Robot 6

Stan Lee tells ‘Playboy’ he doesn’t know ‘who the hell Ultron is,’ among other revelations

stanleeplayboyThe latest issue of Playboy (warning: the article in that link is safe for work, but the accompanying website ads most certainly are not) contains an in-depth interview with Stan Lee, the legendary 91-year-old co-creator of Spider-Man, X-Men the Avengers and many more classic Marvel characters.

As the Playboy name suggests, the Q&A is revealing. Lee addresses a number of issues, including the notion that he gets too much credit for his role in creating Marvel’s icons, at the expense of artists — namely Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Lee downplays any controversy, saying, “I always tried to show them in the most favorable light, even in the credits,” and “I don’t see where they were unfairly treated.”

Unsurprisingly, much of the talk involves the recent film adaptations of his characters, with Lee stating he was at first surprised by Robert Downey Jr. being picked to play Iron Man, but now think it’s “the greatest bit of casting ever.” Yet Lee’s excitement for 2015’s hotly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron seems a bit more measured. “I don’t have any idea who the hell Ultron is,” Lee said. “He was a character developed after I stopped being involved in the Avengers story.” (Ultron, created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, first appeared in 1968’s “Avengers” #54; Lee stopped writing that title with 1966’s #35).

This being Playboy, Lee even shares his pick for the sexiest Marvel character (though he does remind interviewer David Hochman that they are in fact, fictional characters): “To me, the sexiest of all was Mary Jane in Spider-Man.”

Other topics in the Lee interview include nights out on the town with Bob Kane, frustrations with Stan Lee Media’s persistent legal claims (“for some reason people have spent years and God knows how much money claiming I gave Marvel the rights to the characters… unfortunately, I can’t get them to stop using my name”), his own net worth (not anywhere near $100 million, he says) and his current role within Marvel (“mostly I’m just a pretty face they keep for the public”). The new issue of Playboy is on sale this Friday.



(warning: the article in that link is safe for work, but the accompanying website ads most certainly are not). Well…DUH!!!

Kudos to Uncle Stan! He should get some more TV appearances on other TV shows.

As the Playboy name suggests, the Q&A is revealing. Lee addresses a number of issues, including the notion that he gets too much credit for his role in creating Marvel’s icons, at the expense of artists — namely Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Lee downplays any controversy, saying, “I always tried to show them in the most favorable light, even in the credits,” and “I don’t see where they were unfairly treated.”

This made me laugh out loud! Marvel was built by Kirby and Ditko, not Lee. Sad!


March 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Jarrod. Do your homework. Kirby’s pages had full plotting in the margins, including dialog. Stan would not even know what Ditko or Kirby were doing in the issue until he saw the art pages when they turned them in.

Kirby created just about every enduring character in the Marvel U. Stan is also a ruthless businessman when he needs to be when it comes to these characters (read up on his contract negotiations when Jemas got to Marvel). Yet when asked about Kirby or Ditko’s contributions he plays the work-for-hire card. Stan knows what he is doing.

The thing people seem to forget is Lee was editor in chief at Marvel and in control of who gets work. Lee took the FULL writers page wage when he at most scripted the books. This is at the hart of ethical problems concerning Lee. He used his position as EIC to take the whole writers page rate on top of his editor pay. If Kirby or Ditko make a fuss the flow of jobs would dry up. Does everyone really believe Ditko left Spider-man over who the Green Goblin was? Seems to me Ditko did not play ball like Kirby did and left the book over credit and money.

Kirby and Ditko were almost always more responsible for what happened on an issue-by-issue basis…

…but Stan was the overall editor/director/guide of the entire line.

Stan told Jack to design a team of sci-fi adventurers who were like a family, then he approved the final line-up and added distinctive scripting.

Stan told Jack to design a new Spider-Man, then rejected Kirby’s design, approved Ditko’s, and came up with the idea for the character’s secret identity to be a teenage nerd.

It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. Who was more important for the actual issues? The artists, hands-down. Who was more important for the whole enterprise and the initiative to actually have this interconnected universe? Stan. Who was more creative in a palpable way or whatever? The artists, especially Kirby. But who was more important? That’s a tougher question.

People like to side with the artists because it makes them feel like they’re supporting the underdog and fighting The Man, literally. But there’s more to Stan’s side of it than just being “the face of Marvel Comics”. People dismiss Stan as “just a businessman” or whatever. Well, he ran a pretty damn good business as editor-in-chief. He certainly knew how to direct a whole slew of creative projects. He didn’t just let the artists do whatever they wanted to do. He gave them basic ideas to work with, and approved, turned down, and guided ideas based on how the whole universe was progressing.

