Life would be less super without Stan Lee, the legendary comic book creator behind Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, and other iconic heroes. We chatted with him last week at E3 in Los Angeles, where the 86-year-old was promoting Activision’s upcoming videogame, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you like about this game?
STAN LEE: Just the fact that there are so many characters under your control and the fact that you can team up with three other players at the same time. Every one of them is accurately portrayed. You can be a villain, you can be a hero, you can play with your friends…it’s great. It even has a surprise ending that I can’t tell you about.
You’ve been telling stories since the '60s. What do you make of all of the sophisticated video game tools that are available to the current generation of storytellers? Do you think all of this technology makes their job too easy?
It’s never easy to tell stories. I wish they had these videogames when I was getting into the business. Videogames are like movies but with even more imagination. When you watch a movie you have no control over it, but with a videogame, it’s like watching a movie you can be part of; you can determine which way it will go. It’s like you can be the audience and also the director at the same time. I find that incredibly exciting. I wish that I were more in that field; I wish I knew the technical part and could actually create a videogame; I think it’s much harder to do than a motion picture. You start out with what a motion picture has — a basic story and characters and all of that — but then you have all these options that you thrown in that a motion picture doesn't have. It must be harder to write a videogame than a movie.
EW.com: Let’s say you were Stan Lee in your formative years right now. Do you think you would be still be a comic book creator, or do you think you would’ve been a videogame designer?
Stan Lee: I enjoy creating characters and I enjoy telling stories. Since videogames are a bigger field than comic books right now — they’re bigger than just about anything now — I would want to be in videogames. I would try to come up with some ideas that are different than what they’re already doing or else it wouldn’t be any fun. It would be a challenge. To me a videogame is more of a challenge than a comic book. From that point of view, I’d want to get into it.
Which of the two mediums — movies or videogames — have been better at capturing the essence of the comic book characters that you’ve created?
Certainly, the movies give you more characterization because a videogame, the very nature of what it is, must have continual action and obviously the characters have their own powers and weaknesses, but it's a little hard getting into their personalities the way you can in a movie. A videogame is different; it’s something where you’re a part of it and, at least with today’s games, it’s mostly action. In a movie you probably get more of an actual story. Today it seems that what the public wants is to play videogames and to be part of the action. Videogames are so big today; obviously there is room for something where the action is more paramount than the characterization.
I think that’s why videogames work so well with superheroes: for the same reason why they work so well with professional sports. I can't hit a 95mph fastball. I can’t jump over skyscrapers in a single bound…
I'm sure you can. But I think that’s what videogames are for: immersion and role-playing.
You said the magic word: role-playing. That’s what the fans seem to love. They can imagine that they’re the Hulk or Captain America or Thor or Spider-Man. You can read a story and imagine it, but you can’t actually be doing the thing; controlling the character. So I think that’s the main appeal of games; that it’s a role-playing form of entertainment.
In the last 10 years, there have been quite a few movies based on Marvel characters. Who do you th ink has been the most brilliant casting choice? Which actor do you think truly nailed his or her part?
Oh golly. I’ll tell you one: Tobey Maguire playing Spider-Man. Nobody would have thought he would be that good of a choice but Sam Raimi thought of it and it worked. He was superb. It couldn’t have been a better choice. I also think Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Professor X and Magneto were wonderful choices because they gave [the X-Men movies] class. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man — that was inspired too. He made the movie.
Let's say, God forbid, your house is on fire. What is the most cherished item you're grabbing as you’re fleeing?
I meant to say: what is the most cherished Marvel Comics-related item…do you have any memorabilia that you have a strong sentimental attachment to?
I have a paperweight. It's a little silver figure of Spider-Man crouching. I keep it on my desk. It’s the only one I've ever seen. It’s probably very old and it’s a great paperweight. He's looking up at me all the time as I’m sitting there writing. I feel like we're friends!