Spider-Man’s new Web THE FUNNY PAGES have turned awfully grim lately. Overall comic revenues have plunged 50% in five years to just $500 million last year. Spider-Man and the rest of the Marvel superhero clique only recently limped out of bankruptcy court.

Here to save the day: Spidey’s co-creator, Stan Lee. In typical superhero fashion, the 76-year-old comics legend is reinventing himself and assuming a new identity: Web-Man.

After toiling for 60 years with pen and ink, Lee is leaping into the World Wide Web, creating new characters and story lines and publishing the torrid tales on stanlee.net. Look for new heroes to zap new heavies starting in June.

Eventually Lee thinks the site will generate a publishing empire in which visitors help script new comics and then distribute them electronically. That might lead to the real payoff: Licensing deals for a single superhero can bring $30 million a year.

Lee’s first new creations in 25 years will be villains, not heroes: Bearhug, whose squeeze renders foes powerless, and Laserella, who emits laserlike powerbolts from her fingertips. Why baddies first? “Without good villains, there is nothing for the hero to go up against,” says Lee.

Four more villains arrive this summer. But fear not: Six saviors are also on the way, including Bearhug’s opponent, whose name will be derived from a bull. All characters will be techno-savvy.

“Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider, but our new characters are getting their power in mysterious ways through the Internet,” says Lee. For now, whether the power of e-commerce will follow remains a mystery.

Juliette Rossant

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