Tag: Avengers

Concerning Tolkiens

A few weeks back, Tom Spurgeon had this to say:

[F]or some reason I ended up with this Christopher Tolkien Le Monde interview in my bookmarks folder. It's instructive to read something about a family wanting certain rights returned or better rewarded when most people really like what's been done with those rights as opposed to their either not caring or actively hating the result. One of the reasons a lot of our comics-related issue discussions remain unsophisticated is that we frequently choose to fight our battles along fundamental "I like it"/"I hate it" lines and then kind of furiously stare at the other issues involved until we can find a way to make them comply to our initial impression. It's no way to move forward.

He's not wrong. Given my established stance on creators' rights -- and creators' heirs' rights -- I'd be remiss in not confronting this conundrum.

Now, I like the movies. They're not perfect (The Two Towers, in particular, completely botches the narrative arc, overemphasizing the importance of Helm's Deep and an inexplicable new Osgiliath subplot while shunting the two actual climaxes of the book to the first act of the third movie -- and in one case, removing it from the theatrical cut entirely), but on the whole they're really pretty good. But yeah, there are some uncomfortable facts surrounding them.

To reiterate: my stance is that copyright law lasts far too long; in my opinion The Hobbit should have been public domain by now. But given that it isn't, we should respect the rights of the creators -- and given that, in this case, JRR Tolkien is no longer with us, we should respect the rights of his heirs. For legal purposes, the Tolkien Estate is JRR Tolkien.

But there are a couple of other factors at work here, too.

It was JRR himself who sold the film rights. Willingly, and with the intent to make sure his heirs were cared for financially.

That said, he was taken advantage of. Ever hear of the first ever Hobbit movie? It was made in a month, ran 12 minutes, and was only screened once -- because Tolkien's lawyers were incompetent, and left a loophole allowing the studio to retain the rights to Lord of the Rings as long as they produced a full-color film by a given deadline. Length and distribution were not specified; a 12-minute movie screened once satisfied the contract.

It wouldn't be the last time lawyers worked to game the system. Forty years later, Warner would produce the blockbuster Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and, through the usual Hollywood creative bookkeeping tactics, claim that it had not turned any profit and therefore they didn't owe any money to the Tolkien Estate. It took a lawsuit for the Estate to receive any money from the films.

(This is the point in any creators' rights debate where some corporate apologist inevitably explains to me that publicly-traded companies are beholden to their shareholders and therefore obligated to hoard as much money as humanly possible and do everything they can to avoid paying a single cent more than they have to. Why, it would be unethical for them not to try and get out of paying the Tolkien Estate! I welcome any such apologist to explain to me precisely how it was in Time Warner shareholders' best interest to expose the company to multiple lawsuits -- not just from the Tolkiens but from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who New Line also tried to stiff -- and trap The Hobbit in development hell for the better part of a decade, to the point where it appeared for quite some time that it wouldn't get made at all.)

And there's one more sad old saw that the apologists like to trot out: "Well, what did the heirs ever do?" That's one I see a lot in the conversations about the heirs of Jack Kirby, or Jerry Siegel, or Joe Shuster, et al.

I think it's a hollow argument. Creators do their work expecting to leave something for their families, and dismissing heirs outright effectively means giving luck-of-the-draw based on the age at which a person dies. (Do you believe Jack Kirby should have received money from The Avengers if he had lived to 95, and would have left that money to his children? If so, why do you believe his children don't deserve that money just because he died at 76? If not, then what the hell does it matter whether his heirs did the work or not, if you don't think the guy who did do the work shouldn't have been compensated for the adaptation?)

But even if you don't buy that line of reasoning, well, this is one case where "What did the heirs ever do?" is a pretty piss-poor rhetorical question. Because in this case the answer is "Assemble, edit, and publish about 30 of his books." Make no mistake -- Christopher Tolkien hasn't simply sat back and waited for checks to roll in; he has made it his life's work to get as much of his father's work into print as humanly possible. And it's not so simple as just finding old pages and retyping them -- many of the writings are fragmentary, and many would be incomprehensible without Christopher's extensive annotations. Without his work, Tolkien's body of published work would be far poorer.

Actually, that brings up another point entirely: the Hobbit movie isn't simply an adaptation of The Hobbit. It includes material from Unfinished Tales -- a book which I'm fairly confident Warner, MGM, et al do not have the movie rights to.

Now, I'm sure Warner's got very expensive lawyers on this. And maybe I'm misremembering -- it's been years since I read Unfinished Tales, longer since I read Lord of the Rings, longer still since I read The Hobbit. Maybe the LotR appendices have enough information about the Fall of Erebor, how Thorin earned the name Oakenshield, Gandalf's meeting with Thráin, and the White Council that Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, and del Toro can plausibly claim that they only adapted material from The Hobbit and LotR -- but if I were the Tolkien Estate's lawyers, I'd be poring over the movie right now looking for material from Unfinished Tales and any other posthumously-published Tolkien work that the studios never bought the rights for.

All that said? I like the LotR films and the Hobbit film. I'm sorry that Christopher Tolkien wishes they didn't exist, and I feel a little bad about that. I feel worse still about how the studios have treated the Tolkien Estate, and I believe it's genuinely unconscionable that they tried to stiff them out of compensation for the films. And yes, I suspect that the latest movie does adapt material from books it's not legally allowed to. (I'm also none too happy about the reports of union-busting and animal mistreatment, come to that.)

Stuff like this is personal. I believe that, for example, The Avengers hit a point where I couldn't in good conscience pay to see the movie; I believe that The Hobbit, despite the caveats above, did not. I believe the point that Tolkien's heirs do get a substantial amount of money from their father's work -- even if they had to go to court for some of it -- while Kirby's and Heck's heirs don't is a major reason for that. Spurgeon's point is intriguing -- but I really do like to think I've formed my opinions based on the circumstances of the dispute, and not simply looked for facts that made me feel good about seeing a movie I already wanted to see.

tl;dr I think The Hobbit was pretty great. There are some uncomfortable things going on behind the scenes and we should think about those. Personally I don't think they justify a boycott -- but everyone should be aware of them, consider them, and come to their own conclusions.

Best/Worst of Times, etc.

Yesterday I talked about Karen Berger's imminent departure from Vertigo, the disappointment I feel as a Vertigo fan, and the excitement I feel wondering what she'll do next.

And you know, that's kind of the perfect metaphor for what it feels like to be a comics fan in general right now. There's just so much bullshit -- but there's so much gold, too.

Since the 1940's, the American comics industry has gone through a regular, 20-year boom-bust cycle. We're in an odd-numbered decade, so if the pattern continues that means we've got another bust coming. And while I think Marvel and especially DC are full-speed-ahead on stupid management decisions to cause the next one, this one's not going to be like the others -- it's going to be smaller, it's going to be confined to those two major publishers, and it's going to happen even as their characters and brands increase in popularity.

Now, both companies seem dead-set on repeating most of the worst excesses of the 1990's -- variant covers, new #1's, big summer crossovers, increasingly muddled continuity reboots, Jim Lee -- and don't seem to get the idea that this is going to go much like it did in the '90's, with a brief boost to sales followed by a crash as everybody gets sick of this crap. DC, in particular, is currently being run by bean counters at Warner who think their best shot at relevance is pushing the Reset button on their universe again and putting out prequels to Watchmen.

