Does Stan Lee have any more heroics in him? Richard Branson hopes so.
The British tycoon is going into business with the 85-year-old Lee, the co-creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil and dozens of other signature characters made famous by Marvel Comics.
Branson's upstart Virgin Comics will formally announce the deal with Lee at this weekend's New York Comic Con, where Lee is being honored as "a living legend" and is scheduled to receive the inaugural New York Comics Legend Award at an event at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square.
The new venture will have Lee as the editor overseeing a line of superhero comics that will launch next year with a tentpole title he is writing himself. That project -- the title of which remains under wraps -- will center on a superhero team that sounds similar to his classic work on the Avengers at Marvel. (Lee ended his exclusive relationship with Marvel in the 1990s but still has ties to the company and even has cameo roles in the upcoming Marvel films "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk.")
"It will be a team of 10 heroes and they will be dealing with personality conflicts, personal problems and chemistry within the team," Lee said in an interview this week. "I'm going to get started working on it right away and I'm very excited about doing something that will be fresh and breaking new ground. I can't give away the details or the names yet, but I have some exciting things in mind."
Virgin has had a number of big-name creators writing comics under its banner, among them filmmakers Guy Ritchie, Terry Gilliam and John Woo, actor Nicolas Cage and musician Dave Stewart.
The company has largely steered clear of traditional superheroes. While Lee has an esteemed background in that sector, his most vital work was in the 1960s and 1970s, and his most recent work, with its bombastic dialogue, is not in sync with the tone of today's elite comics writers.
Sharad Devarajan, chief executive of Virgin Comics, dismissed any notion that Lee may be out of step with the times, however, noting that, especially as an editor, Lee will be a magnet for Virgin.
"We could not be more excited about creating a whole new universe with Stan Lee," he said. "His presence and the tremendous respect people have for him will be a call to action for writers and artists."
Lee's name certainly carries cachet in various corners of the entertainment business. This week, Rainmaker Entertainment Inc. announced a deal with Lee's Pow! Entertainment to create a franchise called "Legion of 5" that will reach the public as a feature-length animated film, toys, video games and comics. Last summer, Walt Disney Pictures signed a three-film, first-look deal with Lee's company. Lee also has been host and a producer of the Sci Fi Channel show "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?"