CCI, Day 2: Stan Lee And "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?"

Fri, July 21st, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Andy Khouri, Editor

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Fan Favorite Ty'Veculus

Comics legend Stan Lee took to the stage on Friday, at Comic-Con International in San Diego, to unveil "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?," his newest venture to bring superheroes to the masses. Produced with the SciFi Channel, the show features numerous applicants auditioning superhero identities they've created in the hopes of earning a regular spot on the program, much like the format of "American Idol." Judging the contestants is Lee himself.

"Wait 'till the Emmys come out!" Lee cried.

Panel moderator Mark Stern, the director of original programming for SciFi Channel, asked Stan Lee how he came to be involved in the show.

"I was minding my own business," Lee joked, "Just sitting around in our new company POW Entertainment -- which of course stands for Purveyors of Wonder -- and we said, 'you know these reality shows are pretty popular, why don't we dream one up?'"

Lee and his team approached veteran reality show producer Bruce Nash ("Who Wants to Marry My Dad?" "Mr. Personality"), who according to Lee deemed their idea to cash in on the television trend "SHEER GENIUS!" As it turned out, Nash and his colleague Scott Satin ("Meet My Folks") were working on a similar idea, and the rest is history.

The regular cast is made up of 11 "heroes," a few of which were also on the panel. Major Victory was the resident Superman knock-off, but the rest were less-obvious.

Fat Mama is an overweight single mother in spandex who consumes donuts before each heroic act, much like Popeye swallowed a can of spinach.

Cellphone Girl's significance on our planet was never really explained. The young woman explained that a cellphone-based hero identity seemed appropriate because, in her words, "I'm always on my cellphone!" Cellphone Girl did express a passion for helping people, although it was Major Victory who credited her with teaching him to pay more attention to his roaming charges (the joke was met with more applause later when Cellphone Girl attempted to reuse it as her own).

Ty'Veculus is a real-life firefighter whose comments about heroism reflected a sincere respect for the tradition of superheroes, and he moved the crowd to applause more than once. The would-be superhero also made numerous, desperate attempts to turn the discussion back to those ideals, but was unable to derail Stan Lee's merciless onslaught of "eat your heart out [insert any given noun here]!" jokes.

At one point in the discussion, Lee suddenly exclaimed, "eat your heart out, Batman!" to elated applause despite the fact that there was no apparent cause or context for the comment whatsoever. Lee also took suspicious delight in telling the story of one audition, during which a "gorgeous young lady came in, pulled her top off and stood there topless and says she's a topless superhero for distraction purposes!" Lee went on to say that he made sure she did not feel any pressure to speak too quickly during her interview, and that when she was ultimately dismissed, to walk away very slowly.

The panelists were also able to explain some of the show's subtler points. Because none of the contestants actually possess superpowers, the producers chose to test the "heroes" by a different criteria.

"On the inside," Scott Satin explained, "Every superhero has compassion, intelligence, and morals. Since those are all human qualities, let's test our players on that instead of just physical strength."

One such test required the 11 "heroes" to change out of their civilian identities and into their superhero costumes in the middle of Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles -- without anybody seeing them. Once in costume, the contestants had to run to a finish line. What they were not told was that there would be a crying, lost child placed just before the finish line, and that how they reacted to that child would be the true test of heroism. Lee said viewers will be surprised by the results of the challenge, and that certain heroes were ejected from the show as a result of their choices.

All of the heroes' challenges in "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?" are designed in this fashion. So intense were the surprise twists to every task, every hero on the panel confessed to becoming paranoid that at every turn, they would be confronted with a new dilemma. Reportedly, a hero known as Feedback took to sleeping in his costume just to stay prepared.

When asked what they'd be taking away from the show, the heroes all expressed great admiration for each other, and a new respect for the themes of heroism.

The entire cast, with Stan "The Man" Lee.

Major Victory: "I like hanging out in red Spandex now. I also eat healthier. I don't eat any meat on Mondays now because of Creature [a vegetarian 'hero' in the cast]. Go vegans!"

Fat Mama: "I'm a single parent, I like to spend a lot of time with my kids. I just tried to stay true to my character. I walk around telling people to accept themselves and be yourself. I want my children to grow up not feeling different or ashamed if you're heavy or too thin. That's how I live my life."

Cellphone Girl: "I realized anybody can be a superhero."

At the end of the discussion, an audience member quite naturally asked, "When will we see 'Who Wants To Be A Supervillain?'"

"We were thinking of what the sequel would be," Stan Lee answered. "So we figured it could be 'Who Wants To Be A Supervillain?' Or 'Who Wants to be a Superhero Sidekick?' Or 'Who Wants to be a Superhero Costume Designer?' Maybe we'll ask the public to send in their suggestions, because I'm not above taking other people's ideas!"

 
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