As an article in The Economist points out, Lee's Marvel Comics superheroes have dominated the box office in the past ten years or so but it's proving difficult for Lee or anyone else to create new characters with similar appeal.
Take Alan Moore, a revered writer of comic books. His works have inspired five ambitious films (the most recent is “Watchmen”), none of them hugely successful. And what goes for comic books also goes for television shows, computer games and other fodder for summer blockbusters. As audiences fragment, there is simply less mass content to throw into the Hollywood recycling machine.
It may be that a more modest approach works better. Next month another creation of Mr Lee’s will be unveiled at Comic-con, a huge San Diego convention that has become an important marketing platform for films. “Time Jumper”, an animated comic about a boy who can travel in time using his mobile phone, will be released in stages on the internet and mobile phones, free of charge. This is a relatively cheap way of testing an audience’s response to a new character. If it is hard to ram a new tale into public consciousness, it might just be possible to sneak it in.