Even still, DC's still managing to put out some great books. Dial H is fantastic, Demon Knights is a joy, and Animal Man and Frankenstein were both pretty great until they muddled into an unnecessary crossover. I really don't think it's a coincidence that the best books coming out of DC are the ones that are subject to the least corporate interference and are the least subject to the whims of shared-universe continuity.

And that's just DC proper. Take the the industry as a whole and there's a stunning variety of wild, beautiful, original books -- Saga, Chew, Manhattan Projects, The Massive, to name just a few. There are even some wonderful licensed books -- Adventure Time, Popeye, Godzilla: The Half-Century War. Prophet shows that even a 1990's Liefeld property can turn into a brilliant, offbeat science fiction series worthy of classic Heavy Metal. Dark Horse Presents demonstrates the depth and breadth of modern comics at its greatest, at 80 pages for $8 a month.

And that's just the new stuff. As far as classic comics, there's an embarrassment of riches. When I gave my cousin a copy of The Completely Mad Don Martin -- a collection of the cartoonist's entire Mad output, in two oversized hardcover books in a slipcase, weighing in at about 25 pounds -- my uncle looked at it and said "Did you ever think you'd see anything like this?" The mere idea that, in two generations, Mad has gone from being dismissed as trash to being given reverential treatment.

There's so much in print -- Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse, Carl Barks's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, exhaustive collections of Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Mary Perkins On Stage, Pogo, Tintin. You can get the complete Bone in a single black-and-white volume or a dozen color trades from Scholastic. Love and Rockets is collected in paperbacks or hardcovers, pick your Poison River. The other day I was at the library and saw a huge hardback collection of Walter Simonson's entire Thor run (only the worthy may lift it). There are glorious hardcover collections highlighting the work of Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Davis, Kurtzman, Wolverton, Eisner -- the choices are staggering.

And that's just the stuff that's in print.

You wanna talk about digital? You can buy the entirety of Quantum and Woody right the fuck now (and there's a rumor of two finished-but-never-published issues on the way too). Sure, digital comics has its issues -- DRM and the inevitable platform fragmentation and compatibility problems that DRM causes -- but it's still early days and that stuff'll get ironed out.

And that's just the stuff you have to pay for. Head on over to a site like Digital Comic Museum and you can gaze upon thousands of public-domain comics, completely free of charge.

And that's just the stuff that's available legally.

You want a comic that, for various rights reasons, will never be reprinted? Jack Kirby's 2001? Moore, Bissette, Veitch, et al's 1963? The infamous Air Pirates Funnies? Can't stop the signal; they're easier to find now than they were when they were in print.

So, all in all? It's plenty easy to get frustrated with the direction DC and Marvel are going in. It's easy to foresee their readership tanking and bringing on another crash and panic. But Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are still Hollywood blockbusters; their publishers aren't going away -- and even if they vanished overnight, there would be so much good stuff left to fill the vacuum that I, for one, wouldn't miss them...much.

Truth is, for all the bullshit, I don't think there's ever been a better time to be a comics fan -- not even the 1940's.


And I shouldn't have to say this, but just to be perfectly clear: I am absolutely not advocating illegally downloading comics that are commercially available. Support publishers you like. Support creators you like. Support your local comic shop.

And if you download a work that's out-of-print, or otherwise acquire a book that doesn't benefit the creators or their families, it's a good idea to buy something that does. You like 2001 (or, for that matter, any of Kirby's Marvel work)? Buy Kirby: Genesis and send some money his family's way. Like 1963? Pick up some Swamp Thing trades, and keep an eye out for Bissette's Tales of the Uncanny.

Or whatever it is you're into. Bottom line? Find something you love, support the people who make it happen, and tell your friends.

Fucking Fanboys.

Dear guy who found this site searching for avengers assemble tv show sucks,

Man, life must be so much easier when you can form a strong opinion on a TV show based entirely on a single promo image.

(In fairness, yeah, that promo image is pretty bad.)

Also: According to ComicsAlliance, Jeph Loeb finally clarified the status of the two Avengers toons. Yes, Earth's Mightiest Heroes is ending to make way for Avengers Assemble -- but apparently the latter is a continuation of the former. On the whole, I'd say that's good news -- but then, I'm not the kind of guy who has to tell Google how much a show sucks before actually seeing a single frame of it.

...Actually, you know what? I, too, am going to share an opinion on Avengers Assemble based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

Avengers Assemble has a much less terrible theme song than Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

You heard it here first.


Related: I've gone and updated the favesearches list again, because there is some good stuff in there.

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.

Shot Across the Bow

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the ending of the Avengers movie. (Though if you've made it two months without hearing about it, you probably don't care.)

So I've made it just past a month of posting every day, and closer to two months with Regular Updates. The post that kicked it off was about Avengers and creators' rights, and those types of posts seem to be my most popular ones. I've gotten E-Mails from a couple of unexpected readers at this point thanking me for my comments, and given that I get a couple of dozen visitors on a good day and most of those are people looking for Final Fantasy 7 mods, I'm a little surprised and flattered by that.

So here's another post about Avengers and creators' rights. Today we're going to talk about Jim Starlin and his creation, Thanos.

Thanos shows up in the end of the Avengers movie. He's only onscreen for a short tease, but it's a big moment, the reveal of the bad guy who set all this in motion and is now positioned as the major antagonist for the sequel.

More than that, actually: Marvel's working on a Guardians of the Galaxy picture, widely speculated to feature Thanos and give him some background before Avengers 2.

The LA Times' Hero Complex interviewed Starlin after Avengers came out, and it included this exchange:

HC: I spoke to Jerry Robinson once and I congratulated him on the billion-dollar success of "The Dark Knight" and he winced like I had poked him in the eye. Of course I instantly realized that watching Alfred, the Joker, Two-Face, etc. fill the coffers of Warner Bros. was like watching a son raised in another house with another family's name. I don't know the arrangements on this film, but has this project and its success been a mixed experience in any way?

JS: Very mixed. It's nice to see my work recognized as being worth something beyond the printed page, and it was very cool seeing Thanos up on the big screen. Joss Whedon and his crew did an excellent job on "The Avengers" movie and I look forward to the sequel, for obvious reasons. But this is the second film that had something I created for Marvel in it -- the Infinity Gauntlet in "Thor" being the other -- and both films I had to pay for my own ticket to see them. Financial compensation to the creators of these characters doesn't appear to be part of the equation. Hopefully Thanos' walk-on in "The Avengers" will give a boost to a number of my own properties that are in various stages of development for film: "Dreadstar," "Breed" and the novel "Thinning the Predators."

Of course, Thanos's appearance in Avengers has ignited some interest in the character; Marvel's got some new series with him coming out, as well as reprinting some old ones. In a recent post at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnson saw a press release for a "new" Thanos miniseries and misunderstood Marvel's present-tense copy to imply that it was new work from Starlin rather than a reprint.

But it isn't. Starlin quit freelancing for Marvel back around the beginning of '04, citing the standard "irreconcilable differences".

And while I expect Starlin would get royalties if Marvel reprinted work he'd done in the past 25 years or so, these reprints are books he did back in '77, so he's most likely getting nothing for them.

So that's the story so far. Marvel is preparing a big marketing push involving Thanos, which may culminate in a major role in two Hollywood blockbusters. And it's not sharing anything with his creator.

