Stan Lee’s old collaborator, the late Jack Kirby, is often quoted as saying, “Comics will break your heart.” Now Marvel Studios is apparently doing everything they can to prove him right. Marvel Studios has just finalized a deal that will, among other things, give them the right to use CGI versions of Stan Lee in their movies, and it’s exactly the kind of deal Lee was fighting against shortly before his death.
The 20-year deal, as reported by THR, was made between Marvel and Stan Lee Universe to license the late comic book creator’s name and likeness for use in movies, TV series, merchandise, theme parks, and more. As pointed out by The Verge, Lee filed a lawsuit to stop something like this from happening only 6 months before his death. Stan Lee Universe is a venture made up of Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment; the latter company being one Lee co-founded. In May 2018, as reported by Gizmodo, Lee sued POW! after it was acquired by Camsing International. In his suit, the Marvel legend claimed he had been told his licensing agreement with POW! was non-exclusive. He alleged the company forged his signature to give themselves “the exclusive right to use Lee’s name, identity, image, and likeness on a worldwide basis in perpetuity.”
Two months later, Stan Lee dropped the lawsuit. In a statement Lee said, “The whole thing has been confusing to everyone, including myself and the fans, but I am now happy to be surrounded by those who want the best for me. I am thrilled to put the lawsuit behind me, get back to business with my friends and colleagues at POW! and launch the next wave of amazing characters and stories!”
As The Verge notes, leading up to the lawsuit were a number of disturbing reports of alleged elder abuse, with fans and colleagues of Stan Lee expressing concern over his well-being, including POW! who addressed an open letter to fans online, urging them to “speak up” for Lee. We may never know exactly what was going on with the people surrounding Lee in his final months.
Stan Lee is one of the few comic book creators who has managed to attract as much love from the fandom as the superheroes he helped create. Long before even his many cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lee was the public face of Marvel Comics; giving interviews on talk shows and for magazines, as well as narrating popular Marvel cartoons and video games.
There may actually be other comic book creators who might, were they still with us, argue that Stan Lee is getting what he deserves as far his likeness being used against his wishes. There was a lot of friction between Lee and other creators, including some — most notably artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko — who some would argue had as much, or more, to do with the creation of the Marvel Universe as Lee. Many of Lee’s colleagues expressed indignation at his status as the public face of Marvel, feeling they were losing their share of the credit. As if to serve as proof, in contrast to the worldwide grief that followed with the news of Stan Lee’s death, hardly anyone outside of comic book fans even heard about the death of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko earlier that year.