There comes a point in a lot of comicbook stories when the superhero loses his or her powers, then miraculously gains them back.
As such, it comes as no surprise that Stan Lee is back in business with another shingle, POW! Entertainment, after previous venture Stan Lee Media collapsed in the wake of the dot-com crash and an insider-trading scandal.
Rather than buckling from the financial trauma, Lee had the strength of the Hulk to keep him going in his early 80s. Soon after SLM folded, Lee (who was exonerated of any wrongdoing) sought to solidify his reputation as an entrepreneur and invested his money along with Arthur Lieberman and former SLM topper Gill Champion to form POW!
“I just want to show that I can succeed. I’m currently working with people who are honorable and competent. Most of all, I love the work,” says Lee. “Some people retire so that they can finally do what they want, such as playing golf. Well, I’m doing what I want to do. It gives me double satisfaction to see that the things I’m doing are meeting with favor. That’s the biggest rush.”
POW!’s creative strategy harks back to the comicbook guru’s grassroots of inventing character franchises that can spread across several media. If that m.o. sounds similar to SLM’s, POW!’s advantage over its predecessor is that it’s laying off risk; employing a skeletal staff; and outsourcing a bulk of its DVD distribution and production ops through minority shareholder IDT Entertainment, which owns Anchor Bay DVD.
Like other startups during the dot-com boom, SLM invested a tremendous amount of money in itself, burning through $26 million in operating expenses from its inception in October 1998 through September 2000, with only $1 million in revenue to show. The company boasted its own internal digital studio as well as a hearty workforce of 140. Initially, SLM’s heroic epics, such as “7th Portal,” were to be developed as online series.
“Both Stan and I never felt that the Internet was the medium to introduce his new franchises,” says POW! prexy-chief operating officer Champion. “Stan’s stories are complex and character-driven, and need time and space to be developed.”
In the same fashion that Marvel is harnessing top-notch Hollywood talent to bring Lee’s comicbook personalities to the screen, POW! (which Lee quips stands for Purveyors of Wonder) is forging several relationships to breathe life into the scribe’s latest musings. Those projects brewing at POW! include:
- “Who Wants to Be a Superhero,” a reality TV skein produced in conjunction with reality vet Bruce Nash (“Meet My Folks”) in the vein of “American Idol” where candidates pitch their superhero personalities to a panel of judges. Winners receive advice from Lee and are thrown into a real-life situation where they can strut their heroic stuff.
- “Hef’s Superbunnies,” POW!’s second satirical animated television skein set around a personality after Pamela Anderson’s role in “Stan Lee’s Stripperella.” “Bunnies” is Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s “real life” story as a master crimefighter and his lovely sidekicks.
- “Nick Ratchet,” a custom-tailored screen character created for Pierce Brosnan, where he plays a true-to-life superhero.
- ibooks, This October, ibooks through HarperCollins will publish Lee’s first young-reader picture book, “Superhero Christmas,” about a heroic family who sets out to rescue Santa from the evil Ice King. POW! is planning to turn the book into an animated pic.
Yet, what makes all these projects dynamic is Lee’s creative force behind them. And like the old days, the comicbook scribe still applies the same ethos in his daily brainstorming.
“Like my old characters, the new ones I create must be believable, empathetic, romantic and have an element of humor — not some cliche,” he says.