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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/14/2009

Obama the Comic Superstar: Stan Lee Explains All...

By Michael Cavna

It's been an eventful year for Spider-Man -- and it's still January.

Today, Marvel Comics releases a coveted inauguration-edition of the "Spider-Man" comic book (No. 583), in which Spidey gets a dap from President-elect Obama. Yep, two youthful-looking, lean and Web-savvy symbols of American hope meet at last -- and the wall-crawler angles to be on the dollar bill. (Spidey also battles the Chameleon on Inauguration Day, and confuses Joe Biden with the Vulture.)

Also this month, in "The Amazing Spider-Man" comic strip, Peter Parker travels back in time, to when he was living with Aunt May. (The strip ran an editor's note to explain the change to "perplexed readers.")

And there's been recent chatter that for "Spider-Man 4," Sam Raimi wants Morbius the Living Vampire written into the movie.

To catch up on all things Spider-Man, Comic Riffs spoke this week with STAN LEE, the legendary creator of so many superheroes in the Marvel Universe. Turns out, if there's one very animated man who's even busier than Spidey, it's Lee, who recently accepted the National Medal of Arts in D.C.

Stan Lee (AP)Enlarge Comic

Amid his busy schedule, Lee spoke of everything from what he'd humbly like to get from the new president ("a Cabinet position") to what he thought of Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight":

MICHAEL CAVNA: So how, exactly, did President-elect Obama come to appear in a special "Spider-Man" comic book?
STAN LEE: It was an obvious thing to do. It was the editors there [at Marvel] who made the decision. I think it's great. I had read [recently] that the president-elect was a big fan of Spider-Man and Conan, that he reads them -- maybe he still reads them, I hope!

[Note: Obama has famously posed with a statue of Superman.]

When I read that, I autographed a Spider-Man poster and sent it to him. I fully understand that he probably hasn't had time to respond to me yet, and that's okay. [Laughing.] He might be busy.

MC: If Obama did return the favor and reciprocate somehow, what would you want in return?
SL: I'd just like a Cabinet position. For comic books. I'd be secretary of comics -- something simple.

MC: So have you seen the Obama special edition of "Spider-Man"?
SL: I've seen the cover.

MC: In some panels, I was disappointed by the caricature. Then again, because of his relatively youthful looks compared with some presidents, I've found him more challenging to caricature. What do you think?
SL [wryly]: You can't have a president who's tough to caricature. [Laughing warmly.] That's it. He's got to go.

MC: Now, getting to the comic strip: As of the beginning of this year, you have Peter Parker going back in time, back to living with his aunt. How did that decision come about?
SL: To tell you the truth, I realized that they're doing that with the "Spider-Man" comic book storyline, so I thought: Just for fun, let's go with that storyline in the strip, too.

MC: Have you already planned out how long you'll continue it?
SL: I may just do it for one storyline or two. Then [when we revert back], we'd run another note like we did [this month] to level with people. When we do go back probably to a great extent will depend on reader feedback. We've always depend a lot on reader feedback. I like to say that one reason I wear glasses is because I read every fan letter.

MC: Have you already determined how the storyline would switch back?
SL: I've thought of a good way to get him back to normal.

MC: Can you tell us, or at least give us a hint?
SL: They'd have to shoot me at the syndicate if I said anything.

MC: So what are you working on now? Anything you're particularly excited about?
SL: Mostly, right now, on movies and television shows with my company, Pow! Entertainment. The biggest kick I get is when I present an idea for a movie or TV show or DVD and somehody says, "That's great." There's no more satisfying moment than that.

MC: Four decades after you created Spider-Man, it's great that you're now able to enjoy and work with Hollywood's interest in superheroes. What do you think changed the game -- Tim Burton's "Batman," perhaps?
SL: I think Burton's "Batman" had a lot to do with it. Now, they're so many good movies: the new "Batman," "Ironman" -- the public can't get enough of them. I love all of 'em. They're unique and different -- not the usual gangster fighting a cop. They're eye-candy characters, too.

MC: Heath Ledger just won a Golden Globe for his performance in the newest Batman film, of course. What did you think of his performance?
SL: Heath Ledger was just wonderful -- it was low-key and that's what made it so good. I figured he would have to play it different [after Jack Nicholson], and it certainly worked.

MC: Did you feel the same way when Tobey Maguire was cast in the "Spider-Man" films?
SL: Tobey Maguire was wonderful. The minute I heard he was in it during casting], thought it was a wonderful choice -- he wasn't the obvious choice, and that's what made it so good.

MC: So will we definitely see that fourth "Spider-Man" film? (Note: has the target year of release as 2011.)
SL: Does the sun set in the West?

MC: What would you like to see next in the "Spider-Man" film series?
SL: Me, with a bigger cameo.

MC: So perhaps more screen time than you had in, say, the Kevin Smith film?
SL: Yep. Though "Mallrats" was a lot of fun, too.

MC: Jason Lee's character doesn't recognize you at first in "Mallrats." Do you get recognized more often now?
SL: Why yes. Something happened just this morning. Some guy is walking behind me, and then walks backward and snaps my picture. ... Then he just said: "Thank you." And this was on the Sunset Strip.

MC: Can you tell us about about specific projects you're excited about?
SL: Over at Walt Disney, we've got three movies being developed, and we have a good thing going on the Internet and phone -- "Time Jumper" -- about a teen who can travel through time. We have a TV series being developed at Showtime called "Hero," and a lot of things with network and movie studios.

MC: In terms of superhero films, are there any Hollywood talents you're particularly high on and a big fan of?
SL: There are so many: Jon Favreau, with the job he did with "Ironman." And Bryan Singer with "X-Men." The ["Spider-Man"] director Sam Raimi -- my friend -- who was so wonderful. I've been lucky enough to meet then and get to know them.

MC: Any one thing you'd still like to do in Hollywood --to create, to accomplish -- before all is said and done?
SL: I'm very lucky to still being doing this. I seem to get a good reception [when I pitch ideas]. I hope I can sell a lot more movies. And it would nice to win an Oscar one day.

By Michael Cavna  | January 14, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, Superheroes  
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Good interview - there's some good stuff there, that he doesn't usually get asked about - like the comic strip.

Posted by: Mrhode | January 14, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

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