The epic battles in Stan Lee’s comics may be nothing compared to the array of legal fights he’s waging — which now includes a billion-dollar lawsuit against the company he co-founded.
Lee is suing POW! Entertainment for fraud and conversion, claiming the company and two of its officers conspired to steal his identity, name and likeness in a “nefarious scheme” involving a “sham” sale to a Chinese company.
POW! was acquired in 2017 by Hong Kong-based Camsing International, and Lee says POW! CEO Shane Duffy and co-founder Gill Champion didn’t disclose the terms of the deal to him before it closed. At the time, Lee claims, he was devastated because his wife was on her deathbed and they took advantage of his despair — and his macular degeneration, which rendered him legally blind in 2015.
Lee says last year Duffy and Champion, along with his ex-business manager Jerardo Olivarez, whom he’s currently suing for fraud, asked him to sign a non-exclusive license with POW! for the use of his name and likeness in connection with creative works owned by the company. Instead, what he purportedly signed was a “fraudulent” intellectual property assignment agreement that granted POW! “the exclusive right to use Lee’s name, identity, image and likeness on a worldwide basis in perpetuity.”
According to the complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Lee has been selective about licensing his name and likeness and will only authorize the use on a non-exclusive basis.
“Lee does not recall anyone reading the Illegitimate Document to him, and, due to his advanced macular degeneration, he could not have read it himself,” writes attorney Adam Grant in the complaint. “While the Illegitimate Document purports to contain Lee’s signature, Lee never knowingly signed it. Either Duffy, Champion, Oliveraz [sic] or POW! (1) forged Lee’s signatures; (2) lifted Lee’s signature from another document and imposed it on the Illegitimate Document; or, (3) someone, likely one of the Defendants, induced Lee to sign the Illegitimate Document by using a bait and switch tactic: telling Lee it was something else.”
Lee also claims POW! took control of his social media accounts and has been impersonating him — something he’s recently addressed on Twitter.
Lee is seeking an injunction declaring the agreement invalid and unenforceable and damages in excess of $1 billion.
A representative for POW! sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement Wednesday in response to the complaint: “The allegations are completely without merit. In particular, the notion that Mr. Lee did not knowingly grant POW! exclusive rights to his creative works or his identity is so preposterous that we have to wonder whether Mr. Lee is personally behind this lawsuit. There is no question Mr. Lee — who, along with his daughter, was and remains a substantial POW! shareholder — clearly understood the terms of the agreements he signed. The evidence, which includes Mr. Lee’s subsequent statements and conduct, is overwhelming and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
The company in April released an open letter to fans saying it was concerned about “the upheaval within [Lee’s] personal management and life” following an investigative report by THR that included allegations of elder abuse.
May 16, 12:10 p.m. Updated with a statement from POW! Entertainment.