Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics legend who along with some of the greatest artists in the history of comic books created such iconic superheroes as Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Hulk and dozens more, says that at the age of 91 he now has no role at the company that built itself on the backs of his creations.
Born Stanley Lieber in 1922, the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants, Lee began working at Timely Comics in 1939, where Martin Goodman, the husband of one of his cousins was the publisher.
By 1961, when the comic book industry was struggling after a series of crippling censorship battles in the 1950s and growing competition for kids’ attention from the still-new phenomenon of television, the company had changed its name to Marvel and Stan Lee felt confident enough to generate his own roster of characters, the superheroes who soon became knows as “The Marvel Universe.”
But today, even though his creations form the basis for a Hollywood empire of Marvel Films blockbusters and eight of the top 100 grossing movies of all time are directly based on Stan Lee’s characters, Stan Lee says that he has no function at Marvel — now owned by Disney — either in the comic book or motion picture divisions.
“I have no standing at Marvel where I decide what projects get made or who gets hired, and certainly none at Disney, which now owns Marvel. I’m a guy they hire as a writer or producer and also to go to conventions and do things like that,” Lee said in a wide-ranging interview featured in the current issue of Playboy Magazine. “Mostly I’m just a pretty face they keep for the public.”
In fact, asked about the upcoming sequel to The Avengers, the second-highest grossing movie ever, Stan Lee professed bewilderment. The sure-fire mega-hit scheduled for release on May 1 of next year is titled, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
“I have to be honest. I don’t have any idea who the hell Ultron is. He was a character developed after I stopped being involved in the Avengers story. I was asking some guys in the office who Ultron is, but then my phone rang and I got busy and never found out,” Lee said. “Marvel introduced so many characters and strange situations, it’s hard to keep track of them all.”
Of course, while he’s still chipper as a nanogenarian, Stan Lee knows he may or may not be around to catch the premiere of the next Avengers movie.
“I know [my obituary] is already written. It’s sitting there in the New York Times computers somewhere. It’s all ready to go. You can’t stop it. I’ve had a happy life,” Stan Lee told Playboy. “You know, my motto is ‘Excelsior.’ That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”