Take Captain America. I didn't create him, but when I brought him back into the comics [after] he had been frozen in ice for decades, he felt he was an anachronism: He was living in a world he wasn't familiar with, and how could he cope with the way things are now? I always try [for] more characters than just a good guy versus a bad guy.
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- Stan Lee, comic book writer, artist, editor, actor, producer, publisher, television personality, and the former president and chairman of Marvel Comics, in his office on Santa Monica Boulevard. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
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I don't agree about the kiss of death. We now have more intelligent people reading these things, older people as well as the youngsters; the X-Men are not just a bunch of mutants fighting each other; they deal with bigotry and is it right to hate and distrust people who are different. There are all sorts of messages in a book like "The X-Men."
Whatever was going on in the world somehow crept into our stories.
And as we know from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. What is your responsibility, Mr. Powerful?
My responsibility is to stay out of the way and let [the other creators] make these great movies.
But aren't you the center of the spokes, the hub making all that possible?
Of course! To be honest, I've always thought of myself as the center of the universe! I think we all think that way.
Do people ever get confused and come up and say, "I just love Batman."
Oh often. I say, "Yeah, I like it too." Bob Kane was a good friend of mine. The Batman movie was the first that made a lot of money, and he used to say, "Ha, ha, look what we did and Spider-Man is still out there in comic books." We used to go to restaurants and he'd say to a waiter: "Do you know who I am? I created Batman. Here, I'll draw you a picture." And he'd draw on a napkin. It was the funniest thing.
Do you have a big collection of Marvel artwork?
No, I never had the brains to save it. None of us did. We never knew they'd end up so popular and be in galleries and auctioned off for thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We didn't have room. The printer would always send us back the artwork on big boards, and he would also send us copies of the magazine. We had them piled up in our office, a small office. When someone would come up, say, to deliver our lunch from the drugstore, we'd say, "Hey kid, before you go, grab some of this artwork, take it with you." We couldn't get rid of it.
Did you ever create a character you wound up not liking?
Oh, no, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't have written it.
Wait a minute, there was one. Jack Kirby and I were doing the Fantastic Four. We needed a new villain -- we always worked under tremendous deadlines; we were doing dozens of books a month. I said: "Jack, I think a great name is Diablo; why don't you draw a guy called Diablo, and we'll give him some kind of power." And he drew a real scary-looking guy, but I had no idea who Diablo was or where he came from. I must have batted out something and Jack drew it, and to this day I can't remember what the Diablo story was. The only thing I ever wrote that I don't know what it was! So I think I didn't like that particular issue.
What has become of the Governator comic project you had lined up with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?
That's on hold now. I don't know what'll happen. It may never go forth.
And what's happened to the comic you were working up about Playboy bunnies battling bad guys?
We're still working on that with Hugh Hefner. Nobody realizes [that] all those girls he hangs with, all those playmates -- they're [not] just beautiful girls there to attract the men. They're really nuclear physicists and brain surgeons and so forth. And Hefner, who pretends to be just the publisher of these magazines -- he's our secret weapon in the war against terror.