So when Starlin posted a picture of Thanos on his Facebook account the other day, with these words:

This is probably one of the first concept drawings of Thanos I ever did, long before I started working at Marvel. Jack Kirby's Metron is clearly the more dominant influence in this character's look. Not Darkseid. Both D and T started off much smaller than they eventually became. This was one of the drawings I had in my portfolio when I was hired by Marvel. It was later inked by Rich Buckler.

that may sound like just a "Hey, here's a neat historical artifact I found, check it out" post. But Heidi MacDonald reads it as something much bigger, and I'm inclined to agree.

That seemingly-offhand reference to it being in his portfolio before he was hired by Marvel? What that actually says is, "Thanos was not created as work-for-hire, and I have proof."

I've talked, at some length, about the Kirby heirs' legal battle for the rights to Kirby's characters. Marvel v Kirby to date has hinged on Stan Lee's testimony and a lack of hard evidence contradicting it. Stan says everything Jack did at Marvel was work-for-hire and none of his characters were created independently of Marvel's requests, and Jack's heirs have been unable to produce art proving that he created characters on his own time before pitching them to Marvel. (I have opined, more than once, that such evidence was probably in the box or boxes of Kirby art stolen from Marvel in the 1980's before it could be returned to him; there is of course no proof of this but things certainly worked out well for Marvel.) There's no such problem here; Starlin has solid proof that he created Thanos before he went to work for Marvel, and therefore Thanos was not created for-hire.

Now, there are some other questions that arise.

The biggest is, did Starlin transfer the rights to Thanos to Marvel?

Marvel didn't keep good records at that point. Contracts were seldom formal affairs; more commonly, Marvel printed a legend on the back of a freelancer's paycheck saying that in exchange for the pay he transferred all rights to them.

Back-of-the-check contracts are dicey affairs. There's an argument to be made that they're coercive; after all, waiting until after an artist has already done his work expecting a payout for it -- a check he may very well need for rent and food -- and then hitting him with a "By the way, give up ownership or we won't pay you" doesn't exactly create an even playing field for negotiations.

Be that as it may, Marvel's back-of-the-check contracts were upheld recently in Friedrich v Marvel. I've heard that they were also upheld in DeCarlo v Archie but I can't find a primary source to verify that; the summary judgement I found appears to be based on later, more formal contracts that DeCarlo signed, not an original back-of-the-check contract.

But that still means that, if Starlin were to claim ownership of Thanos in court (and this is pure speculation, mind; he's made no indication that he intends to do so), Marvel would want to produce a copy of any contract he signed with them, back-of-the-check or otherwise.

(I've also heard that Starlin crossed out the legend on the back of his checks before signing them, though I haven't seen any primary-source verification on that claim. That would itself make for an interesting legal case -- even assuming back-of-the-check contracts are legally binding in the first place, what if you don't sign, or cross the contract out, and the check still clears? That might not be a wise thing to risk an entire suit on, but it would be fascinating.)

There's another wrinkle, as noted by Nat Gertler in The Beat's comments section:

We’re more likely to run into the Blade situation, which ended up resting (in my not-a-lawyer understanding of the case) not on the question of whether it was work for hire, but on the question of whether the similarities between the original Blade and the movie Blade were sufficient to be infringing.

That's an important point too. Marv Wolfman sued Marvel over the rights to Blade under similar circumstances, and a judge ruled that Marvel's Blade was so substantially different from Wolfman's version as to be legally distinct. And given that so far we've only had a brief tease of Thanos, Marvel's still got two films to make the "substantially different" case.

And there's another point to consider: even if Starlin did transfer the Thanos rights to Marvel, he's permitted to terminate the transfer after 56 years. Thanos first appeared in '73, so Starlin (or, if he doesn't live that long, his statutory heirs) can reclaim him in 2029. And Kurt Busiek (also in the comments section of that Beat post) suggests that this might be a negotiating tactic -- Starlin could agree not to seek reversion in exchange for a percent of royalties for Thanos's use, for example.

Indeed, that comments section is well worth reading, largely because of Nat and Kurt's input. There are a couple of the usual anti-creator types in there (and I'm pretty sure at least one of them is a troll, seeing as he wades right in and immediately says the most provocative and factually wrong thing he possibly can) but if you step over them and get to the people who actually know what they're talking about, you might learn something.

Speaking of anti-creator fanboys? Well, in the Kirby case the constant refrain has been "Kirby's heirs didn't do anything so they don't deserve anything." This, of course, is a case where a creator is still alive. Will that change anything? Will the people pooh-poohing the Kirby heirs' suit rally behind Starlin?

Well, to be fair, some of them might. But in general? Well, here's what one guy said to me a couple of months ago when I brought up Starlin's complaint that Marvel hadn't so much as bought him a movie ticket:

I think Starlin was about as uninvolved in the making of the movie as a person could possibly be. I'd wager I had as much to do with making The Avengers as Jim Starlin did. Granted, I didn't have a character show up for all of a 2 second reveal, but beyond that, our contributions were the same. Where's my free ticket?

(By the way, I got a free ticket to see Avengers. So that means I got more for the movie than Jim Starlin did.)

He went on to make a slippery-slope argument that compensating creators is equivalent to just putting the characters right out into the public domain and will end DC and Marvel, an absurd position I've dismantled previously. (tl;dr no dude a few million dollars for creators is not going to bankrupt the company that just made a billion dollars on its movie.)

Guys like that? It's not about the law and it's not about the ethics. It's The Spice Must Flow. It doesn't matter how Marvel treats creators, as long as it keeps putting out product to consume.

There's always a fresh rationalization on the horizon. "He signed a contract." No he didn't. "Well, he's dead now." Okay, but this guy's alive. "The character we know is the work of dozens of creators over a period of decades, so no one person can really claim credit to him." Even if that were true in some cases, Thanos is unmistakably Jim Starlin's character. "Well, it was only a tiny cameo, so he's not entitled to anything." And once Thanos has more than a cameo, it's going to be "Well okay, that's terrible, but the industry's not like that anymore; it's all better now." (A point Scott Kurtz raised recently, right about two weeks before Static co-creator Robert Washington III died of multiple heart attacks at the age of 47 and his family had to turn to charity to get him buried.)

There is and will continue to be a vocal minority of comic book fans who will side with the publishers no matter what. (Oh God how I hope it's a minority -- but I think it is. You can find a vocal population of people on the Internet who will angrily, zealously defend absolutely any dumbass position you can possibly think of.) And it's particularly galling when that includes guys like Kurtz, an actual cartoonist who makes an actual living from actual creator-owned comics. But The Spice Must Flow -- they like Marvel, they like the comics and the movies and the characters and the shared universe, and they see attempts at compensation by the people who actually created those characters as a threat. A threat to the free flow of those comics and movies or, perhaps even worse, the threat of making them feel guilty for enjoying them.

I think that's why justifications like "Well the heirs didn't do it so they don't deserve anything" and "Well okay, that's how it was in the Bad Old Days but it just doesn't happen anymore" are so prevalent: because they show a sympathy toward creators without actually indicting the current management at Disney/Marvel for any kind of wrongdoing. It means they don't have to feel bad about buying the latest issue of Daredevil (which, don't get me wrong, I hear is a really excellent comic -- and I'm certainly not asking you to feel bad if you buy it!).

But strip those away and there's always another excuse, always another justification.