Pretty much every comics historian is in consensus that Stan Lee’s work was done collaboratively with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Trying to say “Jack Kirby did it all” is just as much rooted in conspiracy theory and anti-whoever bias as saying “Stan Lee did it all.”

That said, I remain disappointed that only Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko ever get brought up when many other Marvel artists provided great contributions during the Silver Age. The Avengers movie made over a billion dollars and half the superteam’s characters were drawn by Don Heck rather than Kirby. Yet I see people get actively hostile when this fact is brought up.

I think Stan’s input depended on the artist. Naturally with Kirby, he probably did give him more free rein. But Stan also worked with Gene Colan on Daredevil, then Romita Sr on Spider-Man, etc so his influence went across the entire line at that time.

Didn’t know who Ultron was? Yeah, I know it was a Roy Thomas/John Buscema creation, and Lee wasn’t involved with the book at that point. But he WAS still EiC/Art Director at that point, and oversaw the books going out each month. That was one of his jobs as editor, proofreading the books.

More likely, because he didn’t actually write/co-plot the story, he simply forgot about it.

I’m baffled. Stan Lee is such as an awesome and kind guy, and if course comicdom would not be the same without him, but every time I hear him talk about comics I lose a little bit of respect. He really doesn’t recognize one of Marvel’s biggest villains, created nearly 50 years ago? Did he just stop reading comics once he stopped writing them? How can he have so little passion for them? It’s mind boggling.

I feel sorry for anyone who cant see through his act. Look at all his work without Ditko or Kirby and it’s much easier to get an idea of his actual level of talent and even interest in the medium.

So he doesn’t know who Ultron is, but I bet we’ll have to endure yet another cameo from ‘The Man’ dispensing some more lulzy advice or one-liners. The guy didn’t even deserve to be in Captain America – that was a Kirby/Simon creation.

@ Ninjazilla, on the flip side, look at the work Ditko and Kirby produced without Lee. Ditko had the Question, the Blue Beetle, and other Charlton characters, none of which come close to the popularity of Spider-Man. And Kirby created the New Gods, which while are amazing concepts, never found a permanent audience the way the Fantastic Four or The Mighty Thor have.

Stan Lee’s 91 years old. Do people really expect him to remember a character from a comic he did not write and at best edited from 48 years ago when he was 44 years old?

It just cracks me up that he has never heard of googling Ultron up or anything.

@Danspam, yes, because at 91 years of age, that’s something that is probably tops on his list of give-a-f priorities.

Ok, so he doesn’t know who the character is and had no involvement, but should he not still be considered its creator? This is Stan the Man! And is it unfair to have taken ownership of every character? Those artists were shown in a favorable light, is that not credit enough?

Stan Lee is a hack – who else has written every possible comic book genre?

I can finally say I read Playboy for the articles. I’ve never felt older.

To me, the controversy about relative contributions is settled by the results. Nothing Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko produced without Stan Lee became a huge creative success. Some of the comics Stan created without Kirby or Ditko, such as the first 10 issues of Daredevil, are just as wonderful. Stan and Jack or Stan and Steve were like Lennon and McCartney, talented individuals who as a team transcended what either could have accomplished alone. And Stan was never stingy with the credit due to Kirby and Ditko.

“This made me laugh out loud! Marvel was built by Kirby and Ditko, not Lee. Sad!”
He doesn’t deny that. And very often he said (you can find it on youtube) that THEY WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the marvel’s revolution.

“Ditko did not play ball like Kirby did and left the book over credit and MONEY.”
Bullshit. Two words: Ayn Rand. Stop making conspiracies, when there are none. Especially that money is the last thing that would make Ditko leave, considering his principles, integrity and attitude.

One thing that should be noted that marvel was a collaborative effort. Lee and Kirby created X-Men, Magneto, Sentinels. Wein & Cockrum created All-New X-Men, Claremont & Byrne wrote the classic stories. Morrison & Whedon took part in revitalizing the series. And currently Bendis is adding his ideas to the mythos.

It’s never ONE person, it’s a group effort.

Does Kirby deserve credit and praise? Hell yeah. His imagination and creativity was truly remarkable.
But keep in mind that 60s were only the humble beginnings of marvel, and that they had a lot of problems, even when they were successful. Don’t forget about Shooter, and Quesada/Jemas duo. Thanks to their work, these icons are still relevant instead of being nostalgia heroes.

