'Mighty 7' Creator Stan Lee on Launching a New Superhero Franchise and His First Starring Role (Q&A)

The comic book legend talks to THR about his upcoming animated movie, set to debut Feb. 1 on the Hub Network; plus, an exclusive look at the telefilm.

Stan Lee is getting animated with some new superhero friends.

The comic book legend is taking on his first starring role in Stan Lee's Mighty 7, the first of three animated movies created by Lee and produced by Stan Lee Comics, a joint venture among Genius Brands International, run by Andy Heyward and Amy Moynihan Heyward; Lee's POW! Entertainment, run by Lee and Gill Champion; and Archie Comics. It's set to premiere at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Saturday, Feb. 1, on the Hub Network, The Hollywood Reporter has learned exclusively. (The kids-targeted channel has the worldwide premiere of all three movies.)

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Based on the comic of the same name and described as the "first superhero reality show," Mighty 7 features Lee as an animated version of himself, a legendary superhero creator who teaches a crew of alien prisoners and their jailers, who have crash-landed on Earth, how to work together and use their powers to be superheroes -- and he in turn documents their adventures in comics. The 90-minute movie features the voices of Sean Astin, Jim Belushi, Mayim Bialik, Darren Criss, Flea, Armie Hammer, Teri Hatcher, Michael Ironside and Christian Slater. (Watch a new promo clip, which is exclusive to THR, above.)

Ahead of the movie's premiere, Lee, 91, spoke exclusively to THR about how the idea came about, what viewers can expect and why superheroes continue to be so hot in a lively interview that included much of the comic legend's trademark humor.

Where did you get the idea for the Mighty 7?

I was looking for something to do. I remembered the first successful superhero thing I'd done was the Fantastic Four. If that was good, what is even better than four? I thought I'd do eight, but I couldn't find anything that rhymed beautifully with eight or sounded good. So I thought the Mighty 7 had a good sound to it. I very often start with the title and make up the story to go with it. I thought, "Boy, wouldn't it be keen if I put myself in the story and did the world's first reality comic book?" Then it occurred to me, what if I found seven superheroes and got them to work for me. They would do all the work, and I would just write whatever happened. I'd chronicle their adventures. It seemed like a cool idea. Then I figured, "OK, now where did I find them?" What's easier than having them crash-land in a spaceship from another planet where everybody has some superpower or another, and they don't even consider it a superpower on their home planet? Everybody has something special he or she can do. So I find the guys after their ship crash-lands and say, "I tell you what. I'll write the stories of all the adventures you have [on Earth] and turn you into superheroes." This is the first of three movies to TV, and of course the minute those three are over, every studio will be fighting to make a live-action film [laughs].

Do you hope to turn this into a live-action film, or maybe a TV series?

It's really up to the people handling the business end. I see it as a TV series, as live-action movies and continuing the animated movies. It's the kind of story that kids like, and when you have something kids like, you can do it in any form as long as it does well. I'm hoping older people like it too, of course.

It also marks your first starring role.

I figured since nobody in Hollywood is going to discover me, and nobody seems to realize the potential I have in becoming the next Laurence Olivier, I'd have to do it myself and show them. Maybe that won't sound as if I'm kidding [laughs]. I thought it would be fun. I've done a million cameos [including The Big Bang Theory with Bialik]. It's fun to be part of a cast, but it does more that satisfy my vanity. From the point of view of the story, nobody has even done that angle before, where a writer finds some real superheroes and says, "You go ahead and have your adventures, and I want the exclusive on writing your story." In order to do that, I had to put myself in the story -- even though I'm terribly shy and very reluctant ever to do anything where the public will see me [laughs].

The movie also features a lot of big names. Did you have a hand in the casting?

We are so lucky. … We've got so many great people that this show would be a hit even if it had no story. I don't know how we got so lucky. I'd like to take credit for it, but whoever got these people together [Allyson Bosch] in my mind is the best casting director in America. To have people of this caliber for an animated story for kids is just wonderful.

Why do you think superheroes continue to be so hot in pop culture?

I'm going to get philosophical, if I may. I'm sure that superheroes' popularity is going to last forever, and here is the reason: After all these centuries, young people still read and enjoy fairytales, tales of dragons and monsters and evil witches and things that are bigger than life. When you grow up, you outgrow fairytales, but you never lose your love for stories about people that are bigger than life and situations that are bigger than life, and that's what superhero stories are. To me, superhero stories are like fairy tales for grownups. I don't think people will ever get tires of them as long as the people who produce them keep giving them good stories and exciting stories and characters they'll enjoy following the adventures of.

What else can viewers expect from the Mighty 7 movies?

As viewers get to know the characters, we'll have more and more unusual stories, we'll introduce new supervillains that I think the audience is going to love. Supervillains really make a story; superheroes are great. You accept them; you love them. But they've got to fight villains that are exciting. These stories will get better and better as they go along, and we're very proud of them. A key to making things succeed is that you have to love what you're doing. Everybody I'm working with loves what they're doing. Every time I look at a scene, I think, "Oh wow, that's good. The next movie will be even better." I'm always thinking about how we can improve things as we move along. By the time we get to the third movie, we'll be winning every Oscar.