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Dear guy who found this site doing a search for obama fucking idiot,

While I certainly consider the President to be a disappointment in many ways, and has made some decisions that seem poorly-thought-out or just wrong, "fucking idiot" is not a criticism I typically level at people with Harvard law degrees.

Your search, however, will fit right in with the previous search for bush moron (a position I do endorse!) on my favorite searches page.

Thanks for dropping by!


Dear guy who found this site doing a search for why the fuck isn't batman in 3d,

Because Nolan wanted to shoot the movie (or a good big chunk of it) with IMAX cameras, not 3D cameras. Different directors have different points of view about interesting new technologies in the field of moviemaking. 3D is James Cameron's baby; Nolan prefers IMAX. Peter Jackson is shooting The Hobbit at 48fps (and, if I'm not mistaken, also in 3D).

Variety is the spice of life. Avatar was all about the 3D, the last two Batman movies were breathtaking in IMAX, and I'm looking forward to seeing The Hobbit.

Hell, The Artist is a black-and-white silent film and it's fucking wonderful. The right technology for the right film, my friend.

Friedrich Appeal

Since everybody loves my Creators' Rights posts: per 20th Century Danny Boy, Gary Friedrich is making good on his plan to appeal the ruling on the Ghost Rider rights.

Quick recap: Friedrich sued Marvel for the rights to Ghost Rider, claiming he had never signed over his ownership stake in the character. (He co-created Ghost Rider with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog, though he claims he created the character in 1968 and that Marvel failed to register the copyright for the published story in 1972.)

Marvel countersued, on the grounds that Friedrich was selling signed Ghost Rider prints -- and Friedrich is a writer, not an artist, keep in mind, so the art wasn't his work.

The suit ended in a Marvel victory, with Marvel agreeing to drop the countersuit in exchange for $17,000 as payment for the prints and Friedrich agreeing not to refer to himself as "the creator of Ghost Rider" for financial gain.

Friedrich is penniless and in poor health and, as you might expect, regardless of its legal merits this rankled a whole lot of fans and pros.

Speaking of which, you can buy a Generic, Non-Infringing Flaming Skull T-Shirt for $12 at World of Strange, with the proceeds going to Friedrich; the art is by Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Bob Burden, Billy Tackett, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Sam Flegal, and Denis St. John.

So now Friedrich is appealing the ruling.

The most interesting piece of new evidence he's introduced: a creator-owned Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer book from 1978. Why this is important, quoting Daniel Best:

At one point during Friedrich's deposition he was asked the following question: "Q. Are you aware of whether any other freelance writer of Marvel comic books owned the rights in any of the characters or stories created by that writer," in relation to the period of 1971 to 1978. The answer was no, and Marvel's lawyers accepted that, for the understanding in this case is that everything produced by Marvel in the 1970s at least, belonged to Marvel and was duly copyrighted. This isn't the case. In 1978 Marvel published The Silver Surfer, a graphic novel which contained a copyright legend naming not Marvel, but the books authors - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Importantly it falls on the cusp of the work-for-hire contracts, but a savvy lawyer might well be able to argue that Marvel did indeed produce work that was owned not by the company, but by the authors from the time period of 1971 to [1978]. Unfortunately this news might have come a bit late to be of any use to Gary Friedrich, but the battle isn't over yet.

The book seems like a pretty serious outlier; it was a case of Kirby, already unhappy with his work-for-hire situation with Marvel, pushing for a different arrangement (and indeed a different publisher, as the book was published by Simon and Schuster). I find it hard to believe that a court will rule that Friedrich's work on Ghost Rider was not necessarily for-hire just because Kirby and Lee put out a creator-owned book with a Marvel character six years later.

The previous ruling did hinge on Friedrich signing back-of-the-check contracts, and that sticks in my craw. Back-of-the-check contracts are coercive (you already did the work expecting to be paid for it, and the company only shows you an agreement to sign after the work is already done?) and I would very much like it if an appelate court determined that they are not legally binding.

