Stan Lee is well known for his cameos in the films starring his Marvel co-creations, and in the '80s he narrated episodes of several cartoons including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Pryde of the X-Men.
Those two worlds meet starting this Sunday, April 1, with the series premiere of Ultimate Spider-Man on Disney XD, part of the debuting "Marvel Universe" programming block along with the second season of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Lee voices "Stan the Janitor," a custodian at Midtown High that doles out life lessons to Peter Parker at opportune moments.
Ultimate Spider-Man takes its name from the Brian Michael Bendis-written comic book series, and uses it as a starting point along with several other twists on familiar concepts. A lot of Spider-Man animated series have hit the airwaves over the years — from the original 1967 show to 2008's Spectacular Spider-Man — and Lee says that what makes Ultimate Spider-Man special is that it's uniquely contemporary.
"I think it's so hip," Lee told Newsarama at a press junket in Burbank earlier this month. "He has his little wisecracks to the audience. It's today. Everything about it is today. It's well written, it's beautifully drawn, and it's cool."
While praising the show, Lee stopped to deliver some of his signature self-deprecating humor, commenting on his character's low-profile occupation."It's so well done," Lee said. "If you can live with the fact that I play the janitor in it — I think they could have given me something more glamorous, but hey, beggars can't be choosy."
Ultimate Spider-Man is the ninth animated series to star the character, who is also featured in a fourth live-action film this summer, July's Amazing Spider-Man. Spidey's widespread popularity over the past five decades isn't lost on Lee, who said that while it surprised him at first, he's "gotten quite used to it now."
"He has become one of if not the most popular characters in the world," Lee said to a small group of reporters. "They know him in the Orient. They know him in Africa. They know him in the Mideast. They know him all over. And more than know him, they seem to love him. And that doesn't displease me."
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man's introduction in Amazing Fantasy #15, and though a lot has changed for both the world and the comic book industry, Lee says there's a consistent element in what made Marvel successful in the early '60s and what makes shows like Ultimate Spider-Man work.
"I always wanted the people who read Marvel comics to feel that they weren't just readers, but they were sharing a little secret with the people at Marvel," Lee said. "We were all enjoying something that the outside world wasn't privy to, and was unaware of. We were part of a special little group having fun with these stories. We didn't consider them just our readers, we considered them our friends."Without mentioning any other publishers by name, Lee suggested that this outlook is one of the factors that has distinguished Marvel from DC Comics over the years.
"Our biggest competitor used to have letters pages, and we did too," he said. "Their letters would always begin with 'Dear Editor,' signed, 'James Jones.' And they would print the letter that way in the book. When we got a letter, it would always say, 'Dear Stan,' and if they signed it 'James Jones,' when I printed it, I'd write 'Jim Jones,' and I'd say, 'Hi, Jim, glad to hear from you!' Our letters page had a friendly feeling.
"I always tried for that, and I like to feel that in our cartoons, like Ultimate Spider-Man, there's a feeling that we're relating to the viewer. We're all sharing a little inside joke together that the outside world isn't aware of. And I think it's important for Marvel to keep that spirit alive."
When discussing his considerable legacy , the 89-year-old writer — very visible over the past dozen years as a result of his fleeting appearances in several big-budget Marvel films including this May's The Avengers — expressed gratitude for the "touching" interactions he has with fans.