Stan Lee was the subject of a love fest Tuesday night, as actors, directors, artists and illustrators lauded the Marvel Comics legend for creating a vast universe of fantastic, flawed, righteous and relatable superheroes.
Mark Ruffalo, Aisha Tyler, Lou Ferrigno, RZA and comics creator Todd McFarlane were among the speakers at “Extraordinary: Stan Lee,” a tribute hosted by Chris Hardwick and broadcast into more than 150 movie theaters across the country.
The two-hour program mixed live appearances with video tributes and animated segments that told the story of Lee’s career. The 94-year-old dreamer behind Spider-Man, Iron Man and scores of other superheroes sat center stage at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills as one artist-admirer after another shared how his characters and creative energy inspired them.
“I’ve patterned my life after yours,” ”Guardians of the Galaxy” writer-director James Gunn said in a video message.
Ruffalo, Tyler, J.K. Simmons and Kaley Cuoco also appeared via video, though Lee confessed after the first clip played: “I can’t hear or understand anything on that screen.”
Ferrigno was there in the flesh, posing like the Hulk as he took the stage.
“I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for Stan,” he said, adding that he was inspired by comic books long before he played “The Incredible Hulk” on TV in the late 1970s.
McFarlane compared Lee to Walt Disney. Hardwick described him as “Hugh Hefner for nerds.”
“Batman” producer Michael Uslan read a loving letter he had originally written Lee on his 90th birthday.
“I owe you a big thanks, in a way that nearly matches my thanks to my parents and teachers, who tried to convey the same precepts to me, only they could never do so in such an entertaining and effective way as you did through the magic of your comic book stories,” Uslan said, thanking Lee “on behalf of every generation of comic-book reader.”
Animated clips told of Lee’s early days as an assistant at Timely Comics. Lee eventually became publisher, and Timely eventually became Marvel. Along the way, he created such characters as Thor, the X-Men, Black Panther and the Fantastic Four, cheered along by his wife, Joan, who died last month at age 93.
RZA, a filmmaker and co-founder of Wu-Tang Clan, performed one of Lee’s “Stan’s Soapbox” columns. Originally published in 1968, Lee posted the editorial denouncing bigotry on Twitter last week after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
RZA recalled buying comic books as a kid and being inspired by characters like Silver Surfer, Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Storm.
“Those characters inspired me and took me to a place where there was a world, a Marvel universe, where there wasn’t no bigotry; where there was heroes that looked like me, and where I could think that justice and fun would prevail over all,” he said.
“Wouldn’t that be the greatest world in the world?” Lee said.
Other Lee disciples appearing onstage included documentarian Morgan Spurlock and actors Alan Tudyk, Hal Sparks, Kelly Hu and Michael Rooker.
Lee was in his typical quick-witted good spirits. When show sponsor Fila presented him with a jacket embroidered with his name, Lee quipped, “In case I get amnesia.” He also offered advice for aspiring cameo actors and said he’s waiting for the film academy to create a category for such roles. Lee has cameoed in 38 Marvel productions.
Hardwick, who at one point sweetly tied Lee’s shoe, said it’s impossible to quantify his pop-culture contributions: “When you go back and look at 70-plus years of working in the comics industry — not just the characters he’s created but the people he’s inspired — there should be a class at MIT to calculate the ripple effect that Stan has had on pop culture.”