And hell, maybe I'm just as knee-jerk in coming down on the side of creators over corporations. (Ken Penders might disagree -- I'm not allowed to post on his forums and I suspect it's because I once described his claims against Archie as "some legitimately crazy shit" -- but truth be told I hope he's right and I hope he wins. And yeah that comment was pretty out-of-line and I should probably walk it back to "I am skeptical but wish him luck.") But you know, I don't feel too bad about knee-jerk support of human beings. I don't mind being the guy who says "You know, if a movie makes a billion dollars, the guys who created the characters it's based on should get a higher share of that than zero percent."

Course, appeals to emotion aren't going to help Starlin get any compensation.

The good news is, he seems to have a better case and more leverage than most of the other comic creators who've fought Goliath.

Or maybe he just wanted to show people a drawing of Thanos. I dunno, I'm not a mind reader.

I Just Don't Get Fanboys.

Last week I wrote a post on fanboy entitlement, as exemplified by people who are positively enraged that the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is for kids instead of thirtysomethings.

It included this bit:

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

Well, funny story about that: Bleeding Cool ran a piece today about that announcement.

And there is one internet user called Nabil Elmjati who seems to have started a one man covert war against [Ultimate Spider-Man] and Marvel Animation.

[...]

Nabil appears to have created the site Marvel TV News which runs stories about [Marvel] animation and games, but mostly about how awful the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is, and how everyone hates it. It is registered to a "Nabil Mjati" in Morocco. So, you know. That's him.

And then he posted the news that the Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes would be cancelled and [replaced] with the cartoon Avengers Assemble. He also [quoted] from a press release, purported to be "print only", saying "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes won't be renewed for the 3rd Season. Marvel Animation will present their newly developed series Marvel's Avengers Assemble in 2013."

[...]

Only problem was that the quote was made up. There was no official press release. It was a lie that few chose to question.

There is certainly the rumour that Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled. It may well be replaced by the new Avengers Assemble. But no official word. Marvel TV News made up an official quote and all the websites followed suit without checking.

Mea culpa. Dude "quoted" a "print-only" press release and I didn't question it. I've updated my earlier post in light of the BC piece.

In my defense, by the time I wrote that post the linked TV Guide interview had been posted, with Loeb confirming work on the Avengers Assemble TV series. That supports the claim that Earth's Mightiest Heroes is cancelled but does not actually confirm it, and is certainly not the same thing as a print-only press release. And before we go any farther, it bears noting that Bleeding Cool is the British tabloid of comic book news sites, and itself best taken with a grain of salt.

But, still and all: there was no press release, and Marvel TV News is a bullshit site by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man.

Which is just, you know, fucking weird.

I get into it a bit with a guy in the comments section of that Bleeding Cool post -- one of those guys who just does not understand why Marvel wants to target its cartoons at the kids, and who just doesn't care anymore and wants to make very sure that everybody knows just how much he doesn't care. Okay. So that's run-of-the-mill fanboy entitlement. A basic lack of perspective. I don't really get it, but it's a common, somewhat mild condition.

It stops somewhere short of this Elmjati gentleman's apparent obsession -- per the BC article, he hasn't merely set up a phony news site to "quote" completely made-up press releases, he's also repeatedly harangued Joe Quesada on Twitter and actually set up a phony Jeph Loeb Facebook profile and then encouraged people to deluge it with angry comments.

And...I mean, just god damn, what is wrong with that guy?

Christ knows I've wasted a lot of time arguing with people on the Internet about superheroes, but running a full-time campaign of astroturfing, sock-puppetry, and downright fabrication has seriously never crossed my mind.

Sometimes, Cartoons are for Kids.

We've been spoiled.

My generation, I mean.

We grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. A cartoon that was made for kids but which attracted a huge following among adults, won two Emmys, and still holds up twenty years later not only as an intelligent and sophisticated show, but as one of the high water marks in animation, period.

And if you think that spoiled us, well, consider this: by the time I was in college, Dini, Timm, Burnett, et al were still playing in that sandbox, still expanding that universe, with Justice League.

And there were more to follow. Teen Titans, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold -- they all had their detractors, but ultimately they were well-received by adults.

And then there's the Marvel side. Sure, the 1990's X-Men and Spider-Man may have been pretty bad in hindsight, but Spectacular Spider-Man was quite probably the best cartoon Marvel's ever put together, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes may very well rank at #2.

So that's a murderer's row of fantastic cartoons, enjoyable by adults -- so I suppose it's easy to see where some fanboys got to feeling so entitled that they're offended by the very idea of superhero cartoons for kids.

There's an article over at ComicsAlliance about Ultimate Spider-Man being picked up for a second season. For some reason this has made people in the comments section very angry.

It's not just that they don't like the show -- I mean, that's fine. I like it (it's got Agent Phil Coulson as the high school principal, it had a Frog Thor episode, and even a cameo by Doop!), but seriously, it's okay if some people don't!

That's different from being offended at the very idea that the show is written for children and not for you. I mean, dude -- get over yourself; of course it is.

The Beat had an article to that effect recently too: Area man surprised to find Spider-Man cartoon aimed at children. It featured this quote by a gentleman named Jim Mroczkowski, which I think strikes to the heart of the matter:

No, of course Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t float your boat. You aren’t eleven years old.

In other words: no, I’m not enjoying this program about my favorite character by my favorite creative team, but what if this particular children’s show about a colorful superhero was a cartoon on the Disney Channel intended for little kids, as opposed to an epic meant for 37-year-old homeowners?

Now, back during the era of Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and assorted other superhero shows which apparently were mandated by law to include the word "friends" in their titles, this observation would have fallen straight under the heading of "Well no shit." But again -- the Batman: The Animated Series generation is so spoiled it's lost track of that obvious point.

There is another aspect to this: the notion that this has displaced something we loved.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man. Ergo, as far as fanboys are concerned, Ultimate Spider-Man is to blame for the cancellation of Spectacular Spider-Man.

Now, that's not actually true. But this is the Internet. Bring up Seiken Densetsu 3 and within five minutes someone will be along to rant about how it was cancelled for the vastly inferior Secret of Evermore. This is not actually true, and has long since been thoroughly discredited, but entitled fanboys don't like letting facts get in the way of simple explanations.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled because the rights to animated Spider-Man reverted from Sony back to Marvel. That's the major reason. The bankruptcy of 4Kids Entertainment, the station that aired it, and Disney's purchase of Marvel, likely did not help, but it was first and foremost a rights conflict. Ultimate Spider-Man was made because Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, not the other way around.

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series*. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

And this has been the pattern. Teenage Batman in the future? The fanboys cried that that was a terrible idea. Teen Titans? When it was new the fanboys proclaimed that it was far too juvenile; now that there's a followup coming, those same fanboys are declaring that's too juvenile, and why can't it be mature and sophisticated like the old series?

Fanboys hated The Batman -- and admittedly, it took a couple seasons to find its sea legs, but it got pretty good after awhile.

Fanboys hated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but it turned out to be an absolutely ingenious series, smart, funny, and firmly rooted in the works of Dick Sprang and Jack Kirby.

There's a phrase for this, in Transformers fandom, for people automatically hating a new series entirely because it's different and not because it's actually bad: "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!"

I guess I've drifted somewhat off-point.

My point is twofold:

  1. Don't declare that you hate a show until you have actually seen it;
  2. If you do hate it once you see it, that's okay, but maybe you can stop short of actually being offended that a cartoon featuring your favorite superhero is designed for children.

That's all.

(Now if, on the other hand, an eight-year-old happens to be offended that there are five different monthly Batman comics and every single one of them is written for people over thirty, then yeah, I think that qualifies as a legitimate complaint.)


