Would Thor beat the Hulk scrapping? Can the nerdy Mr. Fantastic make any part of his body thicker and longer? Only one man has all the answers: Stan "the Man” Lee. Marvel Comics' chairman emeritus—co-creator of classic superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four—has lived long enough to see his creations soften Hollywood's recent fall at the box office. Sometimes called "Soapbox Stan,” Lee also used comic books to shed light on racism and social issues. Nowadays, Lee guides his own Pow! Entertainment to generate TV programs (NBC's Heroes), film and videogame productions. KING picks the brain of the man responsible for all your superhero fantasies and spandex fetishes. Nuff said!

KING How competitive did you feel with DC Comics in the '60s?
STAN LEE
We were very competitive. They were a big company owned by another big, wealthy company. We were little Marvel, and we were sort of yapping at the heels of this big dog. So it was fun to pick on them, especially when I thought the scripts that we were doing were better than theirs. And then, little by little, the fans seemed to agree with us. Very gratifying.

How was the experience of redoing DC heroes like Superman and Batman for their Just Imagine series?
That was a lot of fun. It was their suggestion, and I thought it was a real wild idea. I wasn't sure it was something I ought to do, 'cause I thought the readers might resent it. So I tried to take pains to explain: I wasn't trying to show how they should've been done—because the way they were done was brilliant—but just for fun, to show a different way of doing them.

You created Spike TV's animated Stripperella series (2003), starring Pamela Anderson. Were you a fan of the Kid Rock ex beforehand?
Oh, sure. It was just one of those things. I forget who brought up the idea, but I thought it was good, and we were looking for some sort of little cartoon to put on television. That seemed like such a logical one, 'cause she's very popular, and we were able to get a lot of humor and a lot of crazy gags in the show.

You were set to collaborate with Hugh Hefner on a similar cartoon for Playboy Entertainment. What happened?
Believe it or not—sometimes things take so long in movies and in television—we are still working on it, and I think we're getting very close to finalizing this thing. It's gonna be an animated cartoon series in which Hugh Hefner will be the star. And we're gonna show the world the real Hugh Hefner, not just the guy who likes wine, woman and song.

Have you ever been to the Playboy Mansion?
Oh, often.

Think back to the first time you met Hef.
The first time I met Hugh Hefner was many years ago, of all places, in a men's washroom. I mentioned to him that when Playboy first came out, I thought it was a wonderful magazine, and I collected them. By the time I got to the sixth issue, I realized I had lost the first one. I couldn't find it; I was heartbroken. So I wrote to Playboy and said, "Could I possibly buy issue No. 1 of the magazine? Do you have any left?” And I got a personal letter from Hef. He was so delighted that I enjoyed the magazine that much that he sent me a free copy. When we met years later in the men's room, I reminded him of that. We talked, and we got kind of friendly.

Was there any racist mail after you and artist Jack Kirby co-created the Black Panther in the '60s?
No, believe it or not. One day I said to myself, "Gee, we ought to have a black hero.” In this business, they're always trying to think of something new to come up with, and it occurred to me that there weren't any black heroes. I thought that would be new and it would be fun to do, so we did it.

To read more of KING's interview with Stan Lee, pick up the June '07 issue on newsstands now!