As so many of us are dealing with the loss of Stan Lee, we’ve dug into the archives for an interview that was conducted with Stan the Man seventeen years ago, but had never been published before. What follows is that interview, as it was originally written, which took place at a time when he was working on a series of comics with former arch enemy DC Comics.
Stan Lee is justifiably credited with revolutionizing the comic book industry in the 1960s. He is the man who recognized that the genre could be so much more than dopey fantasies with no relationship to the real world. His characters — among them Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and The X Men — were flesh and blood human beings dealing with the same kinds of problems (alienation, our darker nature, persecution, racial intolerance) that we do.
Back in the ‘60s, there was a very clear-cut line between a Marvel comic and a DC comic, and it was virtually impossible to imagine those universes coming together — at least until the mid ‘70s when the icons from both companies, Spider-Man and Superman, teamed up for the first time. It was a pretty revolutionary (and rare) moment for the industry. Today, the lines are not quite so well defined.
“I think what happened since the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says the 77-year-old Lee, “is that so many of the artists and writers and editors have gone from Marvel to DC and from DC to Marvel, that the whole thing has become homogenized. It’s now almost impossible to tell the difference between the two.”
That may be something of an exaggeration, a theory borne out of the reaction the media has had to the recent announcement that Lee would be collaborating with DC. “The nice thing about it,” he offers, “is that I’m still with Marvel. I still love Marvel. It’s not as though I’m quitting Marvel to work at DC.”
But thanks to a loophole created when Marvel went into bankruptcy a couple of years ago, Lee’s lifelong contract with the company was altered so that he is only required to devote 10% of his energies to Marvel, thus freeing him to work on whatever else he chooses to. One of those projects is the online Stan Lee Media (more on that in a moment), and the other is the aforementioned effort for DC, a 12-issue series under the umbrella title Just Imagine Stan Lee Creates… In the case of the latter, Lee will collaborate with some of the industry’s best artists to basically recreate the most popular characters in the DC Universe, among them Superman, the Justice League, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman. This is not, it should be pointed out, just another imaginary tale ala Marvel’s What If…? or DC’s Elseworlds, but is, instead, a complete reimagining of those characters from the beginning.
Says Lee, “I never used to read the DC books and think about how I would have done them. When I sit down to do them now, I’m thinking of them fresh. For example, with Wonder Woman, I said, ‘If I wanted to do a female with all sorts of super powers, and I wanted to call her Wonder Woman, how would I do it?’”
In other words, Lee is virtually ignoring DC’s origin for the character, and does not, in fact, have Wonder Woman actually being a goddess. “That wouldn’t have occurred to me,” he says, “and I’m doing it in an altogether different way. And with Superman, I would just say that if I wanted a guy who’s the strongest man on Earth and has all sorts of powers, and his name is Superman — if that was my original concept — how would I get it into a story? I’m starting to think of it from that point of view, as if there was no previous book written. I might make him a midget who’s gay.” Lee pauses, lets this sink in, and adds with a laugh, “But it’s unlikely. What I mean is that I’m trying not to take what was done and do what would essentially be a parody or another version of what already exists. I’m not trying to show in any way that I can do it better than people who did it in the beginning.”
He admits to being a big fan of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Batman creator Bob Kane. “This isn’t me sitting down and saying, ‘I’m gonna show them how it should have been done.’ This is just me sitting down and saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to get a different take?’”
The project began when Michael Uslan — executive producer of the four Batman features — pitched the idea to Lee. “He asked me if I would like to reinvent the main DC heroes and heroines,” he explains. “I said, ‘What have you been smoking?’, but he seemed to be serious. I said, ‘Who could turn that chance down?’, but I just never thought that DC would go for it.”
Uslan approached the company, and they were thrilled over the possibilities inherent in the concept. Lee was equally as excited. “It’s really a chance to work with the top artists in the business,” he says, “and a chance for me to write every one of those great DC characters that I’ve read about most of my life.”
He admits that one of his initial concerns was how die-hard fans of the characters would react to the news that he was taking a crack at them. That concern was a short-lived one. “I think as long as it isn’t me doing the characters as they are, but, instead, trying to improve them, there shouldn’t be any resentment from the die-hard fans,” he offers. “It should just be a fun project. It’s not as though DC is going to change the whole line and follow my lead. I’m excited about it, but I’m nervous about it as well, because I could fall on my face.”
As if this wasn’t enough to do, Lee is also overseeing Stan Lee Media, which is creating a wide variety of multi-media projects, among them animated “webisodes” which are three to five minute adventures. The first is The 7th Portal, an Internet-based adventure in which six characters from around the world are drawn into the World Wide Web and must battle six super villains.
“I have a partner named Peter Paul,” Lee details, “who is the guy who got me into this to begin with. When I told him I wanted to do a feature with a lot of characters, he said, ‘You know, it’s on the net. Why don’t you base the characters on the web? Why don’t you have the story have something to do with the web?’ He also pointed out that since the web is global, I could have each member of the team of heroes come from a different country. I thought that sounded pretty cool, so, taking his advice, as I usually do, I then wrote The 7th Portal. It’s an epic story unfolding in comic book form, but told in a style unlike anything the audience has seen before.”
And this is just the beginning. There are a number of projects on the horizon, and Lee is just as enthusiastic about them — and their potential for motion picture, video, TV and merchandise spin-offs — as he is about 7th Portal.
“We have all sorts of surprises coming along,” he says. “There are a number of celebrities who want to do their thing and link up with our website. Some of it is humorous, some of it is musical, some of it is adventure stories. One name, for fun, I’m talking to is Elvira. I want her to do something with us. I always thought she was clever as hell, and instead of just seeing her at Halloween and no more during the year, I want to really get a feature for her. Then we did a Backstreet Boys graphic novel called The Backstreet Project, in which the Backstreet Boys become super heroes, and we’re turning that into webisodes. From there, we hope to release a feature length animated movie that will go straight to video. There are a lot of other people, whose names I can’t mention yet, that want to work with us. One thing we are doing is Mighty Mouse. I’m going to bring Mighty Mouse into the 21st Century for today’s fans.
“There is no telling where we will end up,” he continues with enthusiasm. “There are just so many things going on. We’re working on super hero things, we’re working on music, we’re working on comedy, we’re trying to do things that appeal to girls.“
Two things Lee is interested in seeing the final results of, despite the fact he’s not involved with them, are the X-Men and Spider-Man feature films. “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” he says. “I saw the trailer for X-Men and it looked very good. Spider-Man, as far as I know, is still having its script written. They have Sam Raimi to direct it, and he’s terrific. I’m hoping for the best.”
In what is probably a sad testament to the times we live in, Stan Lee, who, in collaboration with the likes of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, launched those characters, has virtually nothing to do with their feature film incarnations.
“I’m pretty much out of the loop on those things,” he admits. “I may be listed as co-executive producer, but I’m pretty much out of the loop. I don’t have much to do with it, except that they’re all based on concepts that I created. They’ll probably use me to promote the movies when they come out.“
But wouldn’t he like to be more involved? “Oh sure,” he says, “but I can’t push myself.”
None of this gets him down, though, because he’s got much bigger issues to deal with, such as the potential impact his collaboration with DC will have on the comic book industry as a whole. “If it really gets a lot of publicity,” he muses, “it may make people who wouldn’t normally think of looking at a comic decide to see what the hell is going on. Now, of course, I’m wondering why I said I would do it in the first place, because it’s more work than I thought it would be. But it’s also fun.
“As a matter of fact,” he closes, “even though I’ve never been involved in more projects at the same time than I am right now, I’m having the time of my life.”