Stan Lee is over 90 years old, yet he still rocks and is active. I don’t think I will live that long enough, and if I do, I hope that I won’t end up as a vegetable. He also stopped following comics long time ago, in 70s.
Anyone who thinks he has any knowledge of marvel’s characters probably believes in tooth fairy and santa claus either.

I also, recommend reading Marvel’s Untold Story. It explains a lot of popular myths.
Also, it was years before I read anything in Playboy. Nice.

*its been years since I’ve read anything in Playboy.

I should have proofread it. Too much haste.
And by “these icons” I mean marvel heroes.

@Stath, you are absolutely correct that Stan didn’t create Captain America, but he was the one who made the decision to bring him back into the public conscience with that early Avengers story arc. Stan was instrumental in resurrecting him to today’s timeline.

Chakal, people who read and believe in Ayn Rand don’t want to get paid for the work they do. Ditko has written about the creation of Spider-man and who he believe did the lions share of the work. The fact remains Lee took the full writer page rate when he did not do all the writing.

Stan may have only given Kirby or Ditko a brief outline to start with but after they were finished, he dialogued and even asked for changes if they didn’t fit what he had in mind. Far more than leaving it all up to the artist. Plus, read the old Stan’s Soapbox or just look at the credits of old issues. He praises Kirby and Ditko all over. Can anyone find a Stan quote where he says “I did everything, these are my characters”? Stan was the top dog and knew how to gab so he got interviewed by the media. He went to upper management and was the “face” of the company. That’s perhaps where Jack and Steve felt left out. No Stan =no Marvel Universe, it’s that simple.


March 20, 2014 at 6:49 am

@that dude. No, Captain America was resurrected to protect the copyright on the character, so Simon would not get rights to him.

Most of the people defending Stan here don’t seem to know anything about his or Marvel’s history.

People who don’t think Stan deserves credit for Marvel comics simply don’t realize how important marketing is. Forget his writing contribution, his work as a mascot is what’s really important.

I actually saw Stan give a talk after a screening of the last Spider-Man movie, where he divulged quite a bit of information to back up the fact that he didn’t know who Ultron was…he stated during his discussion that he only read the comics he wrote, and hasn’t read a comic since he stopped writing.

So I mean, I don’t know what that really means in practice…or if he’s including the time he was EDITOR AND WAS SUPPOSED TO BE PROOFING BOOKS, but you know, between that and his discussion points about how he was never super interested in comics, he was more interested in movies (and comics are great because they’re the closest print material to movies), I sort of get the impression he didn’t really have much interest in the Marvel Universe beyond money.

Odd. Either he wasn’t keeping tabs on the Avengers as he was supposed to back in the old days or his memory is really failing him now (worse than before at least).

its common knowledge including from stan himself that his memory is not the greatest so if he says he does not know who ultron is he is proably telling the truth and also don’t blame him for feeling the way he feels about stan lee media not getting it through their heads stan lee doesn’t have any claim to any of the marvel characters he co created for they were work for hire. even when he ran marvel.

I’ve long assumed that comic book editors don’t edit single issues, just as I assume newspaper editors don’t read every article that goes into every daily paper. There’s probably a general credo or list of parameters that ASSISTANT editors follow while proofing to assure the company dole and brand. Above all else, Stan defined EIC as perpetual hype man, which in the old days he did with a substantial amount of writing. Those Bullpen pages are solid text, at the equivalent of, what, a 5 point font? Dense, verbose stuff. In that way, he was undoubtedly a writer, and perhaps the best promoter of comics even to this day.

Of course he doesn’t know who Ultron is. That was almost 50 years ago. As for Stan getting all the credit for things like Avengers,FF and Spider-Man. Jack Kirby has been passed away for 20 years and Ditko is a recluse who wants nothing to do with mainstream comics anymore.

Did anyone else think ‘holy crap playboys still being published?” at this story. Theres this thing called the internet where pron is free and beyond plentiful. How much money does Hef lose on every issue, lol.


March 20, 2014 at 9:27 am

@Mike T. What does that have to do with Stan getting $10 million for the first Spider-Man movie, and Ditko getting nothing?

The fact that Stan fights in court for royalties, while saying “ah it was work-for-hire” when Kirby or Ditko is mentioned, makes him an opportunist, if not a liar.

Stan Lee is the man. I love his work, and I really appreciate his humble and friendly attitude. He is the reason why older people should get more media attention. Their life experience and lack of greed are very inspiring. I would compare him to one of my own favorite comic creators – Hayao Miyazaki, who brought comic to another level by making it extremely poetic and atmospheric. I wish for them many years in good health and I hope they will continue to inspire me as well as they do right now.

