Stan Lee's lost China projects before his death

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 14, 2018
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Marvel Comics co-creator Stan Lee attends a tribute event "Extraordinary: Stan Lee" at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., Aug. 22, 2017. [File photo/ VCG]

Before the iconic superhero creator Stan Lee died at 95 on Monday in Los Angeles, the man behind Spider-Man and other legendary Marvel Comics characters had great ambitions and passion to develop new heroes for Chinese market.

Chinese fans woke up to the sad news that the old man they saw on the big screen just days ago has died. When anti-hero blockbuster "Venom" swept the Chinese box office last weekend, raking in US$110 million, the Chinese audience noticed the familiar face of Lee in a cameo appearance.

"Venom" is just the latest indication of how popular the characters he created and co-created are in China, and Lee never stopped working on his new ventures until his last moments. Lee, born as Stanley Martin Lieber in New York on Dec. 28, 1922, was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and later became its publisher and chairman. In 2001, he co-founded POW! Entertainment ("Purveyors of Wonder") with Gill Champion and Arthur Lieberman to develop several new projects outside the Marvel Universe. Through this company, he had great dreams to develop Chinese superheroes. 

In 2013, Chinese-American singer and actor Leehom Wang was announced to be starring in an adaptation of Lee's "Annihilator." The film, written by Dan Gilroy, was supposed to be a co-production between Magic Storm Entertainment and China's National Film Capital.

POW! announced another two Chinese projects in 2015: The first one is "Realm," a superheroine film based on an original idea from Lee which would star Chinese actress Li Bingbing. The other was a sci-fi action-thriller "Arch Alien," an original new creation by Lee, to be produced by Hualien Media International and POW!, with Ralph Hemecker as the director and William J. MacDonald as the screen writer. 

Spider-Man creator Stan Lee attends the premiere of the Sony film "Spider-Man 2" at the Mann Village Theater in Westwood, California, U.S., June 22, 2004. [File photo/ VCG]

In 2016, Lee and his collaborator Sharad Devarajan added another India-inspired project to his plate, "Monkey Master," which would be a co-production between India and China. The film is backed by China's Shinework Pictures, Lee's POW! Entertainment and Graphic India. 

In May 2017, POW! was acquired by Hong Kong-based Camsing International Holding. Under the deal, Camsing obtained the Pow! library of intellectual properties for film, television, games, virtual reality, animation, live events, tours, comics, and publishing. POW! has over 270 projects with more than 1000 characters. Lee continued to serve as the chief creative officer and said to Xinhua that POW! would carry more Chinese elements in the future.

Images of "Panda vs. Aliens," designed by Lee for an animation set to debut in 2018, were revealed in 2017 and it was entirely funded by Chinese investors with Lee and Gill Champion serving as executive producers.

Camsing held a press conference in November 2017 to announce they would first make two superhero films "Imaginator" and "Legacy" based on Lee's creation and produced more cultural products with Chinese elements in the future.

In May this year, China's Tianying Media struck a deal with POW! to bring Lee's 1970s comic strip "The Virtue of Vera Valiant" to the big screen with a film titled "The Last Resort."

However, things took a weird twist in 2018, as Lee sued POW! Entertainment in May for US$1 billion in damages for the "theft of his identity and likeness" in a lawsuit against the executives' fraud in a China deal, claiming POW! CEO Shane Duffy and co-founder Gill Champion "conspired and agreed to broker a sham deal to sell POW! to Camsing." But Lee dropped the case in July.

Days after Lee dropped his lawsuit against Pow! Entertainment, the company unveiled plans for a Lee-themed convention in China. "Stan Lee (Shanghai) Comic Universe" was held from Oct. 1 - 3 in Shanghai with regular theme-based activities, such as exclusive events, meetings, and signing sessions and cosplay.

Lee had a new project in China to debut at the convention, "Between the Lines," a serialized prose novel adapted from an original story by Lee, on Qidian Books and QQ Books, two popular online reading platforms owned by e-books giant China Literature. Lee's team also announced a new original project: a female superhero character temporarily named JEWEL inspired by the Chinese pop star G.E.M. 

As news of Lee's death spread in China since Tuesday morning, Chinese fans are paying their tributes on social networks and some praised him as the Western equivalent of Chinese literature giant Louis Cha who created wuxia world (martial arts heroes) for generations of Chinese. 

People gather around the star of late Marvel Comics co-creator Stan Lee on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. [Photo/ VCG]

"I'm stunned and heartbroken. You are one of the kindest persons I've ever known, and it was my privilege to have met you," singer G.E.M posted on her Weibo microblog account at noon on Tuesday, "Thank you for bringing so many inspirations, hope and courage to the world and thank you for making so many people believe in themselves in the turbulent world."

Even though there are many uncertainties and mysteries around Lee's lost China projects, his legacy will shine on in other big studio-helmed Marvel projects. He retired from Marvel Comics a long time ago, but remains Chairman Emeritus of Marvel and lent his name and influence to various projects, including cameo appearances in nearly each of these Marvel superhero films.

Besides the most iconic "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" franchises produced by Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox, Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, including "Iron Man," "Captain America" and "The Avengers," are the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, having grossed more than US$17.5 billion so far at the global box office, with great contributions from the Chinese market. 

"Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart," said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

With more Marvel superhero films in the pipeline next year, fans were gearing up to find more unique cameos from Lee. But now it seems that the chances are beginning to end. Fans will see Lee very soon for his cartoon cameo in "Ralph Breaks the Internet" that is set to be released in China on Nov. 23. And Lee reportedly had already finished filming his other cameo in sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War," which is going to hit theaters in 2019 and could be his swan song.  

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