Since the debut of Daredevil in 2015, the search for Stan Lee’s “cameo” in Marvel’s Netflix dramas has developed into an Easter egg hunt for eagle-eyed fans. That’s because, while one of the founders of the Marvel Universe is given a place of prominence in so many superhero films — from X-Men to The Avengers to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — in the world inhabited by Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand, he’s more of a background character.
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The 94-year-old comics legend appears throughout the Netflix series as a New York City police officer, but only in photos. On Daredevil and Jessica Jones he’s shown on plaques hanging in police precincts, and on Luke Cage and Iron Fist in posters for an NYPD officer-recruitment campaign. That continues on The Defenders, which arrived Friday on Netflix.
Lee’s cameo arrives about midway through the third episode, “Worst Behavior,” in the scene where Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) follows Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) on a crowded New York City sidewalk, only for their roles to be quickly reversed.
A recruitment poster featuring Lee’s smiling face is glimpsed first ahead of Jessica and then, more fully, behind Matt. The quote beneath the image reads, “Remember, New York, not all heroes wear capes!,” which we might imagine is a reference to the Avengers (despite only two of its members possessing capes).
Lee’s character went unnamed until Iron Fist, on which the poster identified him as Captain Irving Forbush. The Marvel Comics faithful will undoubtedly recognize that as the not-so-secret identity of Forbush Man, the mascot of the publisher’s late-1960s parody comic Not Brand Echh. That makes Forbush the second Marvel Comics character to be portrayed onscreen by Lee, who debuted as mailman Willie Lumpkin in 2005’s Fantastic Four. (The fan theory that Lee has appeared as the same character across the Marvel Cinematic Universe was confirmed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but it turned out he’s not actually a Watcher, but rather a spy working for the alien observers.)
While Lee has yet to appear in person on the Marvel Netflix dramas, he did film a promo for The Defenders, in which he cruises around New York in a limousine bearing the license number “5TAN L33,” and ponders the nature of heroes. “Heroes show us we don’t need to be perfect to do what’s right,” he says in narration, over images of the heroes in action. “It’s not about living without fear, but facing injustice. It’s not about being powerful, but finding your calling. When you least expect it, they show us it’s OK to be vulnerable — no matter how tough you are. Because, even though they’re heroes, they’re still human.”
Available now on Netflix, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Finn Jones as Danny Rand, Elodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse, Simone Missick as Misty Knight, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, Scott Glenn as Stick, Rachael Taylor as Trish Walker, Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.
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