But I still don't think that's going to help Friedrich. The judge in Marvel v Kirby determined that Kirby's work was for-hire based on the instance-and-expense test and stated outright that it was irrelevant whether he signed a back-of-the-check contract or not. Similarly, precedent doesn't necessarily favor Friedrich's "I created the character 4 years earlier" argument; even if he can prove it, the judge in Wolfman v Marvel ruled that the Blade character who appeared in Tomb of Dracula was so substantially different from Wolfman's original pitch as to constitute a distinct, work-for-hire creation.

In short: I don't think Marvel's in the right here ethically, but I don't think Friedrich's prospects look good legally. I hope I'm wrong and I hope he gets something out of this, but I'm concerned that he's doubling down on a losing hand.

Ideally, this would be settled out of court. Ideally, Marvel would open itself to renegotiation with its pre-1980 creators and allow them to get the same equity deals that current creators do (something that DC has done -- DC's not perfect but it's better than Marvel on this subject at this time). Ideally, Friedrich would get some small share of Ghost Rider comics and movies, and be satisfied and not feel the need to sue to get that piece.

But unfortunately I don't see any of that happening. I'm worried that Friedrich is going to be pounded into the concrete once again -- but if he does win, it'll be a great thing not just for him but for creators everywhere.

Dark Knight Rises Initial, Non-Spoiler Impressions

  • Dark Knight keeps its spot as the best of the three. But this one hung together a lot more consistently than Begins.
  • I think Hathaway wins as the best movie Catwoman. Nice that they remembered "cat" refers to being a cat burglar, not some goofy-ass feline mysticism.
  • For that matter, Hardy of course wins as best Bane, but he could do that just by default given that the previous one was a mute thug in Batman and Robin.
  • It's gotten progressively harder to ignore the right-wing fantasy element of these movies.
  • Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm a liberal, but -- Superman's original New Deal leanings notwithstanding -- there's something inherently conservative about the superhero genre. (But that's an essay for another day.)
  • Bit too much of characters explaining their philosophies and the themes of the movie in dialogue.
  • Which you can't understand half the time. It turns out my experience watching Dark Knight a few months back with the bass up too high to hear what anyone was saying was an authentic theater experience!
  • And it's an ending. A real, honest-to-God ending. The exact thing that indefinitely-serialized comics lack. (And movies, for that matter -- superhero movie series are rife with finales that the filmmakers didn't know were finales and, thus, lack conclusive endings: Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3, Superman 4, Superman Returns, even X-Men 3 and Blade 3.) This was a real-ass ending, and it was satisfying.

I expect I'll get into spoilers and specifics later on down the line. But that's it for now.

Ineffable

There's a word Ford Prefect uses when he feels like he needs to say something but he doesn't know how to say it: goosnargh.

I'm going to say some things anyway. Maybe that's a bad idea. Guess we'll see. Maybe I'll stumble, fugue-like, onto some deep and profound truth; more likely I'll say something trite, insensitive and offensive -- in which case at least my newfound posting frequency means it won't be on the front page for long.

In the early hours of this morning, a man in a gas mask and a bulletproof vest walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, threw two cannisters of tear gas on the ground, fired once into the air and then began firing into the crowd. The death toll currently stands at 12, the wounded at 59. Those are the details as they're currently being reported, though it's still early and the information could change.

In the meantime, well, everyone is shocked and sad and horrified and, in compliance with human nature, trying to make some sense of this appalling act by making it fit some sort of narrative.

Was the killer a deranged Batman fan? Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't; I don't think it matters. Maybe he just picked a movie he knew would be crowded. Maybe he picked a movie where he thought people would think he was just a guy in a costume.

But there's something that feels like Batman about it, isn't there? An over-the-top villain on an over-the-top murder spree. There's no making sense of it; it's a horrific cross of violence and theatricality. If this man wasn't doing an intentional impression of a Batman villain, then he was tapping into something in the zeitgeist that forms the basis of all the Batman villains.

There's something Alfred says in The Dark Knight:

Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

That's the kind of man we're talking about today -- a madman, a broken man, a man who cannot be understood rationally and whose motivations are fear and chaos on a scale that an ordinary mind cannot reconcile.

