If the crowd at the "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" panel at Comic-Con International --spotlighting the second season of SciFi's popular reality TV show-- is any indication, the answer to that question is quite a number of people, actually.
And, in addition to their desire to be super powered do-gooders, quite a number of those same people also apparently want to hug Executive Producer and "Spider-Man" co-creator Stan Lee, which "The Man" – as lean, lively and exuberant as ever in a white suit, blue t-shirt underneath, and his signature shaded and oversized specs – was more than happy to do. At first. Until a trend began to emerge, one that Lee himself wasn't shy to point out.
"Why is it always the guys who come up to me and ask for a hug?" Lee bellowed. "Where's all the girls, huh? How come no girls ever come up here and ask me for a hug?"
That pretty much set the tone for the entirety of the panel. Lively as always and playing to the crowd whenever the opportunity presented itself, Lee turned the forum into more of a shenanigan-laced spectacle than an informative Q&A session.
On the panel were Rob Swartz, Vice President of Sci Fi's Alternative Programming; the show's Executive Producer, Andy Scheer; 2006 winner Feedack; season two participants Hygena and Hyperstrike; and of course Stan Lee.
"This is going to be like no other panel you've ever attended before," Lee said. "Because none of us have any idea what's going on!"
The panel was moderated by comics writer/inker Jimmy Palmiotti ("Countdown," "Jonah Hex"), who kicked off the humorous proceedings by reading off a list of seven new names for superheroes he came up with just from walking the convention floor, including such colorful, descriptive monikers as Booth Girl the Unobtainable, Accidental Grope Lad, and the crowd's obvious favorite witb more than a few hoots and hollers of acknowledgement, the Odor.
"I was lucky enough to be asked to host this panel, which is probably one of the coolest panels at Comic-Con," Palmiotti said.
About the upcoming season, Scheer said, "It's a fun adventure. We've got a lot of cool stuff coming up."
Lee chimed in, "Yeah, for you maybe. You're the boss. But not for us. He works us like dogs, people!"
In addition to a number of obstacles and challenges, Scheer said in this season the "heroes" would also have to deal with three or four villains. Season Two will also feature an arcing narrative, with each episode leading into the next, almost like a scripted series.
Lee added, "Everybody thinks of the show as just entertainment. But to me, it's real life. And I worry about these people who want to dress up in colorful costumes and play superhero, seriously. And when you're watching the show, I want you to worry about them too."
Feedback explained to the crowd how his life has changed since winning the 2006 season, including starring in a Dark Horse comic based on his superhero persona, penned by Lee himself; getting his own action figure; and even getting the chance to see Bulgaria.
"Yeah, it's great being the 2006 winner," Feedback said. "I get to go to all these great places, meet all sorts of cool people, and do all these awesome things. They even flew me to Bulgaria. It was awesome…and cold."
Lee kept referring to Feedback as Flashback, apparently kidding that he couldn't be bothered to remember the winner of the 2006 season's actual codename.
When asked how she came up with her superhero persona, Hygena explained that the concept for her character came from attending past Comic-Con's with her husband and, in referencing to Palmiotti's earlier remark, realizing that to properly combat the odor problem on the convention floor would probably require some sort of superhero.
The panel was then turned over to the fans for questions, and the line to the microphone initially stretched all the way down the main aisle and almost around to the side doors. Most of the questions were directed at Lee himself, with many saying that they just wanted to thank him for years of inspiration and countless hours of entertainment.
One fan said, "In a world where reality TV routinely brings out the worst in people, I want to thank you for bring out the best in people."
Another presented Lee with a handwritten letter from his nine year-old son, which apparently also included some drawings by the child. Lee seemed touched.
And then the hugs started. After about half-a-dozen people came up to the podium asking Lee for some form of a hug, handshake, or photograph, Palmiotti was finally forced to put a moratorium on the request because it was eating up too much time and there was still quite a long line of people waiting to ask questions. "Alright, guys, this is the last of the hugs," Palmiotti said. "Which just sounds weird."
The last person to hug Lee was a young woman who described herself as a "second generation" Stan Lee fan who said she had just text messaged her mother, a "first generation Stan Lee fan," and her mother told her to ask Lee for a hug. Stan said he didn't want to disappoint the young woman's mother.
When asked about the show's popularity, Scheer said, "I think why the show resonates with people is that, even though we might not have super powers, we can still all be heroes in our personal lives."
Lee said he was not surprised by the show's popularity. "In fact," he said, "nothing surprises me any longer."
When a fan, who apparently auditioned for the show but was not cast, asked who now owns the rights to his superhero persona, possibly referring to sign some form of a contract or legal waiver, Palmiotti joked, "I do. I own them. I've got to make a living."
Lee said he will have another cameo in the upcoming "Iron Man" movie, but as to what type of a role he would actually play in the film or if he would have a speaking part, he could not say.
Finally, putting a capper on the lively and irreverent panel, a fan asked why producers should continue the show beyond its current season. Lee answered simply, succinctly, and resoundingly:
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