Stan Lee Fans Accuse Disney and Estate of ‘Exploiting’ Late Marvel Comics Icon

Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Lee will now "live" again in Marvel movies and Disney theme parks with a new licensing deal.
(FILE) Stan Lee Dies At 95. Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics whose fantabulous but flawed creations made him a real-life superhero to comic book lovers everywhere, has died. He was 95. Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a family representative told The Hollywood Reporter. HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES, CA, USA - APRIL 23: American comic book writer Stan Lee arrives at the World Premiere Of Disney And Marvel's 'Avengers: Infinity War' held at the El Capitan Theatre, Dolby Theatre and TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on April 23, 2018 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Stan Lee
Sipa USA via AP

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is resurrecting Stan Lee thanks to a new licensing deal — and fans are voicing their criticisms.

On May 19, Marvel announced a 20-year deal with Stan Lee Universe, a venture between Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment, to license the name and likeness of the late Marvel Comics editor-in-chief for use in future feature films and television productions, as well as Disney theme parks, “experiences,” and merchandise under a “broad deal” with his estate.

Lee died in November 2018 at age 95, and fans are calling for the memory of the beloved writer and editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics to be laid to rest.

Vulture critic Alison Willmore compared the deal to a “Weekend at Bernie’s” scheme, and Red Letter Media co-founder Jay Bauman slammed the deal, writing, “Stan Lee was exploited for the last few years of his life and now he can’t even rest in peace. Fuck. Off.”

RLM cast member Jack Packard tweeted, “Now, this doesn’t mean that they’ll puppet Stan’s corpse to cameo in future Marvel movies… but it means they’re prepared(ing) to.”

Another fan added, “Watching Stan Lee get turned into IP by his estate is grim as hell, but it’s the logical extension of how he was treated when he was alive.”

More Marvel lovers wrote, “They will never stop selling his name, and it’s sickening,” as well as, “Stan Lee is no longer a person. He is now a Marvel character that will say and do whatever Disney commands.”

Lee was the writer and editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics in the 1960s and later became the public face of the company with cameos in Marvel films, with his last onscreen appearance in “Avengers: Endgame.” Lee co-created Spider-Man, Avengers, and Hulk, and co-founded POW! along with Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman.

Chairman and CEO of Genius Brands Andy Heyward assured the deal will be a “steward of [Lee’s] legacy.”

“It really ensures that Stan, through digital technology and archival footage and other forms, will live in the most important venue, the Marvel movies, and Disney theme parks,” Heyward continued. “The audience revered Stan, and if it’s done with taste and class, and respectful of who he was, [uses of his likeness] will be welcomed. He is a beloved personality, and long after you and I are gone, he will remain the essence of Marvel.”

The deal gives Marvel permission to use Lee’s name, voice, likeness, and signature in movies and television projects, plus theme parks, cruise lines, and in-park merchandise. His likeness will not be used in VR or video games.

And this isn’t the first backlash to the handling of Lee’s legacy. The Lee estate has been embroiled in lawsuits for years. Prior to Lee’s death, while his health was declining, the former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief and his team filed a $1 billion lawsuit against POW! Entertainment, alleging executives took advantage by allegedly “inducing him to sign documents under fraudulent pretenses or forging his signature.” The suit set out to reclaim name and likeness rights and objected to the transfer of assets to Hong Kong-based Camsing International. The lawsuit was later dropped.

Lee’s daughter J.C. Lee, as the trustee for the Lee Family Survivor’s Trust, filed a new lawsuit against POW after Lee’s passing to continue the intellectual property battle. POW responded that the suits were “nothing more than family drama.”

Last year, Disney sued the families of the late Lee, Steve Ditko, Don Rico, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Gene Colan to prevent them from claiming copyrights for Marvel characters like Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Disney filed the lawsuits in response to receiving copyright termination notices from the select families, who claimed the rights of the MCU characters should revert to the creators’ heirs.

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