I heard an interview on NPR this morning -- it doesn't appear to be online yet -- with a reporter on the scene who also covered the Columbine massacre. The interviewer, sensibly, emphasized the fundamental differences between the two shootings, but, also sensibly, asked if the police procedure for responding to shootings had changed since Columbine.

The reporter said that yes, it has -- that in the case of Columbine, the police took time to set up a perimeter, whereas now they focus on getting in and stopping the shooter as quickly as possible.

And that makes sense, too, looking at something that's changed in how we see criminals. Setting up a perimeter and a dialogue is what you do in a hostage situation -- what you do when you're dealing with people who can, at least on some level, be negotiated with, reasoned with.

Random acts of violence are something else entirely. You cannot reason with someone who is just killing for its own sake -- there is nothing you can offer him to make him stop. He's not threatening lives in order to achieve something he wants; ending lives is what he wants.

It's a hard, hard thing to read about, to hear about.

Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing linked to Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?, Marilyn Manson's Rolling Stone article following the massacre which is sadly relevant today. He discusses how there is no single simple cause for such acts of violence, but how the media and society seek simple answers, seek explanations for the unexplainable. And how his own stage name is a criticism of the media's tendency to treat mass murderers like movie stars.

In the days and weeks to come, the news media will talk about this. They'll speculate. They'll engage in crass discussions of how this will affect the movie's box office, or what it's going to mean for Obama and Romney in the polls. Maybe they'll try and engage in some scapegoating and try to blame it on comics or video games, maybe they won't -- even speculating on such things is just too much for me right now. All I can think is how horrible this was and how my heart goes out to the victims and their families.

Perhaps the deepest and bitterest irony is that Batman itself is, on a fundamental level, a story about two people who went to see a movie and were gunned down, and the devastation that wrought on the son who would never see them again.

Standin' in Line

Not planning on seeing Dark Knight Rises this weekend.

I am the biggest fan of Batman I know.

But do you know what I'm an even bigger fan of?

Not standing in line when it is 108 degrees out.

And no, I don't want to see a midnight showing either. I've got work tomorrow.

Here is a short list of things I have stood in line for over the years:

  • Episode I
  • Episode II
  • Not Episode III (I had learned my lesson by this point)
  • A PlayStation 2 (actually Brad did the bulk of the standing in line on that one)
  • A Wii (which I did not get; I was the third or fourth guy in line but all but 2 of them came in damaged; I later purchased one just randomly walking into the same store and asking if they had any, no line required)
  • Spamalot
  • Bruce Campbell's autograph
  • All three Lord of the Rings movies
  • The Avengers

Now, don't get me wrong. I had fun all those times. (Even the Star Wars ones.) I can see the appeal of standing in line with a bunch of nerds with similar interests. It is a conversation starter. Sometimes it's almost like a party. (Not a very good party, but, you know, one of those parties where people show up in costume and there's no beer or music.)

So, you know, it was fun to do a few times. But I think there are lots of other fun things to do in Tempe in the summer. Like sit in my air-conditioned house and play video games.

I'll catch DKR -- maybe next weekend, more likely the weekend after. Do it up right, see at at the IMAX.

But I'll wait until there are no lines.

A Venn Diagram of a Circle Inside a Bigger Circle

Dear DC,

Thank you so much for putting an obnoxious-ass banner ad for The Dark Knight Rises across the top of all my fucking comic books. Everybody loves banner ads, and I was just wondering how you could make comic book covers as distracting as television shows!

Kudos on targeting the completely fucking imaginary demographic of people who buy DC comics but are not aware that there is a Batman movie coming out! Four dollars is far too small a price to pay for this bold and completely redundant innovation!

What I Did This Weekend

  • Drove to Tucson
  • Saw Brave
  • Went to Bookman's. Bought a used copy of Perdido Street Station and the first Cerebus trade.
  • Watched MST3K (Night of the Blood Beast). Slept through the middle.
  • Had some barbecue -- David grilled up some turkey burgers and chicken dogs
  • Watched Godzilla: Final Wars
  • Caught Vertigo at an independent theater
  • Hit up an Irish pub. (Tip: 20%, plus an extra dollar for live music, plus one more dollar for not charging me for my pint of Guinness. Considered one more dollar for overflowing the urinal; decided that wasn't really my fault, and hey, I let the waiter know.)
  • Walked out into a monsoon; got good and wet.
  • Dealt with the joy of Arizona drivers in heavy rain.
  • Came home.

