This Looks Terrible! Stan Lee's Mighty 7
Stan Lee’s high-profile cameos in Marvel movies are distracting by design. They’re supposed to briefly hulk-smash the fourth wall, Stan Lee/Marvel style, and remind us of the history behind the super heroics. Stan the Man’s cameos were a very effective form of branding that linked every Marvel film to every other Marvel movie not just through a shared universe but through the iconic presence of a man who embodied not just Marvel but comic books as a medium. Lee’s cameos were fan service, a tip of the hat to the comic book world that spawned so many of our biggest and most beloved blockbusters.
Stan Lee’s bit parts in Marvel movies are inherently tangential. The lovable face and voice of Marvel pops up for a minute or so, we’re all reminded of our love for the man and the world he created and then we get on to more pressing matters.
Stan Lee’s job as a thespian was to take audiences out of whatever movie he graced with his gloriously cheeseball presence and into a winking world of meta-textual self-promotion. If Lee’s presence in the periphery of Marvel movies intentionally takes us out of those movies ever so briefly then how distracting would Lee’s presence be in a central role?
That’s the question posed by Stan Lee’s Mighty 7. It’s a bizarre vanity project from the simultaneously sad and triumphant final decade of Lee’s life and career, when he was simultaneously the face of one of the biggest, most successful and ubiquitous brands in pop culture and a desperate hustler chasing after non-Marvel projects that could only hurt his considerable legacy.
Stan Lee was Marvel’s biggest star, a monolith so vast he blocked out the sun and overshadowed his fellow creators, not all of whom had positive things to say about old Stan the Man.
So there’s a certain warped logic in the late self-promoter finding inspiration for his big new superhero team from looking in the mirror and deciding that, dammit, it was finally Stan Lee’s time to shine not just as a creator, writer and cameo king but as a heroic main character. After all those years of toiling in obscurity and anonymity, wasn’t it Stan had a glimpse of the limelight?
Who could possibly begrudge the creator of every superhero a late in life showcase as a voice artist and animated personality as well as a creator? Hence, Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 was born.
The animated pilot, the first part of a proposed trilogy that did not come to fruition for any number of reasons, opens with a very young and vigorous-looking Stan Lee driving in the desert, looking for inspiration after pitching new superhero ideas to Archie Comics (real-life publisher of Stan Lee Comics) and getting rejected over and over again.
In Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 Stan Lee is of course Stan Lee but for legal and/or professional reasons he can’t reference any of his Marvel characters so while he refers to himself as the man behind many “legendary superheroes” the only credit he drops is his reality show Who Wants To Be a Superhero.
So while Stan Lee is playing a fictionalized version of himself here it’s a strangely off-brand iteration, with his legendary Marvel pedigree replaced by clumsy plugs for the decidedly lesser productions of POW! Entertainment, Lee’s production company, which possessed just as much dignity as their name would suggest, exclamation point and all.
“Come on, brain! Get off your keister! Inspire me!” Lee challenges himself before receiving inspiration from an unlikely source: an alien ship containing five space fugitives and two space marshals, all with super heroes of various varieties. There is, for example, Lady Lightning (Mayim Bialick), of whom Lee quips, “You are one fast woman! And I mean that in a good way.”
It’s funny because “fast” also refers to young ladies who get around, who have a reputation, who have known the affections of many a gentleman caller. Well, okay it’s not “funny” necessarily but then neither is anything else Lee says and if his lines are not out and out jokes they are at least delivered with a Rodney Dangerfeldian rhythm that suggests the titular professional self-promoter is going for laughs he will never get.
Lee encounters these super-powered creatures from outer space and sees, in this fantastical, literally unbelievable encounter with a world beyond even his own famously fertile imagination, an opportunity to come up with a superhero idea undeniable enough to impress even the snobs over at Archie comics: the first-ever reality superhero comics!
