LOS ANGELES - Comic books legend Stan Lee is suing the entertainment company he co-founded for damages topping US$1 billion (S$1.34 billion), accusing bosses of trying to steal his image, according to court documents filed on Tuesday (May 15).
The news comes soon after Variety magazine and Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that this same company, POW! Entertainment, sold rights to a sci-comedy screenplay co-written by Lee to China's Tianying Media Group, for an undisclosed sum.
The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and published by several US entertainment media outlets, alleges that POW! Entertainment CEO Shane Duffy and co-founder Gill Champion failed to fully disclose to Lee details of the firm's sale last year to Hong Kong-based Camsing International.
Lee contends that they took advantage of him at a time when he was despondent over the death of his wife Joan and suffering from macular degeneration, a condition affecting the eyes.
The 95-year-old co-creator of many superhero characters, including Black Panther and Spider-Man, alleges he was duped into signing a fraudulent agreement that gave POW! exclusive rights to his name, identity and likeness.
According to the lawsuit, Lee was unable to read the document due to his eye condition, and he doesn't remember anyone reading it to him, suggesting that his signature may have been forged, copied or induced.
"In addition, POW! took control of Lee's personal social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, thereby impersonating Lee before a combined 15 million followers worldwide," the complaint reads.
There has been no response from POW! Entertainment to the lawsuit. In April, it issued a statement expressing concern for Lee amid reports that he was the victim of elder abuse.
"We at POW! Entertainment take great pride in our continuing work to create exciting new Stan Lee content and characters as well as safeguarding the legacy of the greatest storyteller of our time," the statement said.
"We are also fans and share the heartfelt admiration and love of the community who have voiced their sincere concern for Stan's well-being."
There were more negative headlines when it emerged last month that Lee was being sued by massage therapist Maria Carballo for sexual assault and battery. She accuses him of inappropriate touching and misconduct during two sessions last year in Chicago.
Lee's attorney Jonathan Freund has denied the allegations to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
Lee has faced a similar claim before. In January, the Daily Mail reported on allegations of sexual assault and harassment by nurses who cared for Lee at his Los Angeles home.
Lee's representatives denied those allegations.