Tag: Superman

On Advertisements

Dear DC,

Here is a list of DC Comics I would have purchased today if they had not contained obnoxious half-page Twix ads:

  • Batman Beyond #1
  • Bat-Mite #1
  • Bizarro #1

Here is a list of DC comics I purchased today:

DC, I do not have a fancy marketing degree. However, I can offer you a marketing suggestion for free: if one team of marketers suggests making money by releasing new comics that appeal to a different audience from the core DC line (albeit, granted, still pretty much just made up of spinoffs of Batman and Superman comics), and another team of marketers suggests making money through finding a really irritating and distracting way of putting advertisements in your comics, perhaps you might consider rolling out those two ideas separately instead of simultaneously. This is what is known as "isolating the variables".

I would also suggest that, if I were one of the writers, artists, editors, or marketers who had gone to considerable effort to create and market a new and different comic book to a nontraditional audience, I would be pretty unhappy right now with the people in management who had made a decision that actively sabotaged the appeal of that comic book.

I do not wish to be negative or ungrateful here. I greatly appreciate your decision to convince me to keep the nine dollars I would have spent on those three comic books. I went nextdoor and spent that money on beer instead. I had a Four Peaks Kiltlifter and a New Belgium Slow Ride. They were very good beers, and at no point in my drinking experience did they interrupt me and try to convince me to buy Twix.

Kisses,

Thad

Gary Friedrich

There have been a lot of disheartening rulings, over the past few years, in cases where comic book creators or their heirs attempted to reclaim the rights to their work: the Siegels, the Shusters, the Kirbys. And Gary Friedrich.

Friedrich -- co-creator of Ghost Rider with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog -- has fallen on hard times. Like far too many creators in comics, he's gotten old and poor and sick while the company he used to freelance for has made millions off his work. Like far too many creators in comics, he tells a story of the company promising far more than what it delivered.

Friedrich sued Marvel in an attempt to reclaim the rights to Ghost Rider. Marvel countersued -- Friedrich had been selling signed Ghost Rider prints without giving them a taste -- and, because Friedrich is not an artist, he was signing other people's Ghost Rider art.

Friedrich lost. And not only did he lose, but Marvel made an example of him. They sought not only $17,000 from a man who was too broke to pay his medical bills; they also demanded that he stop publicly referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider. I've seen lots of creators lose cases like this -- but never seen terms that seemed so punitive and downright mean-spirited.

Friedrich appealed. And today, a three-judge panel unanimously vacated last year's ruling.

Via Reuters:

On Tuesday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the appeals court deemed that Friedrich's 1978 agreement with Marvel was ambiguous.

"First, the critical sentence defining the 'Work' covered by the Agreement is ungrammatical and awkwardly phrased," Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote in the 48-page opinion. "Second, the language is ambiguous as to whether it covered a work published six years earlier."

The appeals court found that Marvel was not entitled to a judgment based on its argument that a statute of limitations has expired. The court also found that there is a genuine dispute of facts regarding the authorship of the character.

And The Hollywood Reporter quotes Chin further:

Spotlight 5 had been published six years earlier by a different corporate entity (Magazine Mgmt.) and had grown so popular that Marvel had already reprinted it once and had launched a separate Ghost Rider comic book series. Given that context, it is doubtful the parties intended to convey rights in the valuable Ghost Rider copyright without explicitly referencing it. It is more likely that the Agreement only covered ongoing or future work. Hence, there is a genuine dispute regarding the parties' intent for this form contract to cover Ghost Rider.

There are several points at issue. First, like in the Kirby case, the question of whether the work was created for-hire, in which case Marvel would be the legal author, or whether Friedrich and Ploog created that story independently and therefore co-authored it and sold it to Marvel. Thomas, unlike Friedrich and Ploog, was an employee of Marvel, and the extent of his role is disputed -- was the book authored by Marvel? Co-authored by Marvel?

And, like in the Siegel and Shuster cases, there is a question as to whether (if Friedrich was a legal co-author of the work) he gave up the right to reclaim the copyright. Chin's quote above is instructive: put frankly, it requires quite a stretch to believe that Friedrich would have knowingly given up his right to termination for such a small amount of money.

I believe that legal point is also at the root of the Siegel, and especially the Shuster, cases. That the Siegel and Shuster heirs would have deliberately given up their rights to reclaim Superman for the small amount of money DC offered them -- especially the Shusters, whose payout was reportedly only tens of thousands of dollars -- defies common sense.

