Improbably, comic book legend Stan Lee is returning to Marvel.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the superhero studio has signed a 20-year deal with Stan Lee Universe, a company founded by Lee prior to his death in 2018, to license the name and likeness of the iconic writer-producer for use in future entertainment products.
The agreement could see Lee featuring in theme parks, merchandise, video games, virtual reality experiences, and, crucially, upcoming movies and TV shows in a manner reminiscent of his famous cameos in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) flicks.
Andy Heyward, CEO of Genius Brands (co-owner of Stan Lee Universe), said in a statement: “[This] really ensures that Stan, through digital technology and archival footage and other forms, will live [on] in the most important venue: the Marvel movies and Disney theme parks.”
However, other insiders have reportedly cautioned fans against expecting Lee to return to the big screen any time soon. The priority – at least initially, it seems – will be on applying his likeness to various “digital experiences”.
Should Marvel choose to include digital versions of Lee in future movies, though, it wouldn’t be the first time a Disney-owned studio has flirted with the concept of virtual resurrection – digital versions of Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing were featured in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, respectively.
Such a move could be viewed as controversial for some Marvel fans, but Genius Brands CEO Heyward has said that “if it’s done with taste and class, and respectful of who he was, it will be welcomed.”
“He is a beloved personality and long after you and I are gone, he will remain the essence of Marvel,” he added.
With the continued growth of virtual reality technology and the metaverse in 2022, the subject of digital immortality will likely persist for years to come. Some industry experts even believe this virtual afterlife is a natural next step for humanity.
Nayeem Syed, Chief Vision Officer at Exponentials.tv, recently told TechRadar: “Vanity or not, we are wired to want to be remembered forever by leaving behind a legacy that can outlive us and be shared with future generations. We are trying to slow down aging and control our lifespan with biotechnology, gene therapy, and 3D organ printing, but all of this technology is simply far too costly. A better and cheaper route to immortality might then lie in the digital world.”
“In the future,” Syed continued, “most metaverses will be structured so that virtual personalities can only exist with direct control and input from a primary user. It is time to change our mindset about the merging of humans with technology and start thinking of it as a binomial collaboration.”
Perhaps, then, Marvel’s acquisition of Stan Lee’s likeness for use in the digital world represents the earliest days of a society-wide trend, one reserved, right now, for the richest and most influential among us and TV shows depicting the very same virtual afterlife. Now there’s a thought.