Comic book aficionados aren’t exactly known for their way with romance — which is why it was so surprising when Stan Lee, the Marvel Universe creator who died today at the age of 95, appeared in Mallrats (1995) to give comic-nerd Brodie (played by skateboarder/actor Jason Lee) an endearing speech about the importance of love.
The film — director Kevin Smith’s big-budget follow-up to 1994’s Clerks — opens with Brodie getting dumped by his girlfriend, Rene (played by Shannen Doherty, fresh off her stint on Beverly Hills, 90210). So he and TS, his best friend, head to the mall, where Brodie hopes to win her back. When he arrives, he discovers that Stan Lee is in town signing books — but he can’t make it into the store because of the crowds.
Eventually, as Brodie is starting to give up on winning back his love, Lee encounters the titular mallrat ogling a window full of bras and strikes up a conversation. Lee, apparently, is more interested in looking at the couples inside than the lingerie. “They look happy, don’t they,” Lee says. “It reminds me of an issue of Spider-Man I did, when Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy went lingerie shopping. Of course, the Green Goblin showed up, and he pumpkin-bombed the hell out of the place.”
Brodie, realizing he’s being confronted by his idol, brushes off the sappy talk and starts to ask the hard questions (“The Thing — is his dork made of orange rock like the rest of his body?!”) but Lee pulls the conversation back to love, and it strikes a chord with Brodie, who admits that he and his girlfriend recently split because he was too into comics. “I had a girl, probably the same as yours,” Lee says. “She always complained that I spend too much time with my own comics, and eventually we broke up.” Lee admits he had a slew of women — “Jagger and me, we had a running contest to see who had the most” — but he never forgot the girl.
“What did you do?” Brodie asks. “I went on with my life,” Lee responds. “I created some special new superheroes. They were characters that reflected my own heartbreak and my own regrets… Dr. Doom wears body armor to conceal his own mangled form, right? That was me, beneath the armor. The Hulk — a normal guy one minute, a rage of emotions the next. Just like me, when I thought about what I’d given up.” You created these characters, Brodie says, as a way to deal with your “one big regret?” Yes, answers Lee. “The girl that got away.” Brodie is touched. “All the money, all the women, even all the comic books in the world, they can’t substitute for that one person,” Lee says. “I’d give it all up, all of it, for just one more day with her.”
Moments later, it’s revealed that Brodie’s friend TS, sick of hearing Brodie complain about Rene, had asked Lee to talk to Brodie. “I think he bought it,” Lee says. “What kind of story did you give him?” TS asks. “It was the Vulture Soliloquy from the Spider-Man anniversary issue,” Lee responds. “Love Be a Vulture Tonight.”
Of course, it turns out these comic-fan details were the work of writer-director Smith, not Lee; there is no Spider-Man story called “Love Be a Vulture Tonight,” and Lee didn’t have a “one that got away.” But Lee did cite this as the favorite movie he’s appeared in, and for good reason — when else would he get to claim that he had more sex than Mick Jagger?