If you thought Marvel icon Stan Lee was one of the many people raking in huge paychecks with the recent boom of comic book movies, think again. That’s not to say the 92-year-old comic book legend isn’t doing well.
In this month’s issue of Playboy magazine, Stan the Man reveals some surprising facts about his involvement with Marvel, Disney, Spider-Man, his thoughts on Ben Affleck playing Batman and so much more.
Q: What’s your role at Marvel today?
Stan Lee: Mostly I’m a pretty face they keep for the public. My main focus is on my own company, POW! Entertainment, which stands for Purveyors of Wonder. 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 go to conventions and do things like that.
Q: Just to be clear, you don’t own any rights to the characters you created.
SL: I never did. I was always a Marvel employee, a writer for hire and, later, part of management. My role at Marvel is strictly honorary. Marvel always owned the rights to these characters. If I owned them, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you now.
Q: Disney paid more than $4 billion for Marvel a few years ago. Did you at least get a Tony Stark-like helicopter in the deal?
SL: I’ll tell you something that just happened. My daughter was looking at the internet the other day and read that Stan Lee has an estimated $250 million. I mean, that’s ridiculous! I don’t have $200 million. I don’t have $150 million. I don’t have $100 million or anywhere near that.
Q: Don’t you think you should?
Q: George Lucas created fewer characters but could buy a country now if he wanted to.
SL: Yeah, but George Lucas did it all by himself. He came up with the ideas. He produced the movies. He wrote and directed them and held the rights to the merchandising. It was all his. In my case, I worked for a publisher. If the books didn’t sell, the publisher went broke.
Q: Let’s shift gears. Ben Affleck got mixed reviews a decade ago when he played Daredevil. What do you think about him being the new Batman?
SL: I think he’s terrific. Daredevil wasn’t as successful as some of our other movies, but I think it wasn’t written or perhaps directed as I had conceived it. The movie is darker, and they made so much of him and the church. That wasn’t the Daredevil I knew. But Ben ought to do a great job as Batman. People say he’s too old. Listen, from my perspective, he’s a very young man.
Q: Where do you stand on Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man versus Andrew Garfield’s?
SL: When I first saw Tobey Maguire in the role, I thought, ‘Here’s the perfect Peter Parker.’ When I saw Andrew Garfield in the role, I thought, ‘Andy’s the most perfect.’ They’re both great and they’re both different. It’s not like they cast the first guy off the street for these parts. People much smarter than I am about these things are casting these movies. They do a fantastic job.
Q: Which actress has impressed you most in the Marvel movies?
SL: Jessica Alba was the girl in The Fantastic Four, right? She was terrific. I really liked her. Who was the girl in X-Men with the short hair, very pretty?
Q: Halle Berry?
SL: Lovely girl. I spoke to her for a while and really enjoyed her performances.
Q: Of all the women in the comic book world, who would you have wanted to go out on a date with?
SL: I never thought of that. See, I’m going to tell you something you may not be aware of: They were fictitious characters.
Q: But some were sexier than others.
SL: To me, the sexiest of all was Mary Jane in Spider-Man. I loved the idea. The way I’d written it.
Q: Did you ever try marijuana?
SL: No. I hardly ever smoked a cigarette. People read into the fact that I called the character Mary Jane, but honestly, I had no idea it was a nickname for marijuana. I never understood why people take drugs. They’re habit forming and they can kill you. I didn’t need anything to pep me up or make me feel more creative, and I didn’t need them to help me with women.
Q: Which Marvel character has surprised you most in terms of its success?
SL: Probably Iron Man. But much of that success if because of the movie. I didn’t know what to think when Robert Downey Jr. was announced as Iron Man. I couldn’t picture him. When I created the character, I kind of thought of Howard Hughes because he was an adventurer, an inventor, a millionaire in those days, and he was strange. To me, Downey wasn’t a superhero. He was Chaplin. Of all the characters I’ve done, Iron Man is the most popular with women. I get it. He’s a billionaire and he’s handsome and glamorous, plus he needs somebody to look after him. He’s got a weak heart. We got more fan mail from women for that book than any other and now the movie has made him our most popular character right after Spider-Man.
Q: Are you excited to see Avengers: Age of Ultron?
SL: Excited? Sure. But I have to be honest. I don’t have any idea who Ultron is. He was a character developed after I stopped being involved with 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. Marvel introduced so many characters and strange situations, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Q: True, but why haven’t we created new superheroes? We still mostly rely on yours and a handful of others like Superman and Batman, to save the day.
SL: Well, publishers don’t need new ones now. They needed them when I was doing them. My publisher would say, “Hey, Stan, that last one sold very well. Dream up another one – or four – for me.” Now they don’t have to say that. All they have to say is, “When are we going to find the time to make a movie out of Ant-Man or publish another edition of Silver Surfer?”
Q: Where does the comic book Stan Lee and the real you begin?
SL: Honestly, what you see is the real me, particularly if what you see is a wonderful, adorable, interesting, exciting kind of guy. Then, boy, they’ve got me pegged. Please say he said that with a laugh.
And if you’re looking for the actual magazine, this is what the cover looks like: