The legendary comics creator discusses the Fantastic Four, his favorite comic to film adaptations and what he would have done differently with Daredevil
It isn’t everyday your phone rings and a legend is on the other line. Well folks, that is exactly what happened when Stan Lee called the MovieWeb offices. On the eve of the release of one of his most personal creations, the Fantastic Four, Lee sat down to discuss the filmed adaptation of his work, the history of the franchise, some of the best films he thinks have been made from his work and how sometimes the best thing to do is ignore the rules.
All during our interview Stan Lee was gracious, congenial and everything else you’d expect from someone who has created many of the characters we cheer for in present day myth.
Yes, hello, this is Evan?
Stan Lee: Well, this is Stan.
Oh hey, how’s it going, sir?
Stan Lee: You’re gurgling. We have a bad connection.
Oh, do we?
Stan Lee: Stop jiggling the wire. Are you there?
Yes, sir. Can you hear me now? Better?
Stan Lee: Now, I can hear you. I don’t want to miss one single word of those dulcet tones.
And neither do I, sir. I’m just gonna get right to it.
Stan Lee: Okay.
How involved were you in the making of the Fantastic Four? Did you write the screenplay or did they just use your comic and the characters you created?
Stan Lee: They referred to the comic and the characters that I created, along with the artist Jack Kirby. And they did a magnificent job of interpreting everything and bringing it to the big screen!
Is it hard adapting your work or seeing your work adapted by other people?
Stan Lee: No, it’s really wonderful because the people who do the adapting are incredibly talented and they make the things that I wrote years ago look so great, that it makes it seem like I’m a better writer than I am.
How did you come up with the idea for the Fantastic Four? And why did you give the superheroes those powers?
Movie PictureStan Lee: Well, let me think..., I had been writing comic books for years and I was doing them to please a publisher, who felt that comics are only read by very young children or stupid adults. And therefore, we have to keep the stories very simplistic. Don’t use words of more than two syllables, and don’t worry about characterization and don’t have a lot of dialogue. And those were all things I hated. So I was about to quit. I had been at the company for about 15 or 20 years and I’d had enough. My wife said to me, “You know Stan, before you quit why don’t you do one comic book the way you would like to do it? Just get it out of your system. And the worst that will happen is that he’ll fire you but you want to quit anyway.”
So at that time, my publisher had found out that DC comics had a book called the Justice League, and it was selling very well. It was a team of superheroes. And he said to me, “How about you writing me a team of superheroes?” So I figured, ‘Okay, I’m going to take my wife’s advice and I’m gonna do it the way I want to do it.’ So I tried to violate most of the clichés that existed in comics. One of them being, “nobody knows the superheroes true identity.” I figured, “Gee, if I was a superhero I’d want everyone to know it, because I’m pretty much of a show off.” So I didn’t give them secret identities.
The other cliché, starting with Superman, was that “the girl never knew that this guy she paid no attention to was really the superhero she loved.” I had a girl in the story who not only knew that Mr. Fantastic was Reed Richards but she was engaged to Reed Richards. And more than that, instead of being a girl who always had to be rescued, she also had a superpower and was a fighting member of the team!
And another cliché I tried to avoid was I hated “teenage sidekicks.” I always figured if I were a superhero, there’s no way on God’s earth that I’m gonna pal around with some teenager. You know at the very least people would talk. So my publisher insisted I have a teenager in the series, because they always felt teenagers won’t read the books unless there’s a teenager in the story; which is nonsense but I wasn’t about to argue with them. So I put in a teenager that was Johnny Storm. I made him Sue’s brother so that the four of them (I didn’t get to the fourth yet), would be like a family, which really hadn’t been done before. I didn’t make him a typical teenager. He didn’t want to be superhero. He didn’t want to go chasing bad guys. He figured you can get hurt doing that. He wanted to show off, “Look at me I can turn into flame and I can fly! What a way to get the chicks!” He wanted to ride his Chevy Corvette. He wanted to party and have a good time. So I included a teenager but he was my kind of teenager.
And then I had a fourth character and I figured, “I’m gonna make him a lovable monster.” It wasn’t easy but I came up with The Thing. I used him for comedy relief because he was always fighting with Reed and telling him, “Jesus, you talk too much!” and “Can’t you speak English? Instead of all those big words?” You know Reed was a lot like me. He never stopped talking. I also included him for pathos because he was also the one member of the group that couldn’t become normal again. He had turned into a monster.
What I’m getting at is that I tried to inject characterization in this team. It wasn’t just four people who had superpowers and went out and fought the bad guys. Even if they weren’t fighting villains, I thought I could make them interesting, too. And if I continue anymore, this is going to become an endless soliloquy so I think that’s it.
Of all your work that’s been adapted into a movie, which one is your favorite and why?
Stan Lee: Well, it’s hard to have favorites because they’re all different but certainly I think the two Spider-Man movies were the greatest. The X-Men were wonderful. I am crazy about the Fantastic Four. I think it must have been one of the hardest ones to do and the director Tim Story did a great job. I thought that Daredevil was better than most of the fans seem to think. I think it should have done even more business. My only feeling about Daredevil, I would have only had one supervillain. I would have only had Bullseye. Who I thought was such a great villain and I would have had Kingpin, probably, as the villain of the sequel. But other than that, I loved the movie and I thought The Hulk was wonderful because it was such an eye filling spectacle. I mean, we never saw a character like the Hulk before, running around and jumping and doing what he did. I admired Ang Lee for trying to give it the feeling of comic book. The way he photographed so many scenes and laid them out.
Unfortunately, The Hulk and Daredevil didn’t do quite the business that the others did, although they were successful. I must say I was happy with all of them. I felt they were all pretty close to what the comic books were. Considering that I had had a hand in the comic books, I felt pretty good about that.
Is there a comic or an idea that hasn’t been made into a movie that you would like to see made?
Stan Lee: Millions of them. I started a new company of my own called POW! Entertainment. Which stands for Purveyors Of Wonder. We are working on movies and television shows and DVDs and videogames. So, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had.
What’s next for Stan Lee in the film world? Or, in general?
Stan Lee: Well, in general all the things I told you. To be specific, we’re working on one movie now at Paramount. We’re developing it it’s called the Foreverman. We have a movie coming out sometime next year on the Sci-Fi channel, and we have a lot of projects I’m not allowed to talk about yet, you’ll be seeing them next year. That’s because I’ll be doing my best to promote them.
Well, sir, thank you so much for calling and for being so engaging and for just making this a great interview. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Stan Lee: Well, thanks so much. Call anytime. I enjoy this!
The Fantastic Four takes over DVD shelves on December 6th, 2005.
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