* Update 2012-06-19: According to Bleeding Cool -- a site itself best taken with a grain of salt --, Marvel has made no such announcement and the site reporting it is run by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, Jeph Loeb did indicate, in a TV Guide interview, that there is a new Avengers cartoon coming, which grants some credence to the claim.

All or Nothin'

The most baffling argument I've been seeing lately to bolster the "Kirby's family shouldn't get any money" line is, "Well, it wasn't just Lee and Kirby who created the Avengers, it was Lieber and Heck, and Ditko designed the red and gold Iron Man armor, and Millar and Hitch made Nick Fury look like Sam Jackson and and and and and..."

Well, you know, I absolutely agree: Lieber, Heck, Ditko, Millar, Hitch, and plenty of other guys did very important work on Avengers over the years, work which made it into the movie.

The part where it gets fucking baffling isn't the first part, the "Lots of people made Avengers what it is" part. I get that. The part I just can't make sense of is "therefore none of them deserve any money."

Honestly, what the fuck is that?

I saw a guy on the ComicsAlliance comments section the other day argue that if Marvel compensated everyone whose work was adapted in Avengers, it would bankrupt the company.

What?

Tom Spurgeon recently wrote a lovely post titled These Comics-Makers Created The Avengers, spotlighting the writers and artists who made major contributions to the franchise that were used in the movie. He lists Stan Lee (the Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Loki, Black Widow, Hawkeye, SHIELD, The Cosmic Cube, Pepper Potts, Jarvis, Nick Fury), Jack Kirby (the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, SHIELD, Loki, the Cosmic Cube, Jarvis, Nick Fury), Don Heck (Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Pepper Potts, and a good chunk of the early Avengers), Larry Lieber (Iron Man, Thor, Loki), Brian Michael Bendis (Maria Hill, Ultimate Nick Fury), Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (The Ultimates, which the Avengers movie is largely based on, most notably in the casting of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury), Joe Simon (Captain America), Don Rico (Black Widow), David Finch (Maria Hill), Mike Allred (Ultimate Nick Fury), Steve Ditko (the red-and-gold Iron Man armor and a shitload of other refinements of Kirby et al's characters), and Jim Starlin ([SPOILER]). I would have added Adi Granov to the list, too, as that's his version of the Iron Man armor up on the screen, but unlike most of the others he actually worked directly on the movies, adapted the armor for film himself, and got a paycheck and a spot in the credits that's not "Special Thanks".

So okay. That's fourteen dudes.

Let's say that you gave each of those guys (or their heirs, where applicable) a million dollars for making The Avengers. It doesn't have to be a million; that's just a number I'm picking -- partly because it's what Marvel gives Stan Lee every year, and partly because it's a pretty big chunk of change that you can reasonably assume none of them would refuse. (Except Ditko.)

So okay. That's fourteen million dollars. (Thirteen if you acknowledge that Ditko would certainly refuse; twelve if you take Stan out because he already got his million dollars.) Out of a movie that has grossed over a billion so far. Without factoring in merchandising, cable, DVD, etc.

According to mathematics, fourteen million is 1.4% of one billion. Or, 28% of the $50 million that Robert Downey Jr. allegedly made from the movie (according to anonymous sources, reported by Hollywood Reporter). Now, before anyone accuses me of saying Downey got paid too much or didn't deserve that money -- that's not my argument. He was in the movie; he's the main talent that this entire franchise was built on. And he's a great actor. Good for him, and I don't begrudge him a single thin dime he's earned from it. No, my point is merely that if Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount et al can afford $50 million for one guy, it can afford a total of $14 million for fourteen guys.

"But," goes the inevitable argument, "it won't stop there! If you give money to those fourteen guys, everyone will want some! Where do you draw the liiiiiine? If you give money to those fourteen people, you have to give money to every single person who ever worked on an Avengers comic! And then the guy who drove the delivery truck is going to want a piece of the action!"

(I would like to add that that last bit is not an exaggeration. I saw a guy use that exact argument once in a debate about the Superman rights. I am not kidding even a little.)

Well, first of all, that's a stupid slippery-slope argument. Just because you agree to compensate fourteen or so people does not mean you agree to compensate everybody. That's stupid. If you make that argument, you're stupid, or at least pretending to be stupid.

(Well, I shouldn't say "at least" -- I happen to think pretending to be stupid is much worse than actually being stupid.)

You can draw a clearly-defined line. For me, it's a pretty simple one: the people who deserve compensation are the writers and pencilers who created any of the specific characters, costumes, locations, devices, or stories adapted in the movie.

And yes, there's ambiguity there. But guess what? Marvel's already got to sort out ambiguity. Is Scarlet Witch an Avenger or an X-Woman? Do the Spider-Woman movie rights belong to Marvel Studios or Sony? There are already lawyers whose job it is to sort out those distinctions; they can sort out whether Jim Steranko had a significant hand in the Avengers source material too.

(And an aside: on the "What about the inkers, colorists, and letterers?" question, I don't believe they qualify as creators but I do believe they deserve royalties. I don't think they should get royalties from the Avengers movie, but I absolutely think they should get royalties from any Avengers comics they personally worked on.)

Cartoonist Scott Kurtz recently put this asinine argument to work:

And to say that Jack Kirby is responsible for that Avengers movie is a ridiculous notion and insulting to the combined hard work of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of creators who have put their efforts into keeping our modern mythos of super-heroes alive and well.

Well, okay, there may be tens of thousands of people who have worked on superhero comics. Maybe. And yes, arguing that every single person who has ever worked on a superhero comic should get compensated for the Avengers movie would be incredibly fucking stupid. Which is, I suppose, the main reason that nobody, anywhere, ever has actually made that argument.

But for shits and grins, let's say a thousand people have worked on Avengers over the past 50 years or so. I think that's a pretty high number, but let's go with it.

So okay. In that case, if you were to compensate every single one of them, you couldn't afford to give each of them a million dollars.

But you know what? If you gave each of them ten thousand dollars, you would then be giving them about one percent of what the movie has grossed.

I am not, of course, literally suggesting that every single person who ever worked on an Avengers comic should be paid ten thousand dollars. I'm just saying that they could, and it would amount to a rounding error, which makes the weaksauce "If you give money to the Kirby heirs you have to give it to eeeeverybodyyyyy!" slippery-slope argument that much weaker.

Anyhow, that's a lot of words, and there are guys who've made this point a lot better than I have, in under 140 characters.

Evan Dorkin:

So, others worked on The Avengers et al after Kirby et al. That's your answer? Really? Buildings without foundations collapse, assholes.

Kurt Busiek:

Speaking as one who worked on AVENGERS after Kirby, @evandorkin -- I couldn't have done it without someone creating the characters and book.


Oh, and I updated my Preemptive Response post of answers to all the most obnoxious clichés that inevitably crop up in every discussion of the Kirby heirs' attempt to reclaim rights to his characters. Why, no reason at all.

Thad Doesn't Review The Avengers

Here's the thing: I'm boycotting The Avengers.

It was Steve Bissette who convinced me, in a blog post last summer just following the summary judgement against Jack Kirby's heirs. After that judgement it looks like the heirs will never receive their due through the legal system, and the court of public opinion is their last recourse. I haven't bought Kirby-derived Marvel product since.

