Many of DC’s most popular series – including Batman and Action Comics – include a secret tribute to Marvel legend Stan Lee, all thanks to writer Tom King. In a Tweet posted shortly after Stan Lee’s death in November of 2018, King shared that he had peppered his works with a specific reference to the late Marvel writer, who also contributed some unique characters to DC Comics.
Tom King is a bit of a legendary creator in his own right, with dozens of significant titles to his name. After an early contribution to the Vertigo anthology Time Warp, he quickly increased in fame thanks to his meditative, deconstructionist takes on superheroes like the Vision, Mister Miracle, Watchmen‘s Rorschach and Supergirl. He has also won the Eisner Award for Best Writer. However, there is always someone to look up to and, for Tom King, that is Stan Lee. As a major contributor to so many significant Marvel characters and a pop culture icon who helped bring comics to mainstream attention, it’s no wonder King thinks so highly of Lee, and chose to honor him in his work.
When Stan Lee passed away in November of 2018, Tom King revealed that he had woven references to Lee into his work by writing “DC Comics Presents” at the beginnings of some of his stories. Adding “Stan Lee Presents” to its comics was a way for Marvel to show that Stan was still involved after he was promoted to publisher and president of Marvel Comics. In fact, there was even an iconic logo for “Stan Lee Presents.” The visual of “Stan Lee Presents” must have had quite the impact on Tom King for him to reflect it in his own work at Marvel’s primary rival, DC Comics (which was often the target of trolling by Stan Lee earlier in his career.) King revealed that he’d used the phrase in books like Batman, Action Comics, Heroes in Crisis, and DC Holiday Special, and that he’d even let Stan Lee know about the tribute during an earlier meeting.
One of the most classically ‘Stan’ parts of this story is that, ever the shrewd businessman, Stan Lee used the opportunity to try and poach some upcoming talent, reportedly replying, “Forget that kid. Just write for Marvel.” Still, his comment to Tom shows just how much he loved Marvel – and how highly he thought of King as a writer. Of course, King did write acclaimed miniseries The Vision for Marvel, but was quickly signed to an exclusive contract to write for DC and Vertigo.
A former CIA officer, Tom King’s continuing impact on modern comics is undeniable, and the impact that Stan Lee had on him is also undeniable. There is a whole generation of comics writers out there who truly followed in Stan’s footsteps and strive to bring the same creativity and innovation. Given what’s known about the ways in which Stan Lee pranked and criticized DC during his long career (though he was happy to write for them in later life), it’s easy to see how he’d be amused by Tom King‘s hidden tributes throughout many of their biggest titles, even if he’d have preferred the young writer take a much more practical approach to honoring his legacy.