Not every superhero fulfills his or her destiny in early adulthood.
Even Stan Lee, whose first comic books were published when he was still in his teens, waited decades to become a famous face.
Now, thanks to his role as the Tim Gunn of would-be caped crusaders on the Sci Fi Channel’s cheeky “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” and a steady stream of movie and TV cameos, from “Spider-Man” to NBC’s “Heroes,” the 85-year-old Lee’s found his place in the spotlight.
And he appears to be enjoying every minute.
“Let me put it this way - I don’t think that Sean Connery is worried about me just yet,” Lee said last month when I asked him about his acting career at a Sci Fi Channel cocktail party during the Television Critics Association’s summer meetings.
“I do these silly cameos, which I really love. ... I’m really a ham,” he said.
“I’ve done a lot of things. I was in the movie - what the hell is the name of it? - `Mallrats,’ you know, Kevin, I was in that. And I was in a movie that nobody ever saw called ... `Ambulance,’ done by Larry Cohen,” he said.
“I don’t know how it happened. It’s a mystery to me.”
Given that Hollywood is a town full of current and ex-geeks - half the population, it seemed, decamped for San Diego Comic-Con in late July - could it just be that the kids who grew up on Lee’s work in “Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four” comics are now in charge?
Well, all right, allowed Lee, twinkling (yes, the man actually twinkles), “but that didn’t have anything to do with it. They realized, if they want to get people into the movie, they’ve got to announce that I’m in a cameo.”
“And if you don’t say, `He said that with a laugh,’ I’ll never talk to you again,” he added - still chuckling.
“Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” is now in its second season of showcasing oddballs whose antics might once have been limited to the halls of Comic-Con, and as Lee puts it, “This year is the same except we have some new gimmicks. And I’m in it a little bit more.”
Fresh off his triumphs as “Rejected Wedding Guest” in the “Fantastic Four” movie, “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” and as “Spider-Man 3’s” “Man in Times Square,” Lee, who played a bus driver in the Feb. 19 episode of “Heroes,” is already plugging his next big-screen appearance.
“Wait’ll you see my one in `Iron Man’ - it is so great. Oh, I wish I could tell you about it,” he said.
“Robert Downey Jr., you know, plays Iron Man, and I have a very brief scene with him, but obviously, it’s the main scene in the movie,” he added.
Yes, he’s still joking.
“Iron Man’s” not expected to be out until next year, but Lee, no doubt aware that out of sight can mean out of mind in the acting world, isn’t just waiting for the phone to ring.
“What I was thinking of doing was taking an ad in Variety - `Available!’ - why am I only in Marvel? I don’t know why I didn’t have a cameo in `Superman’ or `Batman’ - somebody missed the boat,” he said.
So every movie with a superhero should include a Stan Lee cameo?
“Of course. And even comedies and romances and Westerns. Hell, I’m easy.”
Not to mention ambitious.
“You know, you seem like somebody with a lot of influence,” he said. “Could you get the Academy to have a new category for the best cameo of the year? I’m sure you could work on that.”