Drawing upon his extensive history and expertise in myth-making, Lee decides these powerful aliens need to pivot ever so slightly into super-heroism. To that end, he gives them all kind of shitty new superhero names: Arnie Hammer as the terminally bland leader Strong Arm. Christian Slater doing an unconvincing tough guy routine as bad boy Lazer Lord, a laser-shooting poor man’s Wolverine. Flea as Roller Man as a portly, bespectacled Poindexter type who can roll up in a ball and launch himself purposefully at targets and a couple of other wannabe X-Men, including Micro, who can shrink down to a microscopic size just like Ant-Man, only shittier.
Stan Lee’s Mighty 7’s voice cast is surprisingly star-studded. This extends to James Belushi as one of the main villains, a power-mad military madman with a cybernetic robot arm who wants to wipe out the Mighty 7 and Michael Ironside as Xanar, an evil lizard man from a race at war with the aliens of the Mighty 7.
This 66 minute Hub Network pilot is powered by a decidedly Stan Lee combination of shameless self-promotion and corny self-deprecation. The Stan Lee here is a wisecracking ham who delivers his lines with the rat-a-tat rhythms of a Borsht Belt comic and isn’t at all shy about making with the lawyer jokes.
The vaudevillian shtick comes fast and furious from the Marvel magnate. “I’m Stan Lee. Hey, don’t hold that against me!” the octogenarian quips by way of introduction, following it up with an admonition that people either follow him because of his legendary comic creations—or because he owes them money! Hi-yo!
Lee spends much of his time onscreen imploring his proteges to sign their contracts so he can start exploiting them legally through a comic book based on their real-life antics as genuine superheroes facing off against outsized enemies from both outer space and within the American military.
Mighty 7 fleshes out its world with flashbacks revealing how its five prisoners ended up in space jail for their space crimes. These ostensible criminals all had good reasons to do what they did though it would be giving this dopey-ass superhero nonsense entirely too much credit to pretend that it traffics in moral ambiguity.
In matters of roughly equal proportions, the bad boys and girls of the Mighty 7 make good by saving the world from evil aliens and Stan Lee is finally able to achieve a little success in the comic book world when he manages to sell his “real life superheroes” idea to Archie Comics.
The movie ends by teasing a sequel that was supposed to be followed by yet another sequel and then a TV series on top of video games and merchandise and clothes and lunchables. That didn’t happen, obviously, and while Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 is slicker and more professional than you might imagine, that doesn’t feel like any great loss.
It could be worse, of course. Around the time he was developing Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 as a comic book and TV pilot and so much more Lee was trying to transform another larger-than-life American icon into a superhero in the form of The Governator, an aborted vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger whose Wikipedia entry describes it as featuring “a fictionalized Schwarzenegger who after stepping down from his role as Governor of California became a superhero in order to fight crime. His real-life family and Brentwood home would have fictional counterparts with the home having an Arnold Cave under it as a base of operations. To assist in crime fighting, the cave would have high tech vehicles, super suits, gym and a group of sidekicks. One sidekick is his cyber security expert, Zeke Muckerberg, a teenage computer genius. The Govenator would go up against G.I.R.L.I.E. Men (Gangsters Imposters Racketeers Liars & Irredeemable Ex-cons), his recurring supervillains. A recurring character shown in the trailer is an investigative reporter, voiced by Larry King.”
Yes, the end is oftentimes not pretty or dignified when it comes to the lives of great creators and while Mighty 7 is probably less embarrassing than with The Governator (which was shuttered when news broke that the comic book’s superhero had impregnated his housekeeper) or another never-to-be-realized late-in-life Lee project that would have transformed Ringo Starr into a superhero it’s still many professional rungs below where Marvel Films was operating at the time.
If nothing else, Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 underlines the uncanny commonalities between Lee and Robert Evans, another inveterate self-promoter and all-time great show-business character with an unmistakable voice and cadence who attained a secondary fame late in life as a larger-than-life personality who embodied the heart and soul of his industry and profession.
It speaks to the faith the entertainment industry had in Lee that a multi-media product line was planned around him and his dynamic personality and public persona when he was in his late eighties. Then again, it sure seemed like Lee might just live forever and as corny as Stan Lee’s Mighty 7 might be, and it’s mighty corny, it’s nice just to hear his voice again, even in the cheesiest of contexts.
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