Stan Lee sues Marvel over ''Spider-Man'' profits. The legendary creator of superheroes claims the comic publisher, where he's worked for 60 years, owes him $10 million in profits from this year's smash movie

By Gary Susman
November 13, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

”Spider-Man” has earned about $1 billion at the box office worldwide and set sales records since its recent release on video. But the man largely credited with creating Spidey, longtime Marvel Comics chief Stan Lee, says he hasn’t seen his share of that windfall. On Tuesday, Lee filed suit in New York federal court against Marvel, his home base for 60 years, alleging that he’s entitled to 10 percent of the comics publisher’s profits from the movie, or about $10 million.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Lee says he signed a 1998 agreement with Marvel entitling him to a 10 percent share of profits from TV shows or movies based on his characters, including ”Spider-Man,” 2000’s ”X-Men,” and such 2003 movies as ”Daredevil,” ”The Hulk,” and ”X-Men 2,” not to mention the 2004 Spidey sequel. However, Lee’s lawyers say Marvel wrongly told him that the company had yet to see any profits from ”Spider-Man” or the first ”X-Men.” In addition to the money, he seeks an injunction to make Marvel turn over its ledgers.

Marvel, however, insists Lee has already been paid for the superheroes he created 40 years ago. In a statement, the company said, ”Mr. Lee has made contributions to Marvel and the comic book industry in the past, for which he continues to be well-compensated. Marvel believes it is in full compliance with and current on all payments due under the terms of Mr. Lee’s employment agreement and will continue to be so in the future. However, Marvel does not comment on either pending litigation or threatened future actions.”

Lee, 80, has worked for Marvel since he joined the company in 1939 as an errand boy. As a writer and ultimately Marvel’s publisher, he was the creative force (along with artists like Jack Kirby) who originated such characters as Spider-Man and the Hulk. While he no longer runs the company, he still is on salary (for $1 million a year, according to the Reporter) and still does promotional work, having given numerous interviews this year to push ”Spider-Man.”

It’s also possible, given the quirks of Hollywood accounting, that Marvel is correct in stating that it has received no profits from Sony’s blockbuster hit. Studios commonly assess charges against a movie’s profits — production, marketing, distribution, studio overhead — before letting profit participants see a dime.

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