Howard Pays Tribute to Comic Book Pioneer Stan Lee and Remembers the Time They Almost Made a Movie Together

“It was quite an honor to be even considered by Stan Lee because I loved that guy,” the King of All Media says of working with the Spider-Man creator

November 13, 2018
Photo: Shutterstock

Howard kicked off Tuesday’s show with a touching tribute to comic book pioneer and past Stern Show guest Stan Lee, who died in Los Angeles on Monday at the age of 95.

The longtime Marvel Comics writer, editor, and publisher, created or co-created many of the multi-billion dollar industry’s most enduring characters, including the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man.

Lee’s creative achievements piqued the imaginations of millions and perhaps molded the young minds of several generations, including Howard himself who Tuesday morning referred to Stan as a father figure of sorts when he was a kid.

“I read all his comic books,” Howard said. “I was a comic book guy growing up and my big fantasy was that one day there would be a TV show or a movie that would treat comic books seriously. That was my fantasy.”

That’s precisely how Stan is credited with revolutionizing the industry. Whereas preceding superheroes (including DC Comics’ Superman) were often invulnerable and inaccessible archetypes, Lee created heroes and villains whose wild superpowers were bundled together with all-too-human flaws, fears, aspirations, and emotions readers could relate to.

“What I think Stan Lee brought to comic books that DC did not, he brought characters that were a little bit deeper,” Howard explained. “These guys were a little bit more, let’s say real.”

“There was an adult quality to some of the writing, and I think that’s why all of his characters became immortalized,” he added.

Stan was more than a creator, of course. He also made cameo appearances in Marvel movie adaptations, including all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and outliers like “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk,” a 1989 TV movie starring Lou Ferrigno, and Tom Hardy’s recent “Venom” movie. Two of Stan’s cameos came in Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man” movies, and when Paul joined the Stern Show in 2015 he spoke to Howard about his experiences working alongside the comic book great. Take a listen (below).

Stan himself has also been a guest on the Stern Show, including one call-in which nearly led to an epic collaboration between the comic book publisher and the King of All Media.

“We got on the phone and basically Stan Lee said, ‘I’m gonna create a superhero character for you. Are you interested? Let’s team up, let’s write a movie together. I’ve got some ideas I want to tell you about,'” Howard remembered.

“I was like Jesus Christ, is this really happening?” he continued.

Stan had liked Howard in “Private Parts” and wanted to work with him to create an on-screen superhero based on him. As Howard remembered it, the character was a radio guy operating out of a shack who gets visited by space aliens during one of his broadcasts. The aliens, who had been listening to the radio show, then bestow upon him some kind of superpowers.

Howard admitted he was conflicted. On the one hand, it was an outlandish story; on the other, so were many of Stan’s greatest creations. Ultimately, Howard decided not to go ahead with the project because he feared the story and characters might be too campy and he didn’t want to waste Stan’s time. While he doesn’t regret the decision, Howard still wonders how it might have all turned out.

“There’s a part of me that wishes I had really finished the process of developing this with him,” Howard said. “It was quite an honor to be even considered by Stan Lee because I loved that guy.”