Marvel comics legend Stan Lee died last week at 95. Aside from creating dozens of iconic superheroes, Lee was also known for ushering in the modern comic book era and becoming the face of it through his cameo appearances in film and television projects.
One of those appearances included that of an anonymous bus driver on NBC’s Heroes, which counted among its producers Jeph Loeb, who now serves as the head of Marvel TV and crossed paths regularly with Lee throughout his Marvel career. Below, Loeb remembers working with Lee for the first time, reflects on his legacy, and reveals his favorite Lee cameo.
The first time I worked with Stan was not on a Marvel project. I was on a show called Heroes, and we thought it would be fun if Stan did a cameo on the show. That’s when I learned the first lesson of having Stan do your cameos, that he can take one line and make it into a soliloquy. What was happening was, he was the bus driver — he always played the everyman — and Hiro, the young Japanese character [played by Masi Oka], was getting on the bus.
Stan’s line was “Hi there.” We set it all up, the bus pulls up, the door opens, and Stan leans out and says, “Well, young man, where you headed off to?” And Hiro says, “I’m trying to get to California.” And Stan says, “Well, I’ve got good news for you! We’re headed right there, so come on board!” We were like, “I guess that’s the same as ‘Hi there’ if you’re in Stan’s world.” We tried to use him in all of the Marvel series, but on the shows in New York [on Netflix], it was harder for him to come from California, though every one of the showrunners asked if we could.
When I started working in the business and had the chance to meet him, people would say, “You know Stan Lee?” And I would go, “What’s extraordinary to me is that Stan Lee knows who I am.” It just seemed impossible to me. And he was so good about that. Even at 95, he would go, “Oh, Jeph, how are you, what’s going on at Marvel?” It was remarkable.
It’s not in the movies or television shows, but [my favorite Stan Lee] cameo is at the end of the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. He and Jack [Kirby] are two guys at the wedding, and that’s the end of the story. There are these two guys with top hats and tuxedos walking down the street, talking about the Fantastic Four.
On a professional level, Stan took these mysterious people who wrote and drew and inked and lettered and edited comics, and he made them into characters. He gave them nicknames, and you had a sense as a reader that getting a chance to work at the Marvel bullpen or see the Marvel bullpen was like going to the circus, and these were the people who were having the greatest time and every now and then would draw themselves into the comics.
And it’s why you loved them, because Stan created a world where he and the rest of the bullpen could play in the Marvel universe, which told us youngsters who were going to come in and write and draw for Marvel and eventually make movies and television shows, that we were always a part of the story, and that we could be in the Marvel universe any time we wanted to be. [He was] a hero, a brilliant storyteller, a fantastic marketer, and a promoter without peer. He really took hold of the comic book industry and told the world that these aren’t just for children. This is literature.