Rick DeMott talks to the invincible Stan Lee as he bounds out of the ashes of his old company to take on new cinematic adventures with his new studio.
As a fog descends on the city, our silver-haired hero walks the cold, dark, merciless streets. Villains first thought of as allies have betrayed him. Where does he seek refuge in this onyx-colored midnight? He turns the corner and there it is the neon glow of the sign cuts through the mist like a lighthouse beacon. Our champion heads straight into a strip club?
If you havent guessed yet, our hero is the venerable comic book legend, Stan Lee. Stan the Man has risen above the mire of Stan Lee Media and has moved on. He started POW! Entertainment in November 2002, and he has a new animated series, Stripperella, on Spike TV.
Back in February 2000, Stan Lee and his new Stan Lee Media launched the much hyped stanlee.net, which was a front-runner in the online animation boom. At that time, the company had market capital exceeding $300 million. That was about $100 million more than Marvel Comics, the home where Lee created such characters as Spider-Man and The X-Men.
In November 2000, like many hopeful dot.coms, Stan Lee Media signed a bridge financing deal that secured the companys future. However, a clause in the deal voided the funding if Stan Lee Medias stock price dropped below $1. In only a matter of weeks, the stock plunged from $8 to well under $1, forcing NASDAQ to eventually delist the stock from the exchange. At this point, Stan Lee Media was forced to lay off nearly all of its 140 employees, and, only a year after its triumphant birth, Stan Lee Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
However, the worst was yet to come. President/ceo Ken Williams and co-founder Peter F. Paul got into a bloody battle of words over who was to blame for the companys downfall. False allegations of all sorts, including fleeing the country and embezzlement, were thrown around like The Hulk tosses tanks. Finally, in June of 2001, the courts entered the fray, indicting Paul, SLM evp Stephen Gordon; Jeffrey Pittsburg, a Long Island, New York-based analyst and securities broker who wrote reports boasting about SLM shares; and Charles Kusche, a Darien, Connecticut-based stock advertiser. The four were charged with conspiracy to manipulate the company's stock price through improper transactions. The legal wranglings are still working their way through the judicial system.
Lee doesnt like to talk about what happened. When I asked him about Stan Lee Media and how it affected the formation of POW! Entertainment, he said, As you may know, some people [at Stan Lee Media] did some things that were less than legal. With POW!, its much smaller and the people Im working with I trust implicitly.
So who are these trusted partners? Gill Champion (is that a secret identity name or what?) is serving as coo. The veteran producer is a long-time friend of Lee. Rounding out the top trio is Arthur Lieberman, a New York attorney, who serves as chief of business affairs. Set up at MGM Studios in Santa Monica, California, POW! has already inked more than a dozen feature and television production deals. Lieberman negotiated a first look deal in April 2002 with MGM and Cheyenne Enterprises, the production house of actor Bruce Willis and producer Arnold Rifkin.
The three films in preproduction are The Femizons, with writers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman (TV movie Earth vs. the Spider), The Double Man, being developed by Training Day director Antoine Fuqua and Nightbird. In addition, POW! has signed a deal with Idiom Films to produce Forever Man, another superhero film featuring a unique twist on the avenging hero character. In July 2003, POW! signed a television production deal with DIC to produce TV series the first being Stan Lees Secret Super Six. The show will follow a group of super-powered alien teens who come to Earth and meet Stan Lee, who teaches them what it is to be human. Moreover, Stan Lee announced at Comic-Con 2003 that he has signed on to create an animated superhero series with Playboy, turning Hugh Hefner into a superpowered leader of a group of crime-fighting playmates. Hefs Superbunnies is currently in the development stage.
However, POW!s most high-profile project to date has to be Stripperella. The tough-in-cheek superhero adventure spoof is one of three original animated series in Spike TVs The Strip. Along with new episodes of Ren & Stimpy and Gary the Rat, Spike TV is using the popularity of animation with young adult males to lure those viewers to the newly revamped mens network (formerly known as TNT and The New TNN).
So why did the king of comics want to deal with strippers? Lee said he wanted to do something different that was funny and exotic. He had worked on female heroines in his past like Minnie the Model, Nelly the Nurse and Heady of Hollywood. He thought the concept of a woman who strips by night and fights crime by later night was a humorous idea, and always imagined the characters look to be similar to Pamela Anderson. Not just the creator, but also the business man, Lee knew that if he got Anderson involved, her large fan base would easily attract buyers.
When he approached Anderson, she loved the idea. She had recently stepped down from her V.I.P. series and wanted to start a more low-profile life, so she could raise her kids and recover from her hepatitis treatment. Anderson participates in the creative process as well. Besides voicing the lead character, she serves as creative consultant, adding such devices as diamond-studded glass-cutting nipples to the characters repertoire.
The shows animation has a Warner Bros. Batman/Superman style, courtesy of the artists at Nickelodeon animation, but the writing is satire all the way. The series skewers all the silly comic book conventions from the criminals who leave the hero behind in some elaborate death device, ultimately allowing the hero to escape via secret gadgets that just happen to be available when needed. The voice cast is excellent with the likes of Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and The Brain) and Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants). Even Lee lends his voice to a clueless old inventor named Jerry, who, in one episode, thinks that his 10-pound cell phone will revolutionize the modern world.
Lee says that POW! has no plans of venturing into the Internet. But he said that if there is a way to make money there, he has no problems trying it again. With the huge big screen success of Lees creations like Spider-Man, The Hulk, Daredevil and The X-Men; the mess of Stan Lee Media has in no way tarnished the legend of Stan the Man. In its early stages, POW! seems to be making steady strides forward. Stripperella is the companys first venture and its first hit. The debut installment on June 26, 2003 brought in two million viewers, more than both of its lead-in Strip counterparts. It looks like Lee wont let any type of evil villains ruin his reign at the top the superhero empire.
Rick DeMott is managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he served as the production coordinator for sound production house BadaBing BadaBoom Productions and animation firm Perky Pickle Studios. Prior to that position, he served as associate editor of AWN.