‘Ultimate Spider-Man': Stan Lee cleans up on Disney XD series

March 29, 2012 | 12:00 p.m.
New series premieres Sunday with Marvel pioneer as recurring character -- a janitor.

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

With Sunday’s premiere of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” Disney XD looks to adds a new chapter to the character’s long history as an animated success. It was 1967 when ABC aired the first episode of the original “Spider-Man” series and the catchy theme song (with lyrics by  Paul Francis Webster, the three-time Oscar winner who wrote “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”) helped propel it to the status of pop-culture classic. We caught up with Marvel pioneer Stan Lee to talk about his recurring voice role in the new show and the wall-crawling hero’s sticking power.

HC: You’ve been making cameos in Marvel feature films since “X-Men” in 2000 and we’ll see you this summer in Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” —  but you’re taking it to a different level with this role in “Ultimate Spider-Man.”

SL: That’s right, we’re not kidding around anymore, this is serious stuff, now I’m playing a continuing character. I play the janitor. I guess it was typecasting. They took a good look at me and they put a mop in my hand and they said, ‘Absolutely perfect, this man was born for this role.’ The way I play him he’s utterly fearless and highly intelligent. But I don’t have much opportunity to demonstrate those traits, I’m really mostly swinging the mop and uttering a few words here and there.

HC: This the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man, a character you created with Steve Ditko. Your comics career started in 1941 and you’ve filled an entire universe with heroes, villains , gods and monsters — but he’s the special one for you, isn’t he?

SL: He’s the most famous worldwide and whenever young kids want to wear a Halloween costume it’s usually the Spider-Man costume they choose. It’s incredible to me, he’s known throughout the world. He has the usual worries and hang-ups that any other kids have, that made him really different when he first appeared.

HC: Spider-Man has another anniversary this year: It was 45 years ago this September that he hit the airwaves with the classic animated series that many people remember for its theme song. That was a huge moment for Marvel, wasn’t it?

SL: It sure was, especially with the theme song, I loved it. “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…”  That show led me to believe we were on to something. We didn’t precipitate that, we didn’t just start it, somebody came to us and said we’d love to do a cartoon of your character. And they did some of our other superheroes too, and when I saw Spidey and the others in the cartoon world and on television, I figured we were really on the way up.

stanleespiderman Ultimate Spider Man: Stan Lee cleans up on Disney XD series

Stan Lee and an old friend. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times)

HC: Tell us one thing that you really like about the new Disney XD show — besides the janitor.

SL: It certainly has its own energy. It has Peter Parker and Mary Jane and Harry and they all come from different backgrounds but they’re close friends because they support each other despite their differences. They care about each other and I think that conveys a sort of a subtle message to the kids that are watching it. It has to do with family and friendship. We’ve certainly tried to make the show entertaining and humorous. We introduce other superheroes, too, to make it more exciting. We bring in S.H.I.E.L.D. who is going to be training Spider-Man and he’s going to meet four other superheroes, Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova, they’re all going to be training with S.H.I.E.L.D. as well. It’s Spider-Man younger than we’ve seen him in, say, the movies. So with that and all of his friends and the heroes he meets and S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s a well-rounded story and one that’s different than you’ve seen [on the previous animation projects] with as much humor as you could inject. I loved it and, hey, I’m pretty hard to please.

– Geoff Boucher

[For the Record, 12:27 p.m., March 29: An earlier version of this story misstated the show’s airdate. It premieres on Sunday, not Saturday.]

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