From time to time, the Before The Cyborgs staff comes together to answer questions relating to the current events of that particular week. This week with the passing of Stan Lee, We ask: What is your favorite Stan Lee Cameo?
Long before the rise of the MCU or even the mass popularization of comics in pop culture, Stan Lee made a cameo in Kevin Smith’s 1995 film Mallrats. Here he takes on a more dramatic cameo than audiences have now been accustomed to forgoing the usual humorous blink and you’ll miss it quick take for an extended heart to heart with the film’s lead (Jason Lee as Brodie). Reflecting on the cost of ambition and the perils of regret (through comic book metaphors obviously), Stan Lee showcases a side that rarely gets seen in his more modern cameos. Demonstrating the same insightful wisdom that highlights his most memorable comic stories, this aspect of Stan Lee’s legacy should be remembered just as much as the times he made us laugh.
As Marvel movies became more frequent and widespread, Stan Lee’s cameos went from being brief silent background glimpses to becoming basically a featured extra with speaking lines, which can vary from being amusing to eye-rolling, depending on its implementation. For the most part, inserting the cameos within the middle of action scenes for a goofy old man to make corny one-liners can become an unnecessary distraction. Ironically, the best Stan Lee cameo does happen within the middle of an action scene in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which also happens to remain the most memorable part of this largely generic, mediocre reboot.
His appearance comes during the middle of a fight between Spider-Man and the Lizard in a high school library. Stan Lee is a clueless carefree librarian, merrily sorting his books while listening to classical music through his headphones, completely oblivious to the two super mutants wreaking havoc behind him. What makes it more amusing is that all background noise has been cut out from the scene aside from his music, giving us more of a sense of what he’s hearing within the midst of all this chaos. It also allows for Stan Lee to be funny without making him spout some embarrassing, pandering one-liner.
More than a decade before hitting gold with the MCU and its massive shared universe, the 1990s saw the development of animated programs based on various Marvel properties; with one of their particular highlights being Spider-Man (1994), airing on Fox Kid’s from 1994 to 1998.
While certainly aged since the time of its airing, where Spider-Man (1994)truly shines was it being among the first Marvel series to incorporate and blend numerous storylines from the web-slinger’s comics, updating as necessary in addition to developing its own shared universe in crossovers with other Marvel properties over the course of 65 episodes. All coming to an end with the 2-part series finale “Spider Wars”, which finds our hero dimension-hopping to save reality itself from complete obliteration alongside alternating counterparts; culminating in a rather relaxed and contemplative epilogue where Spider-Man is introduced to Stan Lee. Lee’s appearance and performance, while brief, caps off a great finale in Spider-Man since after using various other dimensions as fun house mirrors reflecting what Spider-Man is, it only fits to end with him coming to the dimension of his true origins and coming face-to-face with his creator and sharing his experiences throughout the course of his grand adventure. Plus Stan Lee experiencing “true web-slinging” stands as a decent bonus.
Stan Lee’s cameos often functioned as a meta joke to the previously initiated viewers of the popularized contemporary Marvel film brand, a meta wink to those who have never picked up a comic book that these films have a printed origin that you’ll never delve into. For the uninitiated, having some old man fumble into the frame and abduct the spotlight for a few minutes is befuddling and to those familiar with the comics, they might say “Stan Lee produced a lot of comics, but so what?” To say the least, it’s an inside joke that stopped being funny a long time ago.
That’s why his cameo as the narrator of Spider-Man (2000) for the Playstation works as well as it does. Providing a bright and lively description of what Peter Parker will do in the video game’s storyline, Lee’s opening monologue proudly reminds fans new and old of just why not only Lee’s creations touched so many, but why superheros in general have such a wide appeal. By far his greatest and most uncynical presence in a medium. “Welcome true believers and newcomers alike. Spider-man co-creator Stan Lee here. Once again, we find our hero, Peter Parker, better known around the world as the Amazing Spider-man, in a heap of trouble. But this is just the beginning Spidey fans. So get ready for a true superhero action thriller packed to the brim with thrills and chills, twists and turns, more supervillains than you can shake a web at, and of course, non-stop, web-slinging, wall crawling action.”
Although Stan Lee’s fertile mind produced so many diverse characters, it seems that Spider-Man remains arguably the most popular in the rich catalog of Marvel. Prior to the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Sam Raimi first brought the web-slinger to the screen in films that have now been sadly overlooked since their release over a decade ago (especially the phenomenal Spider-Man 2). My favorite Stan Lee cameo comes from Spider-Man 3 (2007), wherein just a few words of wisdom Stan informs Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) that “You know, I guess one person can make a difference. Nuff said”.
While his words are meant to reinforce the positive impact Spidey has on New York City, it’s a line that is really autobiographical. Stan Lee did indeed make a difference in the lives of so many, and his role in the groundbreaking evolution of comics as sophisticated reading material cannot be overstated. Because with the aid of a number of great artists, Stan Lee enriched our culture in immeasurable ways and as one person made all the difference in the world. Excelsior Mr. Lee, and thank you!