There's a first time for everything. And Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Stan Lee, the former president and editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics was the guest of honor at a panel hosted by his former Distinguished Competition, DC Comics.
No one was more amazed at the turn of events than Lee himself.
"There's gonna be no way that DC would want me to write their books," he recalled of the initial proposal made to him, the one that has resulted in the 13 issue "Just Imagine ..." limited series now underway that teams him with artists on reimagining classic DC properties.
The opportunity to work with Lee on the project was one the artists, in turn, jumped at.
"I remember I got the call from Paul [Levitz]," Jim Lee - whom Stan Lee liked referring to as "my illegitimate son" - recalled, "And he said 'would you like to do it?' It was like a rhetorical question. 'Well, YEAH.'"
The Lees went on to collaborate on a reimagining of Wonder Woman, featuring an Incan origin for the hero.
"I could not believe it," John Buscema recalled. "Stan Lee at DC? I thought Stan Lee was Marvel! ... It was an entirely new concept. ... I still can't visualize it."
Buscema is the artist on the Superman issue of the series, which features a more militant alien superhero.
"I'm nothing if not a fanboy," Dave Gibbons said. "When I was growing up, I loved 'Green Lantern,' my favorite DC Comic, and I loved Stan Lee ... It took me as long to take breath as it did to say yes."
While allowing that the concepts tackled have undergone some changes - Plastic Man, the Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes were all ultimately rejected by Lee - fans can look forward to seeing Lee take on Shazam (apparently a monstrous character), Sandman (with art by Walt Simonson), Robin (with art by John Byrne and Terry Austin), Flash (with art by Kevin Maguire), the Justice League (with art by Jerry Ordway), Aquaman (with no artist attached to the project at this point) and it all wraps up with the Crisis (with art by John Cassaday).
With 11 plots outlined and four issues completely finished, Lee is still in the midst of redoing DC Comics concepts in his own unique style.
"Catwoman is bitten by a radioactive cat!" he cackled.
Some of the concepts, like Batman and especially Superman, seem fairly close to the original concepts that Lee was supposed to be getting away from.
When I started, I was a little bit inhibited. I had Superman come from another planet. Now I'm sorry I didn't make it more different," Lee said. "As the series went on, I made it more and more different. ... Wait until you see Aquaman!"
But don't mistake these new versions as an sort of slap at the originals.
"I think that every one of these books are classics. They're masterpieces," Lee said. "In no way is this an effort to say 'hey, this is better.'"
But the admiration flowed both ways at the panel:
"At the height of the Marvel era, when Stan was writing 90 percent of their comics," DC publisher Paul Levitz said, "Creators didn't get a credit on their works." Names would even be struck from scripts before artists even could see them. "A good portion of that process began during Stan's work. Stan was the first person to put the talent's name on the work. ... This has been a long road ... but it's certainly very fair to thank him. ... Certainly, it wasn't Stan alone, but he was one of the heavy lifters."