Its hard to give a man recognition and do interviews with him when he wont talk with the media or does not do mainstream work anymore. Is it Stan Lee’s fault that Ditko has washed his hands of his time at Marvel? Is it Stan Lee’s fault that Ditko has turned him down and refused to work on a Spider-Man book one more time? Ditko has alienated himself from everybody in the industry time and time again. You cannot help somebody that wont help themselves.

Hmm. I feel talkative today.

And what did I write Brad? That money is the last thing that would make Ditko leave. Especially that Ditko is a huge follower of Rand philosophy.
He wrote about the creation of spider-man (or however you want to put it) in some obscure fanzine as far as I remember. The reason he did it however, could be because he cared about the truth and was probably annoyed by Lee’s behavior.

Ditko did have full credit on his late S-M issues.
And if Ditko cared about money, he wouldn’t decline doing interviews, his career would be different.

No one really knows the real reason why he left. Maybe, it was due to philosophical reasons.
Maybe, because he got bored by the characters.
Maybe, he wanted to do something else.
Maybe, because it rained that day he decided to leave Marvel.

Ditko did later returned occasionally drawing Daredevil, Chuck Norris, Power Rangers.

In regard to Kirby, it is a shame that he didn’t became a face of Marvel the way that Lee become.
He certainly deserved it. But that’s the thing. Lee was always a cheerful, funny guy, while both Ditko and Kirby were deadly serious, and dare I say, stubborn?

From my experience, a lot of feuds are mostly due to the complete lack of communication between the people. It’s not only comic book business, it happens everywhere, in show business, music groups, and etc. The conflict always starts when people stop talking face to face, and talk about their differences.

It seems that a lot of people don’t really care about digging the stuff, and finding more info.
Instead it’s just repeating 40+ years old rumors, myths, gossips that were explained and discussed thousand times already.

@Sappy – Playboy never really had a porn material. I would call it “erotic” material. And frankly, typical Playboy issue was 90% articles and 10% photos of naked ladies. Or even less

As for Stan possibly not reading any comics since those he did himself back in the day, go to Jim Shooter’s site and read his posts about how he became EIC. Stan and Jim apparently went through many new issues together, where Stan imposed Jim with his vision on how good comic books should be made.
Besides that, Stan was instrumental both in getting Jim the EIC job.

The man, his works and his influence have always defined Marvel. Which isn’t saying that Ditko and Kirby didn’t contribute a great deal either, but Stan doesn’t deny that either.

Stan’s the man. Count me in with his supporters/defenders.

Incidentally, while not having been one of Marvel’s great early successes, one of Stan’s writings I personally regard as a top piece is the origin of Captain Marvel, which is a piece pretty much fully attributed to Stan (artist Gene Colan wasn’t so enamoured with the title). Roy Thomas took over the title almost right away but there’s so much great stuff happening in a small number of pages in those origin issues. I just love the whole set-up of the alien who’s sent to spy on humanity, poses as a human, sympathises with humans, yet is supervised by a guy who hates him and wants him dead so he can get off with his girl, so he’s being given difficult tasks which either compromise either his loyalty to his own race’s strict military command structure or his drive to use his abilities to help mankind. Genius stuff, if you ask me!


March 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

@Hobgoblin – so Kirby and Ditko plot the entire story, draw the entire story, put notes and even dialog in the margins – but Stan rearranged some word balloons and that makes Stan responsible for “defining Marvel” – lol


…are you trolling me, suffering from poor reading skills or just being ignorant? I really can’t tell.

When I wrote ‘defined’ I did not have it preceded it by ‘singularly’.

I’m reposting this brilliant piece by Mike Alonzo from his facebook group Clobberin’ Time’s Baxter Building Basement on the whole Lee/Kirby debate. He ends the argument right here if you’re willing to recognize the truth when it hits you right between the eyes. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~While it’s true that none of Jack’s creations after his 60’s Marvel run got quite to the same level of popularity or status; many of them are still in play today!

His Fourth World has endured and if its influence isn’t quite on par with his Silver Age Marvel co-creations, (not much is, really!) It’s STILL quite substantial in its own right and it inspired many things by many other writers and artists!

The fact that Kirby’s departure from Marvel to DC in 1970 actually USHERED IN the Bronze Age Of Comics, the fact that ONE MAN, one man who Stan has REPEATEDLY tried to portray as merely an artist who drew pretty pictures and little else, changed the face of the art form no less than three times over 30 years (Golden, Silver and Bronze) should be “substantial” enough for the Stan Lee apologists out there, but, alas, I know it isn’t.