People have argued this one up and down, and done it well -- James Sturm, David Brothers, Chris Roberson, Heidi MacDonald, Steve Bissette again -- so I'm not going to go into an extensive retread just at this moment. But to summarize:

Yes, Jack Kirby is dead. No, his children didn't write or draw those comics. Neither did Bob Iger or Roy Disney III, both of whom stand to make massive bank on this movie and both of whom are in the position of making a lot of money on this movie because of who they are related to. Captain America should be in the public domain by now, but he's not, again thanks to Disney.

Marvel gives Stan Lee a million dollars a year. His contract stipulates that if he dies before his wife, then she (who also did not write or draw any of those comics) will continue to get a million dollars a year until she dies.

Kirby should have gotten the same deal Lee did. And if he had, he would have left his money to his children.

Never mind the rights questions and the work-for-hire versus spec questions. (Personally I believe Kirby did at least some of his work on spec, and Marvel "lost" the evidence among the thousands of pages of art they contractually agreed to return to him and then didn't. But again, never mind that for now.) Just giving some form of compensation to the Kirby heirs at this point would be a step toward rectifying the injustices Marvel did to Kirby over the course of his life. Plus, as Kurt Busiek recently noted, if Marvel (and DC for that matter) started retroactively applying their current standard contracts to past creators, people like the Kirby heirs and Gary Friedrich would spend less time suing them and more time promoting their movies.

Anyway, here's the other thing: last night somebody handed me a free ticket to go see The Avengers, and I realized that yes, this was a loophole in my boycott. If I don't pay to see it, I'm not supporting it.

Now granted, Marvel/Disney/Viacom/whoever paid for my ticket, and it was part of a marketing strategy -- word-of-mouth, buzz, what-have-you. So here's my thinking: if I talk about the movie, then they've accomplished their goal, and I've broken my boycott.

So I'm not going to talk about the movie. If I say I liked it, then I'm doing just what Disney wants me to. If I say I hated it, then that misses the point -- then I'm suggesting people shouldn't see it because it's a bad movie, not for ethical reasons. If you choose not to see a bad movie, that's not actually a boycott. (I remember lots of people in various comments sections saying they would boycott Ghost Rider 2 over Marvel's treatment of Gary Friedrich -- I reminded them that it's only a boycott if they had planned on seeing the movie in the first place.)

But yeah, I saw it. And I'm going to talk about my moviegoing experience.

I suppose you could argue that I'm still giving them what they want, if you really believe there's no such thing as bad publicity and any mention of the movie is good for them...but, well, read on.


The movie was at 7 PM, and my fiancée and I arrived before 5. She'd eaten and I hadn't, so she grabbed us a spot in line while I found the nearest place to grab a slice of pizza.

The slice I bought was mediocre and I would probably not go back. I felt particularly disapponted inasmuch as the theater is a couple of blocks from my favorite pizza place ever, but I didn't have the time or the money for that spot.

(Tangentially, several nights before I'd had a dream where I was lost in the New York subway system trying to find a good slice of pizza. Because yes, of course you can find a slice of pizza on any given corner in Manhattan, but I was trying to find a really good place. I am sure that this is a metaphor for something.)

So anyway, I got back and grabbed my 3D glasses and my spot in line. I love my fiancée but I think I may have to fire her from holding-my-place-in-line duty. Holding someone's place in line requires more than just waving him over when he walks in; you also need to make sure that you leave enough room around you for a human adult to stand comfortably in.

And so began the hours-long wait in line. It went about how these things usually go: standing in line sucks, but you're there with other people who share a common interest. I was next to a kid who had just read Knightfall and gushed about it while describing The Brave and the Bold as "unwatchably terrible" -- well, at least he's a kid who's enthusiastic about comics.

'Round about 5:45, a manager came up to the line and announced that no cameras would be allowed in the theater.

Including camera phones.

IE, a thing that every single fucking person carries in their pocket, because this is two thousand and goddamn twelve.

Now, I know that this completely fucking boneheaded policy was Disney's and/or Viacom's fault, not the theater's. But what is the theater's fault is that they waited until we'd been in line for an hour to tell us. Yes, as it turns out it was written on our tickets -- in an illegibly-tiny, illegibly-antialiased font way down at the bottom —, but how the hell hard is it to post signage and tell the guy at the door to let everyone know as they come in?

So I went back to the car, along with at least one person from every single group in line. Fortunately, this allowed the line to rearrange itself in a way so that I actually had room to stand comfortably when I got back. And hey, it could have been worse -- as I discovered when the line started moving, the guys who got there first had to stand in a really cramped spot, next to lighted movie posters that gave off a noticeable amount of heat.

And then came the wands.

They didn't pat us down, at least, but there were actually people in suits outside the theater entrance who wanded us to make sure we didn't have cell phones on us.

Let me fucking tell you something, Disney and Viacom.

Captain America did not go to war and punch Hitler in the goddamn face so that he could wake up 70 years later in an America where people have to pass through security to see a goddamn movie.

All so that somebody wouldn't record a 3D movie with their fucking phone and post it on the Internet. Because that would really hurt this movie's business, I'm sure.

Well, the good news is it totally worked and nobody managed to sneak a camera into any of the screenings and post the movie on the Internet within a matter of houohhhhh I'm just messin' with you guys, of fucking course somebody did. I checked this morning, just for curiosity's sake, and yes, surprising absolutely no one, a bootleg cam video of the movie is now readily available on the Internet.

What, you mean irritating and inconveniencing law-abiding customers didn't actually stop anyone from pirating something? I sure never would have guessed that from every single time anyone has tried it, ever!

Anyway. After the wanding we were admitted into a theater that really was not big enough for the size of the crowd. I'm given to understand they opened a second one -- which means we would have gotten better seats if we'd shown up later, because as it was we wound up way too damn close to the screen. (We were in the second row. We were told the first row was reserved for press. If the people who wound up sitting there were press, they must have been there for their high school paper.)

The seats sucked, but on the whole I was surprised to find that they didn't really suck any more for a 3D movie than they would have for a 2D one. There was a sense that the whole thing was hovering above us, and of course since you are actually looking at a plane, yes, shapes distort depending on your viewing angle. And there were bits where the screen had some single massive object filling it that made my eyes cross. But still, I don't think it was any worse than if I'd watched a regular movie from that seat. The problem isn't 3D, it's poor theater design.

All in all, I would say the theatergoing experience left a lot to be desired, and I'm certainly going to remember it the next time I think about attending a prerelease screening -- or even a popular new release.

But I will say one good thing about it: it's the only time this century I've gone to a movie and nobody in the audience had a damn phone.


There's been some talk about credits over the last few days -- an interviewer asked Stan Lee why Jack Kirby wasn't credited in the movie and Stan gave the kind of tone-deaf response he often makes when people ask him questions about credit: he actually said "In what way would his name appear?" (He added that "it's mentioned in every comic book; it says 'By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby'"; I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's referring to the original comics that Jack actually co-wrote and drew with him, because no, Jack does not get a creator credit on most of the current Marvel books.) I know Stan doesn't make these decisions (anymore), but I think he should have responded with "Well, that doesn't sound right; I'll ask around and see what I can do."

People have pointed out since that Kirby's name is in the credits. I didn't see it, but I think it was probably in the "special thanks" section 2/3 of the way down; the credits went by fast and the only names I caught there were Millar, Hitch, and Lieber. (And I'm certainly not saying those names don't belong there, mind; Lieber co-created Iron Man, and this movie is largely adapted from Millar and Hitch's The Ultimates -- indeed, I read an interview where Millar says they're not getting any compensation from the movie and if that's true I think it's outrageous.)

