The founding father of Marvel Comics, the late Stan Lee, has made a whopping total of 60 cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to date. Though Lee passed away on 12 November 2018 at the age of 95, he had filmed a number of cameos prior to his death—thus being featured posthumously in Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame.
While the latter cast a digitally de-aged Lee, subsequent MCU films and shows have included the late legend through posters and magazines placed cleverly within the frame. But now, it turns out that Marvel Studios has a different plan for the future.
First noted by The Hollywood Reporter, Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment have signed a 20-year deal with Marvel to licence the name and likeness of Stan Lee—seeking to bring his iconic MCU cameos back using computer-generated imagery (CGI) and old footage. According to the outlet, Lee’s image will be used for feature films, TV productions, Disney theme parks, “various experiences” and merchandising.
Andy Heyward, the CEO and Chairman of Genius Brands International, said the new deal will allow Lee’s legacy to live on. “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 admitted in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a broad deal,” he added.
Though Stan the Man has always understood the assignment and electrified audiences with his scene-stealing cameos, the possibility of the late creator’s return using CGI is drawing mixed responses from fans online. “Marvel decided that Stan Lee didn’t experience enough elder abuse when he was alive,” a user wrote on Twitter, referencing the arrest warrant made against Keya Morgan—a New York memorabilia dealer who became a close companion to the comics magnate—for charges including false imprisonment, forgery and fraud.
Meanwhile, others highlighted how people in Lee’s life were once “stealing” vials of his blood to create a special ink meant to be hand stamped as autographs without his knowledge or consent. In 2019, lawyers Kirk Schenck and Jonathan Freund, who represented Lee and his daughter, told The Guardian that since the death of Lee’s wife in 2017, there had been “multiple men” who had tried to “attach themselves to Stan and his various businesses and to manage his affairs.”
Now, CGI avatars of late actors are not a new tactic in Hollywood. Disney previously revived Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a decision that raised many questions on whether digital resurrections are an ethical way to honour the dead. The media giant drew negative backlash from both critics and fans once again when Lucasfilm decided to include unused footage of Carrie Fisher from Episode VII: The Force Awakens in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker after her passing. Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, was additionally cast as Princess Leia’s younger version in a flashback, with her mother’s face digitally added using CGI.
Marvel’s brand new announcement, however, is even more surprising—considering the fact that the studio once stated that it will no longer use cameos of Lee in future projects “out of respect” for the legend.
While the MCU fandom is currently urging Marvel Studios to feature Benedict Wong—who is already confirmed to appear in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law—along with Deadpool in future films instead of Lee, it should be noted that sources close to the situation have also stated that neither Marvel nor Disney have begun planning Lee’s CGI cameos as of today. This means they could tune into the discourse the announcement has made online and decide on the matter accordingly.
Until then, you can certainly expect to witness Lee’s return through figurines, clothing and VR experiences at Disney theme parks in the future.