The fact that Kirby went on to create DOZENS of characters, concepts and stories not to mention thousands of pages of art on his own, while Lee made speeches at Colleges and wrote his “Soap Box” colum in Bullpen B.S. Bulletins for a few years should be enough to make even the most clueless Lee follower ponder their sycophantic ways. But, it won’t!

Jack continued to create and produce for decades after Stan Lee took his act as Marvel’s pitchman on the road (which he pretty much did well before 1970, btw!) And, sure, none of it got quite to the level of his pre Bronze work; but, what did Stan do after his “collaborations” with Kirby and Ditko of the 60’s that was even on a level with Jack or Steve’s weakest creative accomplishments? Oh, wait, I almost forgot Striperella!

The next time you want to defend Stan Lee with a back handed swipe at Jack Kirby, try something other than the tired (and pathetic) “Kirby never did anything without Lee!” mantra! It doesn’t wash! It never did! At least not with everyone!

I can’t remember where I put my keys, so I’ll give Stan Lee a pass on Ultron.

There is no doubt that Jack Kirby was a creative dynamo…Stan (and many others) have acknowledged his character designs, creations, plots etc for decades. Stan was talking about Kirby’s contributions to plots in 1965 interviews (e.g. Castle of Frankenstein’) and it was clearly outlined in a mid-60s bullpen bulletins page for all Marvel readers to see. This is why Stan was sometimes listed as ‘writer’ or ‘scripter’, while later credits simply read ‘produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’.


It is also clear that when Stan wrote a post-1961 story with whatever artist – Kirby/Ditko/Colan/Ayers/Romita/Buscema etc etc it always had that ‘Marvel’ style that he developed in the sixties. This was an element that was never present in Kirby’s work after he left Marvel, nor in Ditko’s work…even though both continued to produce comics after leaving the company. As noted above, this wasn’t because Kirby ceased to be a creative dynamo. His characters/ideas were still great…but his solo product simply didn’t achieve the ‘popularity’ test…it would left to other writers to make his characters/ideas ‘big’ at DC.

Steve Ditko is on record as stating he produced the first Spider-Man story from Stan’s synopsis…and that he worked from Stan’s plots prior to that. As the Spidey issues went on, Ditko took over the plotting. His article on the creation of Spider-Man can be found in various publications, including ‘Comic Book Artist’ magazine. This testimony alone would assure Stan’s role in popular culture.

Kirby is on record from the 1960s (see the Jack Kirby Collector magazine) as stating that ideas could come from either him, Lee or readers…noting that Lee was “very wise” in keeping track of whether readers wanted a change of pace from cosmic stories etc. Plotting sessions between Lee/Kirby were witnessed by many observers, including John Romita and a newspaper journalist for the New York Herald Tribune in 1966 (on that particular occasion it was noted the plot ideas came from Lee…though of course Kirby would draw up the story and write descriptions/suggested dialogue ideas etc on the pages. Lee tended to disregard the script suggestions completely…as scripting was not Kirby’s strength).

It is true that Kirby later became bitter, even denying that story conferences had ever happened, etc. But please remember that most of this was said when he was quite old…and after he had been quite ill. It wasn’t what he said as a younger man.

If you wish to read more first-hand accounts of Lee’s importance at Marvel see ‘Romita and all that jazz’ (essentially a long interview with Romita) and ‘The Stan Lee Universe’ (lots of first hand accounts from artists/staff who worked with Stan…includes a Lee/Kirby interview). And, of course, read the Ditko article and the early Kirby or Lee/Kirby interviews.

As for Stan’s lack of post-Marvel creations…how many people remember what else was created by the creators of Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman? And we need to remember that he was planning to quit comics in 1961…and was always interested in moving on from that side of things. Kirby, on the other hand, wanted to continue creating comics (working to his strengths as an artist/conceptualiser).


The truth is probably somewhere in between. I don’t buy this “Jack Kirby created everything” BS. He did weird boring crap before Marvel and Stan Lee. All the classic superheroes were created at this time when he worked with Stan Lee. After he left Marvel, all the weird boring crap came back (New Gods, Kamani, etc). Does that make sense to you? Doesn’t make sense to me.

when i was a kid, Marvel was my life. i mean, Marvel was before the Beatles. when i think back to the events and people that changed American pop culture, Marvel Comics is in the mix. Marvel’s characters had self doubt, physical limitations, personal relationships and the problems therein. this was real literature. to read all of this controversy is distressing. so, i’m just going to dismiss all of it, and pretend i never read any of it. at this late stage of my life, my few pleasant memories shouldn’t be destroyed.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………… ‘Nuff Said

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