success for Lee, who by 1972 had assumed the role of publisher (his notable accomplishments included indirectly reforming and regulating the content of comic books with other publishers, known as the Comics Code) and began working in a number of comic-related business and multimedia ventures.
If there are three changes Lee often is praised for during his time as writer, editor and publisher at Marvel Comics, it was his decisions to 1) humanize his characters and present them as something other than perfect archetypes, an unconventional practice at the time; 2) break down racial barriers by creating mainstream comics first superhero of color, Black Panther; and 3) launch credit panels on splash pages, which shined the light on key contributors who previously went unmentioned.
Regarding his choice to paint a universe full of imperfect heroes, he explains it this way: “We’re all flawed. And I hate to say this in public, but it’s probable that I’m not even perfect, as much as it kills me to admit that! But seriously, I think people enjoy reading about somebody that could be a real person. And when you give somebody a flaw, well, that just makes them seem like a person you can relate to.”
As for his choice to create credit panels and finally name his support team, Lee says, “I felt that readers should know who drew the script, who inked the script, who lettered the script. I think doing so generated more interest among fans, who’d begin doing things like arguing about who the better inker was, or who lettered the best. But really, the credit panel wasn’t all that original on my part. I was just copying what I saw at the movies with the ending credits.”
Responsible for bringing so many iconic characters to life, it’s understandable why Lee would refuse to pick a favorite. He contends that he loves them all “pretty much the same,” adding that his only regrets are not producing two other beloved Marvel characters: Wolverine and Deadpool. Still, he remains ever grateful for having birthed creeping and crawling things into the comic book void, specifically, a rather amazing arachnid.
“Spider-Man seems to be the one who’s most popular all over the world. Wherever you go, you’ll see little Spider-Man toys and games and pictures,” explains Lee, whose net worth today is estimated at $50 million. “And I think a lot of people like him because he could be them! I mean, he’s not the most handsome guy in the world. He’s certainly not the biggest. In fact, he looks like an average guy who’s got the same worries and problems that every average guy has: not enough money and always having some kind of romantic problem.”
And while his villains haven’t always warranted much love from audiences, Lee remains unequivocally partial to one: Dr. Victor Von Doom. “The funny thing about him is I’m not even sure he’s a criminal because all he wants to do is rule the world! And, you know, that’s not a crime. You can walk up to any policeman and say, ‘Officer, I want to rule the world,’ and he can’t arrest you for that!”
In Lee’s case, he may not have set out to rule the world of superheroes and villains, but his unique ability to take the imaginary and translate it into compelling story form — and to do so decade after decade — is what makes him so revered within the comic book cosmos, so sought after and imitated by legions of followers, including those right here in Hawaii.
When MidWeek, for example, decided to pay homage to Lee by creating a splash page of its own to introduce this week’s cover story, the “Creator” was kind enough to play along with the fantasy scenario, which required that he choose just one of his superheroes to eliminate the various dangers and save lives. Ultimately, Lee didn’t select crowd-favorite Spider-Man, and neither did he opt for wisecracking Tony Stark and his powerful Iron Man outfit. Instead, unlike MidWeek‘s guess, he went with his first creation at Marvel Comics — Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four — which isn’t all that surprising a choice when you consider that Richards is so much like Lee, in that he’s seemingly able to be everywhere at once.
“I think Mr. Fantastic would be the best person for the job because he could stretch his body all over the place,” explains Lee, who was inducted into the industry’s Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994 and received the National Medal of Arts honor in 2008. “He could use one hand to prevent something from falling off a building, and could still stretch his other down toward the ground to turn on a hydrant and extinguish a fire or help in a police chase.”
Maybe even stretch his torso heavenward as well, wrapping it around the body of the plane and keeping it from crash-landing somewhere in the metropolis and doing untold damage? Or, simultaneously use one leg to kick a DC into the nethermost reaches of his universe? “Oh, yeah!” Lee exclaims. “Now that would be fantastic!”
Indeed, that would be something only the god of the comic book realm could do.
Meet STAN LEE
StanLeeCollectibles.com and Other Realms Ltd. The Comic and Game Specialist present Stan Lee in Honolulu April 15-17.
The legendary comic book creator of Marvel Comics fame will sign autographs and pose with fans at Other Realms Ltd. (1130 N. Nimitz Hwy. Suite C-140) Saturday, April 16, and Sunday, April 17. Doors open at 10 a.m.; Lee arrives at 11. Admission is free. Cost for an autograph is $100, and a photo (with Stan Lee and up to two adults and two children) costs $100.
Stan Lee also will take part in a private intimate panel discussion and Q&A session April 15 at 7 p.m. at Hawaii Convention Center. General admission is $25.
A VIP package also is available for $350 (retail value $550) and includes one autograph ticket, one photo op ticket, one Stan Lee Collectibles lithograph signed by Stan Lee, two random Stan Lee Collectibles variant comic books, one random comic book signed by Stan Lee, one Funko Stan Lee T-shirt, preferred VIP seating at the panel discussion event, special VIP signing April 15 at 4 p.m., and priority access to photo-op and autograph signing April 16 and 17.
Presale tickets are available at Other Realms Ltd., or online at eventbrite.com/e/stan-lee-returns-to-honolulu-april-15th-april-17th-2016-tickets-22395364137. For more information, visit stan-leecollectiibles.com or other-realms.com/stan-lee-in-honolulu. html or call 596-8236.
* There’s a chance to win a VIP package from Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Look for details and an online form soon at staradvertiser.com.