In early February, during a bout of pneumonia, Stan Lee and his daughter JC had a major argument. While their relationship is known for being tempestuous, this fight appears to have been a breaking point. The comic-book legend had his lawyer draw up a detailed declaration about his daughter's behaviour, which Stan Lee then signed. A copy of this document was recently made public, and provides devastating details about the dysfunction of the Lee family. The battle over Lee's property and legacy symbolizes the changing landscape of comic-book culture, as Marvel are shifting their focus to their cinematic universe.
The declaration signed by Lee details how JC, "has never had the ability to understand or manage money" and that she, "has never held any meaningful job, has not been gainfully employed, and has not generated any significant income." JC is supported by the Lee family trust, run by Stan and his late wife Joan but, "Whenever Joan and I created a budget for JC, she has almost invariably exceeded it… It is not uncommon for JC to charge, in any given month, $20,000 to $40,000 on credit cards."
The document goes on to describe three men — Jerardo Olivarez, Keya Morgan and JC's lawyer Kirk Schenck — who Lee alleges are manipulating his daughter and see her, "as a vulnerable woman without a support system who is an easy target for predators." The declaration says that the trio, "Have used their relationships with JC to try to take advantage of me and gain control over my assets, property and money" and accuses them of having "bad intentions" and "ulterior motives".
A Change of Heart?
However, shortly after he signed the declaration Lee changed his mind — or someone changed it for him. His lawyer Tom Lallas was fired, along with a housekeeper and gardener who had worked for Lee for decades. His accountant was replaced with Vince Maguire — a friend of Morgan's — and Morgan reads all of Lee's email correspondence and composes his replies. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Morgan says this is due to Lee suffering from macular degeneration and that, "This is his request, and he thanks me for helping him."
After he found out about the damning declaration, Morgan filmed Lee renouncing its contents as, "totally incorrect, inaccurate, misleading and insulting." In the video Lee says that, "my relationship with my daughter has never been better, and my friend Keya Morgan and I also have a great relationship… We're best friends," and that anyone saying otherwise, "is just spreading lies."
Likewise, his personal fortune is estimated at over $50 million and there are guaranteed future revenues from his intellectual property being used in umpteen film adaptations. With JC his only heir, the struggle for control of Lee, his daughter and a multi-million dollar fortune is likely to continue. As one insider told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's an utter shit show."
The End of an Era?
As Lee approaches the end of his life, the battle over his legacy symbolizes the shifting landscape of comic-book culture. 20th century icons such as Lee made their names creating characters and storylines for paper comics, but declining sales and a shift in branding priorities has seen comics themselves playing second fiddle to the more profitable cinematic universes.
Sputnik spoke to movie and comic critic Ryan Carey who explained that Marvel largely see comics as a place to establish characters for future use in movies, even in the face of resistance from traditionalist fans and conservative readers. Carey elaborated, "Marvel does not care that the Muslim Ms. Marvel and the black female Iron Man aren't selling at comics shops. What they care about is that Robert Downey and Chris Evans etc. want out and they need to be replaced with younger heroes who will sell tickets."
Marvel's latest film Black Panther has surpassed Titanic to become the third most successful film in US history, which Carey called "no surprise" as "representation sells right now." He explained that there is simply much more money to be made producing films with young characters with a diverse appeal than there is in producing lots of comics filled with older, well-established characters created by Stan Lee's generation. Carey predicted the continued decline of comics shop as the money and attention surrounding superhero movies rises, concluding, "Marvel is doing their best to kill off their print division anyway."