Stan Lee, the creative force behind such comic superheroes as "Spider-Man" and the "Incredible Hulk," filed a $10-million lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that his old comic book company cheated him out of millions of dollars in movie profits.
The 80-year-old writer, whose Stan Lee Media Inc. is based in Encino, contends that Marvel Enterprises Inc. reneged on a promise to pay him 10% of the profits from movies and television shows based on his characters. Marvel has tried to shut him out of the "jackpot" success of this summer's "Spider-Man" movie, he said.
The lawsuit was filed in New York federal court.
In 1939, Lee started work as an errand boy for Marvel's predecessor, a company identified in the complaint as Timely. He wrote his first comic book in 1941 and eventually rose to editor-in-chief and publisher.
During those years, Lee teamed with a group of artists to create some of Marvel Comics' most famous superheroes, which also include the Fantastic Four and X-Men.
Marvel executives "have personally realized enormous windfalls from the X-Men and Spider-Man films and their ancillary merchandise," Lee said, but has "refused to share any of this good fortune" with him.
"Despite reaping enormous benefits from Mr. Lee's creations, defendants have failed and refused to honor their commitments to him," the lawsuit claims.
The "Spider-Man" movie generated about $800 million in worldwide box office sales by August and was projected to reach $850 million this year.
The film, which stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe, was released in May by Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures. But Lee said he hasn't seen a penny.
Marvel receives part of the gross receipts from the film and licensing revenue from toys and other related items. Its earnings got a $12.8-million boost in the second-quarter from the film.
But while Marvel has reported millions of dollars in earnings from the film, it has told Lee the company has seen no "profits" as defined by their contract.
Lee hopes a judge will intervene and make sure he gets a percentage of profit from the Ben Affleck movie "Daredevil," scheduled for February release.
He also seeks a share of profit from the upcoming movie "The Hulk," and the sequels to "X-Men" and "Spider-Man."
The lawsuit demands damages and a court order forcing Marvel to turn over Lee's share in any profits from movies about characters he created.
The publisher said in a statement Tuesday that Lee is "well compensated" and that the company "believes it is in full compliance with and current on all payments due under the terms of Mr. Lee's employment agreement."
Marvel shares rose 6 cents to $8.11 on the New York Stock Exchange. They've gained more than 113% this year.
Bloomberg News was used in compiling this report.