Good times.

And my good friend Jim is off to New Mexico for grad school. Good on ya, Jim.

Why No Ditko/Marvel Boycott

Two days ago I mentioned, in passing, that while I'm boycotting Kirby-derived Marvel products, I'm not boycotting Ditko-derived ones.

Now, Ditko got much the same raw deal as Kirby back in the 1960's, and left under similar acrimonious circumstances.

But the major difference is this: while Kirby and his heirs asked for a better deal with Marvel and Marvel responded by suing them, Ditko was offered a better deal and he refused.

A couple of years back, Kurt Busiek said this in a comments thread at Robot 6:

And reportedly, Ditko also feels that Marvel owes him millions, and he's refused the money they've offered him as a bonus from the Spider-Man movie because he feels it's not enough. He thinks they owe him far, far more, and won't compromise his principles by settling for a lesser payment than he deserves.

He feels he was made promises that Marvel hasn't lived up to, going back to those inflatable Spider-Man pillows from the 1960s. That he's lived up to what he sees as his side of the bargain, and he won't renege on it even though he feels Marvel hasn't lived up to theirs. In his worldview, that shames them, not him.

But if you think Ditko thinks he doesn't deserve to be paid more than his page rate, then you're mistaken.

(While Busiek provides no primary source, he has a reputation for doing his homework; I am inclined to believe him on this one.)

I suspect -- though this is conjecture on my part -- that Ditko didn't merely refuse the money because he believed he was owed more, but that Marvel actually would have made him sign a contract stating that he was not entitled to any more. Rather like the one Kirby signed in the 1980's -- Marvel agreed to return Jack's original art in exchange for Jack signing a contract saying he had no claim to any of the characters he'd created. Marvel never lived up to its end of the agreement; the courts have found that while the statute of limitations has expired and Marvel is no longer obligated to return Kirby's art, it can still use that contract as evidence to prevent Kirby's children from reclaiming the rights to any of his characters.

So you can see why Ditko would be wary of signing anything Marvel offers him.

That said: he was offered something, and he refused it. It may have been a bad offer, he certainly had every right to refuse, but that's still fundamentally different from the Kirby situation, where both Jack and, subsequently, his heirs, have been denied anything at all beyond his original page rate, and Marvel has actually sued to keep it that way. Marvel's actions toward Ditko have been deplorable, but at least they've made a token effort to give him something.

Ditko, unlike Kirby, has also received a prominent creator credit in the Spider-Man movies (it's right upfront in the opening credits, as opposed to being buried 2/3 of the way down the closing credits). He certainly doesn't receive the recognition that Stan Lee does, but that too is a result of his own choices; as Mark Evanier recently put it:

The man has every right, of course, to refuse publicity and interviews but it's one of the reasons so many people think Stan Lee created Spider-Man all by himself. From Ditko's occasional letters in print, it's obvious this bothers him greatly...and it would bother anyone. But Lee is a great interview and Ditko is a non-interview and if you don't wave to the search party, there's a real good chance they're going to overlook you. I don't expect this to ever change. And nowadays when I talk about the many injustices in how the comic book industry has shorted major talents on money and/or credit, I've moved Ditko way down the list.

Ditko wants recognition but he refuses to grant interviews or even be photographed. While I can certainly admire his position -- that the work speaks for itself and that he should be recognized for his art instead of, say, being recognized for cameos in a bunch of movies based on it --, it's not a very realistic one.

In a nutshell, the reason I am boycotting Kirby-derived Marvel product and not Ditko-derived Marvel product is this: Kirby and his heirs have been denied money and recognition, while Ditko has refused money and recognition.

(In practice, lately it's amounted to the same thing. I haven't bought a Spider-Man comic in a couple years -- though I've been a Dan Slott fan since his Ren & Stimpy days and I hear his current Spidey work is great! -- and haven't seen Amazing Spider-Man. But as I've noted before, there's a difference between boycotting something and just not buying it.)