At any rate, my point is, I didn't see Kirby's name in the credits, and I was looking for it.

So, to answer Stan's question, "In what way would his name appear?" Well, Spider-Man had a big "Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" credit right at the beginning, and I think the Marvel Studios movies should have the same thing. I realize that Avengers, in particular, has a lot more creator credits, but I don't care; I still think they should be up onscreen in the opening titles, every one of 'em.

(An alternative idea, that I know could never actually happen but would like to see: in the end credits you get a prominent credit for each of the leads. The Iron Man helmet with Downey's name, the shield with Evans's, and so on. You could couple those with creator credits. Prominent, middle-of-the-screen credit saying "ROBERT DOWNEY JR.", and then, lower down and in smaller type, "Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck". Then the big "CHRIS EVANS", with a smaller "Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby". And so on down the line. No, this would never happen in real life, because I am talking about messing with the top-billed actors' credits, but...a man can dream.)


Playing: Xenoblade
Reading: The Neverending Story
Drinking: Lumberyard IPA. It was on sale at my local liquor store, and I checked the label only to discover that "Lumberyard" is actually the Beaver Street Brewery, my old college watering hole. It tastes like the good ol' days. And hops.

The King's Ransom

So, another month, another piece of news on Jack Kirby's heirs seeking termination of copyright transfer from Marvel. And another thread made up of the exact same absurd comments.

For the sake of my time and blood pressure, I've decided to just copy down all the very very stupid comments people keep making, followed by explanations of why they are very very stupid, and just preemptively copy-paste it into the comments thread of every article I see on the subject from now on.

I'll probably come back and revise this post here and there, so if it pops up new in your RSS feed every now and again, well, consider it a Living Document.

(Thanks to Nat Gertler for feedback and corrections.)

Revision notes:

  • 2018-07-12: Updated a Robot 6 link to the Wayback Machine version, as the comments are no longer available on the live site
  • 2011-08-02: Updated to comment on the outcome of Marvel v Kirby
  • 2012-05-23: Updated to discuss the Avengers movie, correct some bits where I conflated modern work-for-hire law with pre-1976 work-for-hire law, and include some brand new clichés I'm sick of seeing
  • 2014-06-24: Rephrased a remark about the now-overturned Superman ruling; updated the instance-and-expense section with some information on the current challenge to the lower court's ruling; updated some dates and links.
  • 2014-09-26: Updated to reflect the news that the case has been settled and will not be taken to the Supreme Court.
  • 2014-10-01: Added a link to a Kurt Busiek post on CBR.
  • 2014-10-10: Added a few more lines about the settlement, and one new numbered comment/response since I've been seeing a lot of the "The Kirbys may not have sued bu they provoked a suit" argument.

Thad Boyd's Preemptive Response to Comments We Are Definitely Going to See in This Thread

  1. "Kirby's heirs didn't do the work, Kirby himself did! Therefore, they don't deserve any money for it!"

    Yes, that money should go to the people who actually did the work. Like Disney. Who could forget Bob Iger's classic run on Fantastic Four?

    Snark aside, there's a valid point to the argument that Kirby's heirs shouldn't get the rights. I personally believe that copyright law lasts far too long and these characters shouldn't belong to Kirby's heirs OR Disney/Marvel at this point, and should be in the public domain. But until that day comes, can we at least acknowledge that Bob Iger didn't contribute any more to the development of these characters than Kirby's heirs did? And that, if Kirby had made more money in his lifetime, he would have left it to his children?

  2. "The Kirbys shouldn't have sued Marvel!"

    You've got it backwards. MARVEL sued the KIRBYS; only then did the Kirbys countersue.

    The Kirbys simply filed a request for termination of copyright transfer; it was MARVEL who responded with a lawsuit.

  3. "The Kirbys may not have sued Marvel, but they knew that filing for termination would RESULT in a lawsuit. The suit is the Kirbys' fault, regardless of who filed it."

    While it is true that the Kirbys would have known that Marvel would probably choose to sue them, it was still Marvel's choice. Marvel didn't have to sue; it could have chosen to negotiate outside the court system.

    As it eventually did, with the final settlement in 2014. Marvel CHOSE years of litigation before agreeing to a settlement.

  4. "Kirby didn't do all the work himself! Don Heck and Larry Lieber co-created Iron Man, Steve Ditko gave him red and gold armor, Joe Simon co-created Captain America, Ang Lee's Hulk is based on Peter David's run, the movie version of Magneto is way more like Claremont's version than Lee and Kirby's, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch made Nick Fury look like Samuel L Jackson, and on and on!"

    I completely agree -- all of those people should receive a share of the profits from the films based on their work, too.

    What I don't understand is taking that line of reasoning to the conclusion that NONE of them should receive anything.

  5. "Marvel can't AFFORD to pay everyone involved in creating the characters and stories adapted in its movies."

    Of course it can. Avengers grossed over a billion dollars.

    It is especially clear, following the settlement, that Marvel can afford to make a deal with the Kirbys -- because it has.

  6. "Isn't it convenient how Kirby's heirs waited until there were successful film franchises based on his work before they asked for the rights back? If it's so important to them, why didn't they do this years ago?"

    Because they couldn't. Copyright transfers can't be terminated until 56 years after the property's creation.

  7. "The Kirby kids should just get jobs!"

    The youngest of the Kirby "kids" was born in 1960. Do you really think they've all just been sitting around, unemployed, for the past several decades, waiting for the moment when they could try and get Dad's copyrights back?

  8. "It was work for hire, so Kirby never had any claim to the rights."

    Yes, that's what the judge ruled on July 28, 2011.

    But consider this: There was no work-for-hire contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  9. "Kirby was an employee of Marvel, so he never had any claim to the rights."

    No, he wasn't. There was no employment contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  10. "But he KNEW it was work for hire, because that's just how things were DONE in those days."

    The law does not recognize "just how things were done". What it DOES recognize in determining whether a pre-1978 work was made for-hire is the instance-and-expense test -- that is, did the creator make the work on his own initiative ("on spec") and then sell it, or did he create it at the publisher's request, to the publisher's specifications, and get paid a set rate by the publisher regardless of whether or not the work was published?

    The question of whether Marvel paid Kirby for art it didn't use is key. And the judge's ruling was based on Stan Lee's deposition.

    Other people who did freelance work for Marvel, including Stan's brother, Larry Lieber, said that freelancers were not paid for unused pages. Ultimately, the judge relied primarily on Stan Lee's deposition to support the claim that Kirby was paid for unused pages.

    Marvel's key documents were agreements Kirby signed in 1972 and 1986 claiming his previous work had been done on a for-hire basis. Kirby's agreement, in writing, that this was the case is legally damning, but still not hard evidence that the works actually WERE for-hire; Kirby signed these documents under duress, and the 1986 one was famously a condition for Marvel returning his original art.

    It bears noting that work-for-hire agreements cannot be made retroactively; if Kirby's 1963 work was not for-hire, he couldn't MAKE it for-hire in 1972. Furthermore, the 1972 document itself is contradictory -- it asks Kirby to assign all his copyrights to Marvel, and then suggests he never had any.

