Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter
Stan Lee COURTESY OF POW! ENTERTAINMENT
Call it Stan Lee: Homecoming.
In a unique deal, Stan Lee, the beloved co-creator of Spider-Man, Avengers and Hulk who died in 2018, is returning to Marvel Studios.
Marvel has signed a 20-year deal with Stan Lee Universe, a venture between Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment, to license the name and likeness of Lee for use in future feature films and television productions, as well as Disney theme parks, various “experiences” and merchandising.
“It really ensures that Stan, through digital technology and archival footage and other forms, will live in the most important venue, the Marvel movies, and Disney theme parks,” said Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands. “It’s a broad deal.”
Lee was the writer and editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, when he, along with artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, ushered in the creation of superheroes that are now the basis for the world’s biggest blockbuster films. He also became the ever-smiling public face of the company, a stately position he held over the decades despite changes to his actual job title and responsibilities — and even after he officially parted ways with the company.
Lee found himself back in the pop culture spotlight in the 21st century due to his cameos, first in Marvel-based adaptations such as Fox’s X-Men and Sony’s Spider-Man franchises, then with Marvel Studios’ ever-growing list of hits. By the time he passed away, audiences who’d never even picked up a comic book were connecting to him and looked forward to his warm comedy bits.
However, this new deal does not necessarily pave the way for the return of Lee cameos in movies, at least not in the way fans traditionally knew them, insiders caution. It is unclear if the public even has an appetite to see Lee digitally resurrected, as actors such as Carrie Fisher or Peter Cushing were in certain Star Wars movies.
The deal does give Marvel permission to use Lee’s name, voice, likeness and signature in movies and television projects, as well as to use images, existing footage and existing audio recordings featuring him. The rights to use Lee’s name, voice, likeness and signature exclusively in theme parks, cruise lines and in-park merchandise were also included in the deal. Audiences and parkgoers could see Lee turn up as figures and toys, and on apparel and stationery.
Genius Brand, a global kids media company, created the joint venture with POW!, a media company co-founded by Lee along with Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman, in July 2020. Heyward — who called Lee a mentor and is the former chairman of DIC Entertainment, the home of Inspector Gadget — said he spearheaded the venture because, in the aftermath of Lee’s death and the revelations of conflicts in Lee’s final years, “there needed to be a steward of his legacy.” The company is now sifting through Lee’s files and dealing with offers, all through a protective lens.
“The audience revered Stan, and if it’s done with taste and class, and respectful of who he was, [uses of his likeness] will be welcomed,” said Heyward. “He is a beloved personality, and long after you and I are gone, he will remain the essence of Marvel.”