Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee has canceled his appearance at the 2013 Denver Comic Con, news that will leave most fans feeling like they were punched in the gut by one of Doctor Octopus' tentacles.

But all is not lost, true believers.

When one door closes, another opens. And in this case, James Tiberius Kirk, captain of the starship USS Enterprise, has walked in.

Hollywood icon William Shatner, who played Kirk in "Star Trek" movies and the original TV series, will replace Lee, 90, as the guest of honor at the Denver Comic Con, running May 31 to June 2.

"These comic cons are really special events for those interested in science fiction and horror and fantasy," Shatner told The Denver Post on Thursday. "It's mythology. (Fans) indulge in the mythology of the times, which is the science fiction thing."

William Shatner
William Shatner. (Associated Press file)

Denver Comic Con co-director Charlie La Greca said his staff was just as elated to have Shatner at the convention as they were disappointed that Lee canceled.

"Is there anyone like Stan Lee? Of course not. But there is no one like William Shatner, either," La Greca said. "We know how disappointed people will be, but hopefully they'll still feel that it'll be a phenomenal con with a phenomenal guest."

In a statement released Thursday, Lee apologized to fans and said he had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict with one of his upcoming cameo appearances in a Marvel movie.

Denver fans experienced similar disappointment before last year's local convention, when Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and cast members of AMC's "Walking Dead" pulled out at the last minute.

Shatner, 82, is known for many roles, including ones in TV's "Star Trek," "T.J. Hooker" and "Boston Legal," and the movie "Miss Congeniality."

Shatner said a great convention, in his opinion, is one packed with people proudly wearing costumes and having fun.

"Their enthusiasm is contagious, so that makes a great day," he said.

George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series, will also be at Denver Comic Con.

Tickets to meet Lee — priced between $175 and $275 — sold out within two minutes in April as 20,000 people attempted to buy them, La Greca said.

Fans who have already purchased gold or silver ticket packages can automatically apply those to the William Shatner Experience. Exact details for this change are forthcoming, officials said.

Fans who prefer a refund can connect with Brown Paper Tickets at support@brownpapertickets.com or 1-800-838-3006.

For the full Shatner interview, visit the Denver Post blog Shiny Objects.

Ryan Parker: 303-954-2409, rparker@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ryanparkerdp