WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for the series premiere of The Gifted, which aired tonight on Fox.
Fans of Marvel's Netflix dramas have to scour the backgrounds of scenes to spot comics legend Stan Lee, king of the cameos, smiling in a photo hanging on the wall of a police precinct or on a recruitment poster plastered on a bus shelter. But in the series premiere of Fox's The Gifted, the 94-year-old X-Men co-creator appears in the flesh, alongside a sly nod to his team of outcast superheroes.
Directed by Bryan Singer from a script by series creator Matt Nix (Burn Notice), the pilot episode introduces audiences to a world where the X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood have mysteriously disappeared, and strict U.S. laws prohibit mutants from using their powers in pubic. Those who violate those restrictions are hunted down by Sentinel Services and, if caught, imprisoned in a mutant detention center, likely never to be seen again.
Against that backdrop, the Strucker family's life turned upside down when their teenage children are revealed to be mutants during a harrowing incident at a school dance. Father Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer of True Blood), a district attorney whose job is to prosecute mutants, must turn outlaw, and with his wife Caitlin (Amy Acker of Person of Interest), goes on the run with their kids.
About three-quarters of the way through the episode, titled "eXposed," Reed reaches out Marcos Diaz (aka Eclipse, played by Sean Teale), a member of the Atlanta safehouse of the Mutant Underground, to try to arrange passage for his family out of the country. They agree to meet at a dive bar to negotiate terms, which includes information about the incarcerated Lorna Dane (aka Polaris, played by Emma Dumont). It's there that Lee makes his brief appearance.
As a jittery Marcos enters the dive, Lee coolly walks out, wearing his signature khaki windbreaker and sunglasses. He pauses for a heartbeat in front of the flickering neon sign that should say "TEX'S LOUNGE, but instead reads "X'S LOUNGE," which is only fitting for the co-creator of the X-Men.
To date, Lee has appeared in about 30 films based on Marvel Comics characters, dating back to 2000's X-Men. A fan theory that Lee has appeared as the same character across the Marvel Cinematic Universe was confirmed this year 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. He portrayed mailman Willie Lumpkin in Fox's first two Fantastic Four films, and on Marvel's Netflix series he was revealed to be New York City Police Captain Irving Forbush, inspired by the secret identity of Forbush Man. Lee has also made cameos on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter.
Airing Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox, The Gifted stars Stephen Moyer as Reed Strucker, Amy Acker as Caitlin Strucker, Sean Teale as Marcos Diaz/Eclipse, Coby Bell as Jace Turner, Emma Dumont cast as Lorna Dane/Polaris, Jamie Chung as Blink/Clarice Fong and Blair Redford as John Proudstar/Thunderbird, Natalie Alyn Lind as Lauren Strucker and Percy Hynes White as Andy Strucker.