No Marvel movie is complete without a rousing game of “Spot the Stan Lee.” In a nod to many of the iconic superheroes Lee helped create, each movie  —  often regardless of studio  —  has budgeted a small portion of its running time to one of Lee’s prominent background characters. He’s played a security guard, a playboy, a librarian, and a military general, and as long as Lee’s health permitted, fans could expect Lee to pop in without any broader connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At least, that was the case until Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Turn back, ye faint of heart, for there be spoilers beyond this point.

In his latest appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it is strongly suggested that all of Lee’s cameos are, in fact, connected: we see Lee hanging out with a group of the omniscient Watchers and discussing the things he’s seen while visiting Earth. Does that mean that Lee himself is a Watcher? To hear Marvel boss Kevin Feige explain it to ScreenRant (via SyFy), yup, you got it in one:

Yes, we always thought it would be fun. Stan Lee clearly exists, you know, above and apart from the reality of all the films. So the notion that he could be sitting there on a cosmic pit stop during the jump gate sequence in Guardians was something very fun — James had that idea and we shot that cameo and loved it so much, you know, you see it a couple of times in the movie. It wasn’t in for a long time and we put it back in towards the end of the process where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent — we thought it would be fun to put that in there because that really says, so wait a minute, he’s this same character who’s popped up in all these films.

So there you have it! Stan Lee, immortal guardian (of sorts) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would seem that Marvel is so obsessed with maintaining canon that they’ll even retcon Lee’s cameos into some grand narrative, making everyone’s favorite comic book writer a being above and beyond the constraints of the movies themselves. This kind of reminds me of Duck Amuck, the Daffy Duck short where Daffy gets in a brawl with his cartoon creator, later revealed to be Bugs Bunny himself. Kudos to James Gunn for bringing a little bit more cartoon humor into his comic book movies.

Keep an eye out for Stan Lee when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters on May 5, 2017.

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