<EM>Who Wants to Be a Superhero?</EM> Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

Stan Lee is busy making a comic dream come true for the lucky contestants on Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (airs Thursdays at 9 pm/ET on Sci Fi). But the legendary comic-book guru and creator of the most popular Marvel character ever wasn't too busy to pen a guest column for TV Guide.  Read on for his thoughts on his new series.

Having always been a ham, I leapt at the chance to be judge and jury in the surprise-filled new reality series I helped create, Who Wants to Be a Superhero? But I wondered, would we have enough applicants? I neednt have worried. As soon as the show was announced, the Internet sizzled with applications from all over the country in fact, all over the world.

It took weeks, but my company, POW! Entertainment, worked with my producer friend Bruce Nash and his company, Nash Entertainment, and the folks at Sci Fi Channel to whittle down the thousands of applicants to a few hundred of the most colorful and enthusiastic.

Obviously, we werent looking for people who could fly, lift an elephant in one hand or race a speeding Ferrari. What we were seeking were the innate qualities that make a superhero courage, intelligence, integrity, self-sacrifice and loyalty.

For the 11 contestants who made the cut for the show, we had to devise tests that would determine which of our candidates had most or all of those necessary qualities. And thats where the fun began.

Every challenge we gave had another trial hidden under the surface. For example, the contestants were tested on their ability to get from one place to another, surmounting obstacles, in record time. But we [also] placed a secret challenge along each route, one they hadnt been told about, which only the sharpest would notice and overcome.

Then there was the time the contestants thought they had been stationed in a public place to perform a certain task, but their real challenge unbeknownst to them was to see if they could refrain from revealing their secret identities to seemingly innocent strangers who prodded them for information.

The beauty of the format is the fact that its so open-ended. We have the liberty to give the viewer exactly what he or she might expect, but to do it in a startling and unexpected way.

I should mention one amazing thing I discovered during the course of the show, which took me totally by surprise. Originally, I assumed the contestants were wild and crazy characters who were in it for kicks. But as the tests went on, I got to really know them and care for them, and I realized that we had made the right choices because those we selected really did have most of the heroic qualities we were seeking. It made my judging job tough, but it made for a truly wonderful experience, one that can be shared by viewers everywhere.

Best of all, I learned a great lesson: There are more potential superheroes among us than wed ever suspect. Stan Lee