    The Kirby heirs attempted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court; they submitted an amicus brief challenging the instance-and-expense test and its application in the lower court's ruling. Bruce Lehman, former director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, filed an amicus brief arguing that the instance-and-expense test violates Supreme Court precedent. And, ultimately, Marvel chose to settle, just days before the Supreme Court would have decided whether or not to take the case. This suggests that, at minimum, Marvel believed there was a CHANCE that the Kirbys might prevail, and was unwilling to risk that outcome.

  11. "This will destroy Marvel Comics and all my beloved characters!"

    Most of Kirby's characters were co-created with Stan Lee. Stan has already agreed not to seek termination of copyright transfer (presumably because Marvel gave him a much, much better deal than Kirby), so that means Marvel will keep a 50% stake in them no matter what. The Kirbys will not be given editorial control and will not have veto power over Marvel's decisions; all they get is royalty payments -- which, incidentally, Jack never got from Marvel.

    This was exactly how the Superman rights operated between 2008 (when Jerry Siegel's heirs were awarded 50% of the rights) and 2012 (when that ruling was overturned): DC continued to publish Superman comics, they just had to compensate the Siegels.

    Kirby's lack of fair compensation during his lifetime is relevant here: stuff like this doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's too late for Jack or Jerry to get their due, but these legal battles have an impact on still-living creators -- chiefly, publishers will give better deals to their talent in order to keep them happy and avoid future lawsuits. Every time a writer or artist gets a royalty check from Marvel or DC, he has guys like Siegel and Kirby -- and their heirs -- to thank for fighting that fight.

  12. "I work hard at my job, and I don't expect an ownership stake in my work."

    Unless you were doing freelance work in the comics industry prior to 1978, your job is not analogous to Jack Kirby's job, your agreement with the company you work for is not the same as Jack's agreement with the company he worked for, and your heirs' claim to the work you do is not equivalent to Jack's heirs' claim to the work he did.

  13. "So if I built a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  14. "So if I bought a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  15. "So if I sold my house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  16. "So if I filed for a patent --"

    Getting closer, but copyrights are not patents, either.

  17. "Marvel lived up to its end of the bargain and doesn't owe Jack anything."

    Even assuming this is true (and I think the King would have something to say about that if he were still with us), you could just as easily frame this as "Kirby lived up to his end of the bargain and his heirs don't owe Marvel anything." Marvel got sole ownership of the copyrights for 56 years, which is exactly what Jack agreed to. That agreement is about to expire. What you're suggesting is that Marvel should automatically get to keep the copyrights for 29 more years than Kirby ever agreed to, in exchange for nothing.

  18. "This is an insult to Jack's memory! He would have wanted all the money to go to Marvel, not his family!"

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Leaving aside the question of how many people would REALLY rather see the profits from their work go to the company they work for than their children, Kirby's relationship with Marvel is a matter of public record, and it wasn't a positive one. He did not feel that he received either the compensation or the credit that he deserved.

  19. "If it was so bad, why did he keep working there?"

    He actually quit, on several occasions, due to disputes with the company: once in the 1940's, again in the 1960's, and finally for good in the 1970's.

  20. "If it was so bad, why did he keep coming back?"

    He came back in the 1950's because the market was crashing and many of the other publishers were going out of business. He came back in the 1970's because he had been offered a better deal than he'd had before -- that was the point at which he sold his rights, though it bears repeating that this was prior to 1978 and the sale would have expired at 56 years from the date of each character's creation.

  21. "Jack Kirby didn't create anything; all he did was design costumes for characters Stan Lee came up with."

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Even if all Kirby had ever done was design the look of characters, that would be sufficient for an ownership stake. But he did considerably more than that.

    Writing at Marvel was a collaborative process. The "Marvel Method" was that Stan would float a plot outline, the artist would draw the pages, and then Stan would fill in the dialogue. Sometimes Stan's outline was detailed, sometimes it was rough, and sometimes there was no outline at all and he wouldn't know what was in the comic until he saw the art. In those cases he'd just write the dialogue -- and even then, he would often use the artist's dialogue suggestions.

    Artists at Marvel had an active role in developing characters and stories. Kirby, Ditko, and others felt that they were not given the credit they were due, and their contributions were underplayed. The fact that you didn't know how much Kirby did and believed all the heavy lifting was done by Lee would seem to prove that point.

  22. "What about Spider-Man? Kirby didn't create him!"

    Kirby worked on an early version of Spider-Man that bore little resemblance to Ditko's final version. I would tend to agree that his claim to Spider-Man is tenuous, but the court may decide that his heirs are entitled to some share in the copyright -- probably not the 50% they'd expect for the Fantastic Four, but some smaller portion.

    I've seen some commenters speculate that the Kirbys never expected to win the Spider-Man rights but asked for them as a tactical maneuver -- in a legal dispute, it's good practice to ask for more than you want, wait for a counter-offer, and negotiate from there. This seems plausible, but Kirby DID claim that he had co-created Spider-Man.

  23. "Marvel took all the risk; Marvel should get all the reward!"

    I see this one all the time, and it's rather baffling. Are you arguing against the very CONCEPT of royalties? Try running that one by most comic book writers or artists today and see how far you get. And that's without getting into other creative industries like books, music, film, and television.

    Aside from that, the notion that Marvel took all the risk relies on the assumption that Kirby was paid whether his work was published or not. Again, while the courts have upheld this claim, it is widely disputed.

  24. "This is unethical!"

    Ethics are personal and subjective. I think it's unethical for a company to pocket billions of dollars on the back of a man it never paid more than a modest page rate, 20 years after his death. You, presumably, believe it's unethical for a dead artist's next-of-kin to try to turn a profit from characters he willingly sold off 40 years ago. We can agree to disagree on the ethics of the situation.

    The law, on the other hand, is much less ambiguous. When Jack Kirby sold his rights in 1972, he did so under a copyright law that stated they would go into the public domain starting in 2014. When Congress changed that law in 1976 (effective in 1978), it changed the terms of the agreements Jack and others had signed. As such, the new law included an escape clause for anyone who had sold his copyright under the old law: he -- or, in the very likely event that he didn't live long enough, his statutory heirs -- could terminate the transfer when the original expiration date came up.

    Whether you think the law is ethical or not, it's the law, and it's not being disputed in this case. If Kirby's works were not for-hire, then he owned a portion of their copyrights, and his heirs are legally entitled to reclaim that portion.

    The size of the portion, and that "if", are the only legal points in question here. Did Kirby sign any work-for-hire contracts? His heirs contend that he didn't, and the court agrees that there is no evidence that he did. Marvel's work-for-hire case is based partially on documents that Kirby signed years after the fact, and partially on Stan Lee's widely-disputed contention that Kirby never worked on spec.

    If this exact same set of circumstances were to occur today -- a freelancer were to create a work without a prior written agreement acknowledging it as work-for-hire -- then the freelancer, not the publisher, would own the rights.

    And if the Kirby heirs could actually produce hard evidence that Jack worked on spec and submitted ideas, on his own initiative, that Marvel never used and that he was not paid for, then that would prove that at least some of the work he did was not on a for-hire basis.

    I can't help thinking that, if any such evidence exists, it was somewhere in the piles of original art that Marvel agreed to return to him and which someone then left unattended next to an elevator.

I grant permission for anybody to reuse this post, in whole or in part, so long as they grant attribution. And don't go nuts with that "or in part" part; no selectively excerpting partial sentences to make it seem like I meant the opposite of what I did.

And, for further reading, check out the following links, which have much more thorough rundowns of what copyright law says, why it says it, and how it specifically applies in the Kirby case: