Long before Tony Stark built an Iron Man suit in a cave (with a box of scraps) for the pleasures of a film audience, Marvel legend and cameo expert Stan Lee was crashing a different kind of comic book movie. A comic book movie made by a comic nerd for and about comic book nerds. A movie like Mallrats.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith's 1995 follow-up to Clerks, Mallrats was an R-rated take on the world of fringe fans and genre geeks, and it featured Lee himself stopping by at a pivotal moment to parlay some non-comic wisdom to Jason Lee's Brodie. Now Smith is giving fans a peek behind the curtain at one of Lee's very first cameos — which itself was referenced in Lee's Captain Marvel cameo.
Speaking to Total Film, Smith explained that not only was getting Lee a dream come true, it was something he never even considered possible. "In the first draft of the movie there was no Stan Lee — there was just a comic book guru guy named Stan Miller," Smith said. That name was a mash-up reference to Stan Lee and Frank Miller, but didn't stick. Why? The producer knew Lee personally. "Jim Jacks said, 'Why don't you write it for Stan Lee?' and I said I didn't know him. Jim goes, 'Well I do.'"
What followed was a killer cameo that came with a caveat — one about Lee's long and loving marriage to his wife, Joan. "He said, 'I'd love to do it but I've got a little problem,'" said Smith. "'In your script you have me telling Brodie about the girl that got away. It's a beautiful speech but if I do that as me, the girl at home is gonna lock me out of the house. There's only ever been Joanie. I can't say there was someone I fell for that I didn't wind up with and Joanie was my second choice — that'd hurt her feelings.'"
They needed a solution and one came provided by Lee himself. "He said, 'Is it possible that after I talk to Brodie, I talk to his friend and tell him I was only kidding?,'" Smith remembered. "I was like, 'Absolutely, man.' So my first one-on-one discussion with Stan Lee was essentially about how he never wanted to hurt his wife's feelings. It was incredibly f***ing sweet."
The creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, and many more was in his 70s at the time and had another quarter of a century of cameos left to make — but perhaps none with as moving a backstory as his moment in Mallrats.