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Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe would draft the late Stan Lee as their go-to cameo wizard, the famed comic creator would cultivate an image for showing up where you’d least expect him with other major motion pictures. And one of the first was in writer/director Kevin Smith’s second film, Mallrats, in a cameo that only happened because Smith happened to know someone who was friends with Stan The Man himself.
As he held court during the Focus Features livestream of Mallrats earlier this week, Kevin Smith laid down the story of how Stan Lee eventually came to be in the film. This tale even comes with a surprise, as Smith wasn’t originally intending to shoot for the moon with this cameo:
We got Stan because our producer Jim Jacks would take him out to dinner once a month in the 90's. When I wrote the scene, it didn't have Stan in it - just a comics guru type. Jim said 'Who is this guy supposed to be?' I said 'Like a Stan Lee.' He said 'Why don't you write it for Stan?' I said 'I don't know him.' Jim said 'I do.'
If you ever need anything in show business, let this be a lesson to you that knowing a producer is usually the road to getting it. Jim Jacks would help set up the tracks that made Stan Lee a movie star, as Lee played himself giving romantic advice to the lovelorn/sex organ obsessed Brodie. This marked the comic book legend's first major speaking role.
The Mallrats scene is important for several reasons, as not only is this moment crucial to the plot of Brodie trying to turn himself around to win back the love of his life, then ex-girlfriend Rene (Shannon Doherty), but the scene helps nail what would ultimately be a perfect example of Kevin Smith’s trademark tone.
From the vaults of history, and an official YouTube embed, you can see this moment for yourself, below:
Perhaps it was fate that in the earlier moments of Mallrats’ commentary, a fan had asked why the film was plastered with the art from and inspired by Marvel characters, rather than the world of DC. The answer Kevin Smith gave was, quite simply, Marvel was more amenable to being referenced throughout Smith’s burgeoning View Askiewniverse. DC just wasn’t.
As the Batman franchise was still riding high with 1995’s Batman Forever, and Marvel Comics was selling off movie rights left and right to stay afloat at the time, there was probably a lot of royalties to be had in such an endeavor. Add it all together, and it feels like a perfect storm brought Kevin Smith and Stan Lee together, in a partnership that would eventually see the two work together again throughout their career paths.
It certainly helps that Stan Lee fulfilled the promise of his image even more in the eyes of Kevin Smith, and the rest of the world, in his Mallrats experience. As Smith continued to tell the story of working with this iconic four-panel talent, it sounds like things couldn’t have run smoother:
He was adorable and everything you hoped. We had cue cards up for him because he was 74. They told us 'Be careful with him. He's 74 and could go at any minute.' Stan almost lived to be 96. He asked to include the P.S. with T.S., in which he reveals it was a fake story because he didn't want to hurt his wife's feelings.
Always the romantic when it came to his wife, Joan, Lee’s cameo career would go on to rack up one very special appearance by the married couple, in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Eventually, even the MCU and Kevin Smith’s filmography would intertwine, as Mallrats would become an easter egg of its own through yet another Stan Lee cameo.
Reciting the words, “Trust me, True Believer” over and over again on a public bus in Captain Marvel, Stan Lee is seen to be holding a copy of the Mallrats script, practicing his pitch to Jason Lee’s Brodie on how he should get his act together and win the girl.
And then years later, in Captain Marvel, Stan is reading this script, rehearsing that line.
It would be a bittersweet moment when this cameo debuted, as it was the first of two posthumous debuts that would close out his tenure in the MCU he helped create. Kevin Smith’s Viewaskewniverse would feel the loss pretty heavily as well, as not only were the plans to have Stan Lee play a major part in the Mallrats sequel scuppered as a result, but the entire third act of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot also needed to be reworked.
But as most of his appearances in the Marvel Studios canon, it was a short but sweet happening that reminded the fans that he would always be a part of the pop culture juggernaut that took off, in part, because of his efforts.
Mallrats is currently available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD; while Captain Marvel and a ton of Stan Lee’s other cameos in the MCU are available on Disney+. Don’t have a subscription yet? Check out a 7-day free trial, and see what the fuss is about.