Stan Lee: On Green Brutes and Blonde Strippers

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Stan Lee 2003 Critical Blast

Stan Lee. If you want to talk about comic book creators with your non-comic friends, his name is one of a select few you can bring up with a good chance he'll be someone they've heard of. He's not the father of the modern comic book--that title goes to men who came before him. He's more the favorite uncle, the one your mother isn't crazy about, but who never forgets to bring you a surprise whenever he comes to visit and who always has a treasure trove of amazing, incredible, and uncanny stories to tell, some of which might even be fantastic enough to be true.

We spoke with Stan "The Man" Lee a little over a week after HULK--another one of his marvelous brainchildren--debuted on the big screen, and even snuck in a question or two about PUNISHER and STRIPPERELLA.

Obviously, everyone is talking HULK these days. When he was originally created, he wasn't intended to be the traditional hero, as I understand it--heroes wore red-and-blue, and he was green-and-purple.

Well, he was supposed to be a hero in the sense that I always thought the monster in the old Frankenstein movie, with Boris Karloff--I always thought he was more of a hero. You know, he didn't want to hurt anybody, he couldn't help being the way he was, and all those idiots with torches kept chasing him up and down the hills... and I wanted to get a monster--a so-called, apparent monster--who basically was a good guy but people were afraid of him, and they hounded him, and they hunted him, and they harrassed him. So he wasn't a hero in the sense that Captain America or Superman are heroes, but I always thought of him as a good guy who was misunderstood.

Something struck a chord with the public with this character--at least in the translation from comic books to live action portrayals. The Hulk's character did far better than some of his more famous contemporaries. The Nicholas Hammond SPIDER-MAN series was short-lived, the CAPTAIN AMERICA project didn't really go anywhere--but Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno really took the character and ran with it quite successfully. What is it about the Hulk, do you think, that made him so successful with those who weren't traditionally comic fans?

I don't want to denigrate the Hulk, who I think is a wonderful character, but it wasn't because the Hulk was better than the other characters. I think it was because the Hulk television show was done better than those other things. In other words, if they had Captain America the way he should have been done, it would have been just as successful.

Everything depends on how it's done. If the same people who did the Captain America show or the Spider-Man show on television, that live-action show, if they had done the Spider-Man movie, I think it would have bombed. Sam Raimi did a wonderful job, and he portrayed Spider-Man the way he should be portrayed, and it was very popular. So everything really depends on how well the TV show or the movie is done.

How do you compare the Hulk movie with the Spider-Man, Daredevil, and X-Men movies?

I must be honest, I thought they were all magnificently done. Because if you think of the Hulk, basically it's like Jekyll and Hyde: he's a man who turns into a monster--the only difference is Mr. Hyde was able to talk and walk around in society. The Hulk becomes a real monster who doesn't really speak. What do you do with something like that in a movie? You've got a normal guy who turns into a giant monster and runs around smashing things. But they were able to write it and direct it in such a way that it was an involving story, it was a complex story, and I thought it was a beautifully done production.

Moving on to your other media projects... I've heard rumors that Stripperella has been cancelled. Is that true?

Cancelled?!? When did you hear that?

I saw an article about it on icv2.com, and had heard it as far as two weeks back.

(chuckles) Well, it can't be, because Stripperella is the biggest hit that they've had on TNN. There was just the notice in Variety. I have it in front of me: "The big winner was the half-hour Stripperella at 11pm which averaged two million total viewers, an eye-popping 155% more than the net garnered last year in the same time period. The entire block outperformed the two-hour time slot last year by 61%." And then there's a picture of Stripperella: "The bow of Stripperella pumped the cabler TNN's ratings." And I got a phone call from Al B. Hecht, the president of TNN, congratulating me and telling me how delighted he was. So I don't know... you got to watch those rumors.

I'm glad I went to the source then. Given that it's such a success for them, and given their recent boondoggle with Spike Lee and the attempt to rename the network SPIKE TV, maybe you could offer your own name and let them call it STAN TV?

(laughs loudly) Well, then there are probably fifty million Stans who might come out of the woodwork to sue, I don't know. Incidentally, I think that's really the most unbelievable lawsuit I've ever heard of, but I'm not going to get involved in that.

The next big Marvel movie is Punisher, with teasers already showing in theaters. I had the privilege of speaking with Boaz Yakin who wrote the screenplay for the first go at the character, and he told me how he really wanted to have the skull chest-emblem as part of the character, but was overruled. Obviously it seems the powers-that-be have learned from that mistake.

It's so easy to put it in. I haven't seen the script, but the easiest way to have him wear that and not look silly is, his son--who is murdered in the story along with his wife--his son had worn a t-shirt like that, and in memory of the son he puts it on.

Do you know anything about John Travolta's part in this movie?

He plays a villain named Howard Saint.

Any more of the Just Imagine Stan Lee comics for DC in the near future?

No, I'm surprised that DC hasn't wanted to make movies of any of those. (laughs) No, I was just supposed to do that dozen, I did them, and that's it. It was a lot of work--I enjoyed doing them, but I'm glad it's over. It took more time than I thought it would.

There are so many Marvel concepts being optioned for movies lately. If you had an option for picking a pet project of one that hasn't been, what might it be?

You know something, there isn't any left. Literally, every character that they have, except some of the very very small ones that I can't even remember now, every one of them are in production or in development or something. It's just unbelievable.

No more plans for any more websites, like the old stanlee.net?

There seems to be no reason to have one. And I'm a compulsive answerer... if I had a website, and people started writing a lot of things, I'd never get any work done. I remember when I did the comics, and I had a letters page, and I felt compelled to personally reply to every letter... No, I'm better off without the web page.