Revisionist History

I read something kinda odd yesterday.

It was linked at Robot 6. It's a piece from a British rapper by the name of Akira the Don, explaining on the Huffington Post why he isn't going to go see Amazing Spider-Man. And there's this little bit in there:

It's not being made because a bunch of people really wanted, more than anything else, to tell the best Spider-Man story they could on the sliver screen. It's being made to stop the rights to the character reverting from Sony back to Marvel. Who, as we have seen, make much better superhero movies than Sony.

Now, before I go any further, I'd like to establish two things.

One: I hate the fucking Huffington Post.

Two: While I am boycotting Kirby-based Marvel product (eg the Marvel Studios films), I am not at present boycotting Ditko-based Marvel product (eg the Sony Pictures Spider-Man films). I haven't seen Amazing Spider-Man, but I still might.

I'd go into a bit more detail, but my reasons for those two points could really each make for a complete post, so I think I'll leave them as something to write about later.

Anyway. It's quite clear that Mr. the Don wrote this with his tongue firmly in cheek and is not serious about it. And also, he (rightly) praised Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2. So I'm not really trying to argue with him or tear his post down. But that one line is just kinda weirdly fascinating to me and I want to look at it a little further.

Marvel. Who, as we have seen, make much better superhero movies than Sony.

Really? I mean, Avengers has been a huge critical and financial success, but...are people's attention spans so short that that's going to become the conventional wisdom? The latest Marvel Studios movie was better than the latest Sony movie, ergo Marvel makes much better superhero movies than Sony?

I mean, look. I liked Thor okay. Story was pretty middling, but the art direction was fantastic.

But you wanna tell me it was better than the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies? Really?

Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man 2 -- all got pretty mixed critical receptions. And Punisher: War Zone? Let's put it this way: I was ten paragraphs farther down before I even remembered to scroll back up here and mention it.

Really, when you take a look at it, Sony and Marvel are pretty well even -- each has two big successes and a handful of mediocrity. Marvel's got Iron Man and Avengers, and Sony has the first two Spider-Man movies.

And then there's Fox, which I think probably also fits that bill: the first two X-Men movies were pretty successful, but the rest of their output hasn't been. (Maybe X-Men: First Class? I liked that one, anyway.) Fox may lose just based on the sheer volume of crap it's put out: X-Men 3, Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four vs. Annoying Sarcastic Businessman, Fantastic Four vs. Giant Cloud of Gas...

Anyway. What Mr. the Don clearly means is that he wishes there wasn't this pesky matter of the outstanding movie rights at Sony and Fox, and that Marvel could get all its characters in one basket and we could see, say, Spider-Man and Wolverine in Avengers 2. As a fan, I can certainly relate to that desire; I really think the shared-universe aspect is what's made both Marvel Comics and the Marvel Movie Universe special.

But it's foolish to suggest that Marvel makes much better superhero movies than Sony.

Because -- just as in the comics -- it's not about the corporate rightsholder, damn it. It's about the creative team.

Avengers didn't succeed because it's Marvel, no matter how badly Marvel wants to say it did. Avengers succeeded because of Whedon and Downey and Ruffalo and Johansson and Hiddleston and Jackson and Evans and Hemsworth and Evans -- and, yes, the people who wrote and drew the stories it was based on, like Kirby and Lee and Heck and Millar and Hitch.

And the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies didn't succeed because they were Sony. They succeeded because of Raimi and Maguire and Simmons and Robertson and Campbell and Molina and Dafoe (and in spite of Dafoe's costume). And Ditko and Lee and Romita and Conway and Kane.

And don't get me wrong, there is something to be said about huge media conglomerates owning huge stables of characters who can all meet and interact. There is an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that features both an adaptation of an old Mad spoof and a team-up with Scooby-Doo. It is awesomesauce.

Or, hell, the recent Avengers cartoon where Ben and Johnny come over to the mansion for poker night. That was great! And it's too bad that we can't see something like that happen in a movie because of rights entanglements!

But that stuff's not great just because it's DC/Time Warner or just because it's Marvel/Disney. It's great because great people -- writers, artists, actors, directors -- put it together.