Stan Lee would have been 99 today. Despite his legacy coming into question by a recent biography by American journalist Abraham Riesman called True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, he remains an icon for millions around the world.
Whatever your opinion of him, we can say for certainty that he did leave an indelible mark on the industry by co-creating some of the most popular characters in pop culture. At the very least, and on this even his harshest critics agree, he was a great marketer and did a lot to popularise the art form that was earlier dismissed.
It can be argued that Jack Kirby had more of an impact on comic-book characters, but it cannot be denied that Lee’s contribution was immense. While a lot is known about his popular co-creations like Spider-Man, Hulk, and Fantastic Four, not many know about his work at Marvel’s arch rival DC Comics. DC and Marvel have had a fractious relationship since the very beginning, which now extends to the cinematic universes. But Lee was one of the few comic-book creatives who was loved by both sides.
In 2001, Stan Lee and DC teamed up for a comic-book like called Just Imagine…, which re-imagined the greatest heroes of the Distinguished Competition as he liked to call the company.
Here is how Stan Lee’s version of the DC’s trinity looked like:
Not Bruce Wayne, Lee’s Batman was called Wayne Williams (continuing the glorious comic-book tradition of alliterative names). This Caped Crusader also did not have any superpowers, and had a similar peak physical condition and was super-wealthy. His money allowed him to invest in ultra high-tech equipment, which included night vision lenses, a Kevlar costume, sensors to magnify sound and a wingsuit/hang glider hybrid cape to glide.
However, Wayne Williams differed from Bruce Wayne in his origin story and race. This Batman was not white, he was African-American. His father was a cop who died on duty. The son gets framed and is imprisoned. He plots revenge against a gangster. In jail, he comes across a scientist called Frederick Grant who teaches him the skills that will come in use later. When Wayne gets out, he becomes a wrestler under the alias of Batman. He does not show his face, keeping his identity hidden.
He soon rises in the ranks to become a big name, getting astounding amount of wealth for his troubles. He and Grant team up to keep the Batman identity secret. The public story is Grant is the rich man, and Wayne his bodyguard. After extracting vengeance against Frederick, Batman becomes a crime-fighter and protector of the city.
The original Clarke Kent, real-name Kal-El, a Kryptonian godlike superhero, becomes Salden in Stan Lee’s hands. In Just Imagine… as well, Salden is a Kryptonian and actually a minor cop at that planet. He captures a criminal who sends himself and Salden to earth. Both discover that they have special abilities on the planet. While the criminal becomes the ruler of a jungle tribe, Salden realises that this primitive blue-green planet is mired in poverty and war, and cannot develop until these and other ills are removed. Salden assumes the mantle of Superman and becomes the planet’s protector.
3. Wonder Woman
Far from the Princess of Themyscira we know, Lee’s Wonder Woman is called Maria Mendoza. She is only a mortal, an activist who is protesting the corporate excavation of an ancient Incan holy site near her village. The CEO of the company that is behind the excavation, Armando Guitez, wants to gain power from the site and take over the world. When Maria’s father is kidnapped by the CEO and taken to the excavation, Maria follows, only to arrive too late to prevent her father’s death.
Guitez gains demonic powers from artefacts at the site. Maria finds the staff of Manco Capac, granting her the powers of the Incan Sun god, and uses them to pursue Guitez and defeat him. She then takes the name Wonder Woman.