These days, Stan Lee is unavoidable. The legendary writer behind Marvel Comics biggest icons (alongside artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby) has spent the past few months on another of his media-saturated stints traveling the country to talk up everything from the box office juggernaut "The Avengers" to a documentary about his life, and along the way he's filmed commercials for Dr. Pepper and more.
Of course, aside from being the elder statesman/promotional spokesman for comics on the national level, Lee also continues to create new concepts via his POW! Entertainment company. On top of recent launches from BOOM! Studios, Viz and 1821 Entertainment, the writer's most recent series is "Stan Lee's Mighty 7" - a new bi-monthly superhero series published by Archie Comics under a new Stan Lee Comics imprint.
Billed as "the world's first reality comic book," the "Mighty 7" series stars a comic version of Lee himself. As the comic writer within the comic struggles to create new superheroes for Archie, a team of both good guys (two Star Marshalls Asoara and Vallor) and bad guys (prisoners Blastok, Mercuria, Faidout, Ovalax and Telepan) crash land into his life. The particulars of that setup were unveiled recently in "Mighty 7" #1, and next week on May 23, issue #2 arrives in shops to further complicate matters with the addition of the villain Frightmask to the mix. CBR News spoke with Lee about the series creation, his history with non-superhero comics from romance to teen comedy, how he's poking fun at himself in the book, how the collaboration with "Mighty 7" script writers Tony Blake and Paul Jackson and artist Alex Saviuk has gone to date and more.
CBR News: "Mighty 7" #1 portrays a meeting you had with Archie CEO Jon Goldwater, and while that one was fictional, hooking up with Jon was what started the Stan Lee Comics line. Going back to first meeting real life meeting, did you have this series in your head at the time?
Stan Lee: You know, I hardly remember. A third party brought this whole thing together and mentioned that Jon Goldwater would like to do something with me. So I called him and as we kept discussing it, the idea took shape. I kind of liked the idea of calling it "The World's First Reality Comic Book" because it features real people...assuming that I'm a real person and so is Jon Goldwater.
Well, you've appeared on the comics page before, but most of the time when that happens, you've written the script yourself. Here, you worked with writers Tony Blake and Paul Jackson. Did they capture your essence right?
Nobody can get the real Stan Lee perfectly, of course! [Laughs] But they did a pretty good job, I think.
The Stan Lee in the story is in a bit of a crisis about writing new superheroes. He can't imagine creating another one. Is there any element of truth in that for you? Have you ever felt like your time with capes is done?
Never! I've always felt there's always another story somewhere. But for the purposes of the comic book, I thought it would be a cute idea to say that I was out of ideas, that I couldn't think of anything else. And then luckily, lo and behold, this spaceship lands. But in real life, it really isn't hard to keep thinking of new things. The challenge is to write them so that somebody cares about them. Just dreaming them up is pretty easy.
The first issue also has a lot of references to your past work. As you head to the home of Betty and Veronica, you talk about having written things like Millie The Model. Obviously, superheroes are a big part of what you've done, but there's a lot on your resume from other genres. Are there any non-super ideas you'd like to explore with Stan Lee Comics?
Well, I'd be happy writing any of them. It's just that since superheroes are the biggest things today, I figure I better keep working on them. But it was fun doing books like "Millie The Model" and "Nellie The Nurse" and "Hedy of Hollywood." I also did animated books like "Terry Toons" and "Heckle and Jeckle" and "Mighty Mouse." And then I did teenage kids like "Freddy" and, oh, I can't even remember all the names now. And I did little newspaper strips too!
There was a "Willie Lumpkin" strip for a while, wasn't there?
Willie Lumpkin! That's right! [Laughs] I'll never forget Willie Lumpkin. I think I did that with [legendary Archie artist] Dan DeCarlo. And I did one with Joe Maneely also. Anyway, it was all so long ago. But I loved doing humor strips. Frankly, I enjoyed writing them as much as the superheroes, but the superhero field is the big field. And you might as well go where the interest is.
