September 29, 2011 12:11pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Stan Lee's Sports Superhero Project Targeted In Lawsuit (Exclusive)
Stan Lee's Guardian Project, which turns sports mascots into superheroes, is under threat from a Hollywood manager who claims to have been cut out of the enterprise.
Adam Asherson alleges in a lawsuit filed last week in LA Superior Court that the project, now co-owned by NBC Universal, first got off the ground in 2003 after a fellow manager named Anthony Chargin and his former colleague's client, Jake Shapiro, introduced him to the idea of transforming professional team mascots into sports-themed superheroes.
Asherson says he loved the idea and had a strong relationship with Lee. Asherson says he suggested that the Spider-Man co-creator would be the "perfect" partner, and Chargin and Shapiro allegedly told him that if he were to get Lee on board, they would all be equal partners.
Together, the three pitched Lee on the project, originally called Defenders, focused on the NFL with an eye towards extending it out to MLB, NBA, and the NHL.
However, the NFL deal fell apart for unspecified reasons.
Six years later, a similar project entailing the transformation of team mascots into superheroes from Chargin and Shapiro, including the participation of Lee, gained steam.
This time, Asherson says he was shut out.
Asherson says he learned about the venture from a press release touting The Guardian Project, whereby 30 fictional superheroes were created to represent 30 National Hockey League teams. Each superhero has superpowers that represent the local city. For example, the San Jose Shark has Silicon Valley roots that let him hack into computers with technopathy.
Now, Asherson claims that Guardian Media Entertainment, SLG Entertainment, Chargin, and Shapiro have breached an oral joint venture agreement, committed promissory estoppel and fraud, and breached fiduciary duties by cutting him out of the NHL deal. He's seeking imposition of a constructive trust and further exemplary and punitive damages.
"The claim has no merit and I intend to defend it vigorously," says Shapiro.
Since first being introduced at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, the Guardian Project has been heating up. In June, NBCU entered into a venture agreement with Guardian Media for the possible creation of graphic novels, television series and movies. NBCU was given an equity stake in Guardian in exchange for promotion.
Meanwhile, the sports-themed-superhero idea has inspired Lee in other ways. Last year for ESPN The Magazine, Lee created superheroes based on professional basketball superstars. At the time, it was hailed as innovative synergy between Disney (owner of ESPN) and its new subsidiary Marvel.
Here's the trailer for The Guardian Project as well as an introduction to one of the mascot superheroes: