DUBAI: Black Panther creator Stan Lee foresees a Middle Eastern Marvel hero on the big screen: ‘It’s only a matter of time’
When Black Panther became the first movie to screen in Saudi Arabia’s cinemas in 35 years at last night’s gala in Riyadh, it was the exclamation point at the end of an outstanding box office run for perhaps the most important film of 2018.
Seeing a superhero film featuring a predominantly black cast has been a huge social moment for many people of color across the world, cementing a new era for the genre and mainstream cinema as a whole.
When Stan Lee co-created Black Panther with Jack Kirby in 1966, he never dreamed it would be as significant as it became.
“It wasn’t a huge deal to me. It was a very normal natural thing,” Lee told HuffPost Canada. “A good many of our people here in America are not white. You’ve got to recognize that and you’ve got to include them in whatever you do. If my books and my stories can change that, can make people realize that everybody should be equal, and treated that way, then I think it would be a better world.”
Nonetheless, he saw a need for a black superhero in comic books, mirroring that need in film decades later.
“At that point, I felt we really needed a black superhero,” Lee told HuffPost Canada. “And I wanted to get away from a common perception. So what I did, I made him almost like [Fantastic Four’s] Reed Richards. He’s a brilliant scientist and he lives in an area that, under the ground, is very modern and scientific and nobody suspects it because on the surface it’s just thatched huts with ordinary ‘natives.’ And he’s not letting the world know what’s really going on or how brilliant they really are.”
Lee briefly appears in the landmark film, though he wished he could do more.
“I’m a little disappointed in my Black Panther cameo,” Lee told the audience of ACE Comic Con in Arizona a few months ago. “I had wanted a great fight scene where I fight the Black Panther to a standstill. I didn’t get that, but I want you to see the movie anyway. Even though it’s not my greatest cameo, you owe it to me to see it.”
Lee, though he has not been able to come visit the Middle East, has appeared multiple times via satellite at the Middle East Film and Comic Con to answer questions from devoted fans in Dubai.
“It’s incredible that they have one out there,” he told Arab News. “They’ve always treated me kind and with the utmost respect. They are an A-class show.”
Though he’s decided that he can no longer travel abroad, he still has hope he can come see his fans in the Middle East soon.
“You never know, I can always change my mind and make a surprise appearance somewhere,” Lee says.
When asked whether Marvel will introduce a Middle Eastern superhero on the big screen, Lee has no doubt it will happen. “It’s only a matter of time,” Lee said.
In his lifetime, Marvel has become one of the strongest brands in the world, especially since the launch of Marvel Studios
10 years ago with Iron Man. While Black Panther has become one of its greatest successes, Lee sees this as a continuation of the legacy that he began with his collaborators more than 50 years ago.
“It’s always been Marvel time. I think people are embracing these heroes because it’s fun. Comic books have always been about stories that you can enjoy and believe in. There is a greater acceptance to that now more than ever,” Lee said.
Of all his creations, Spider-Man remains Lee’s favorite, co-created with Steve Ditko with help from Kirby.
“The reason is because anybody can be Spider-Man under that mask,” including Miles Morales, the Black-Latinx character who will appear in the upcoming Sony/Marvel animation film Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse.
Lee is also happy to see Spider-Man back in the Marvel cinematic universe, including the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War.
“It’s been a long time coming but I’m very happy that he’s here now,” Lee says.
Important to Lee is that his characters, including Spider-Man and Black Panther, are imperfect, which is one reason why they resonate with audiences to this day.
“I wanted to have my characters with flaws,” he said. “I wanted them to be more like an ordinary person having every day issues.”
Lee said that in his long career, he has no regrets, with his only wish “to be remembered as a person who brought a little happiness to the world.”