Let's look at some of the characters you've got at play in "Mighty 7." At the heart of the book are Asoara and Vallor, a pair of square-jawed "Star Marshalls" who have to pair up with some cosmic criminals. With "The Avengers" being such a success, there's been a lot of talk on your classic idea of a team with personality conflicts. What about the conflicts in this new team made for an interesting story?
Well, the personality conflicts to me are the most important thing. We didn't have enough room to get into that in issue #1 or even in issue #2, but as the series moves along, I'm going to concentrate much more on their personal relationships and problems -Â how they feel about each other and the dislikes, likes and jealousies. Things like that. I think that's what makes characters really interesting. The business of good guys fighting bad guys? That's easy. You expect that, and that's what you get. But it's the personal relationships that give the story an additional dimension and additional interest. And it just occurs to me, I shouldn't be saying this because it could be read by some of my competitors, and they could figure out how to tell these stories too. Maybe you should leave this whole thing out. [Laughter]
Well, speaking of those personalities and how they conflict in the story, the real hook here is that Stan Lee the character is saddled with this team. You've done a number of reality TV shows where you teach aspiring heroes how to act. Is that similar to the setup of this story?
No. In the real life shows I've done like "Stan Lee's Superhumans" and "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?" I play a straight, normal guy as Stan Lee. But in this book, I'm sort of an idiot in a way. I think that makes it funnier. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I try my best. I tried to make myself a little bit of a laughing stock in this story to let it be more fun. I enjoy going "against type" because in real life, of course, I'm so totally wonderful.
We got a hint of the villain of the series in issue #1, but he shows up in full in issue #2. What is it about him that really brings all the elements of the story together?
Well, as the series goes along we'll see more and more of him. I thought I had a really original idea for him. See, he had a terrible accident which makes his face very grotesque. There's nothing he can do about it. That's the way he's going to look. It doesn't seem that even plastic surgery can help this guy. But he's in love with a girl -Â even though he's a villain. Even villains can love a girl, I guess. But she must never see him like that. So he has somebody fashion a mask for him that he puts over his own face, and it makes him look the way he used to look. It's a very realistic mask.
Now, the thing is that most villains try to hide their identity by putting on a mask, but he does the opposite. He puts on a mask to look like a normal man. I think we're going to have a lot of drama and fun with that mask. He decides to call himself Frightmask so that when he takes off the mask and looks the way he really looks, people will think he's put on a mask. "Here comes Frightmask!" they'll say and wonder what he really looks like, not knowing that's his real face. And when he puts on a mask, they think the normal face is really him. So that's the reverse of how most villains have been done in the past.
Looking at your collaborators this time out, Tony Blake and Paul Jackson are two writers who have worked on a lot of superhero TV shows like "Lois & Clark" and "Mutant X." What were you looking for them to bring to the scripts on "Mighty 7"?
Good writing because they're good writers. I thought they'd bring good dialogue and good ideas for the action sequences and dramatic sequences. They're really excellent writers, and they've been great to work with.
Of course, Alex Saviuk is drawing this who's worked with you and your brother for a number of years on the Spider-Man newspaper strip. What's it like to have a collaborator you're familiar with working on a new launch like this?
It brings an addition of comfort to you. I know Alex's work. I know how well he can tell a story. And nothing phases him, no matter how difficult the drawing may be. He always manages to do it beautifully. So working with great writers and with a terrific artist is a pleasure for me because it makes me look good. They do the work, and everybody says what a good job Stan did. [Laughs]
So "Mighty 7" is the first of the proposed Stan Lee Comics line published through Archie. At this point, do you have other series being lined up as part of the imprint?
We've been talking about it, but we haven't come up with anything definite yet. I've been so busy just working on the Mighty 7 and on some other projects that I haven't had time to get into that. But after we finish the third or the fourth issue, then we'll probably sit down and really discuss what we can do next. I've got a lot of ideas for future books, so it's just a matter of picking the one we like best.
"Stan Lee's Mighty 7" #2 is on sale next week on May 23.