All that said, while this gives Friedrich another chance, it doesn't give him any guarantees -- indeed, the appellate court has already noted several facts in Marvel's favor. Jeff Trexler runs down the facts, and compares the case to Siegel's 1974 case against DC.

I don't know what Friedrich's chances are -- I wish him the best but fear that recent trends aren't on his side -- but this case has repercussions beyond his case. Even if he loses again, this case raises more questions about Marvel's 1970's-era contracts -- and that could have some serious repercussions throughout the industry.

Free Comic Book Day Musings, 2013

A highlight reel from the last couple days on Brontoforumus:


The Tick

(Originally posted yesterday, 2013-05-05.)

The free Tick is pretty great but makes a basic storytelling mistake in not introducing the supporting cast. I know who Tick and Arthur are, but Bumbling Bee and Rubber Ducky aren't referred to by name until pages 12 and 13, and they never say Cod's full name, unless Cod is his full name.

I know there's a general backlash against techniques like the 1960's era of characters all addressing each other by name on the first couple of pages, and the 1990's method of just having each character's name appear in a caption when they first appear, but there are still ways to integrate it organically in the story. Arthur addresses Bumbling Bee as "Bee" several times in the first few pages, and she later tells Cod she wants to "meet up with Ducky". Those could trivially be changed to the characters' full names without seeming out-of-place.

And again, Cod is referred to as "Cod" exactly once in the story, and I assume that's one more shortened name.

For all that it's still a perfectly fun Tick comic. Arthur gets a vacation, Tick gets an undersea adventure, there are hijinx with the other heroes, and eventually Arthur gets to save the day. It's enjoyable. I would buy more Tick comics if they didn't charge seven bucks for 20 pages. And I heartily recommend the Complete Edlund collection, even though it is really pricey for its quality of materials. ($35 for B&W on newsprint -- but you will definitely get $35 worth of enjoyment out of it. I keep meaning to do a full writeup of it.)

The backup stories and prose sections aren't bad either. But given the latter's repeated reference to how this is bound to be some people's first Tick comic and be introducing people to these characters for the first time, it's that much more baffling that they dropped the ball on actually introducing the characters.


Superman

(Originally posted yesterday, 2013-05-05.)

DC, of course, has spent the past two years on a big relaunch, where its continuity is fundamentally changed and all the characters are redesigned.

And so, for the Free Comic Book Day issue of Superman, which is likely the first Superman comic many people have picked up in years, if not ever...

...they reprint the Donner/Johns/Kubert issue from, what, 2006, 2007, that introduces Chris Kent.

Lois still knows Superman is Clark Kent. They're still married. His costume still has red trunks on it. And the story is best-known for the introduction of a character who was written out pretty soon after, who nobody really remembers, and who sure as hell doesn't exist in the New 52.

But we can't have Stephanie Brown appear in Smallville, because that might confuse people.


Star Wars

(Originally posted earlier today, 2013-05-06.)

The Free Comic Book Day issue is pretty much the perfect little Star Wars story: somebody for some reason decides it would be a great idea to fuck with Darth Vader, and then learns that it really isn't after all. Also Boba Fett gets to shoot some dudes.

I think it's Wood's best Star Wars comic yet; all of my complaints about the pacing-for-the-trade present in the main series are gone here, it's over and done in pretty short order.

It's so easy, after the last 4 movies, to think of Vader as a gigantic pussy. This comic doesn't just play him as a stone-cold badass, it actually uses his engineering talent cleverly too (spoiler: as he's crawling around the outside of the ship, his would-be assassin tries to jump into hyperspace -- but Vader's already destroyed the hyperdrive with his light sabre).

Anyway. It's free (though you've gotta sign up for an account); it's well worth reading. It comes with Avatar (the Last Airbender) and Captain Midnight, too; haven't gotten around to reading those yet.


Digital Freebies

(Originally posted earlier today, 2013-05-06.)

Anyhow, for those who missed FCBD, Bleeding Cool has a list of freebies available at Comixology, the Dark Horse store, and elsewhere. No Tick, sadly, but definitely check out Star Wars.

75

According to the Internet, today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman.

There's rather a lot I can say about Superman -- from how the people who think he's boring are wrong, to my disappointment at the recent decisions in the Siegel and Shuster heirs' attempts to reclaim the rights.

But I'm not feeling so hot right now, so instead I'm just going to leave you with the very first Fleischer Superman cartoon. In which he punches fucking lasers.

Obits

Roger Ebert's going to be getting most of the press today. But some other important folks died these past couple days too.

You know who writes great obits? Mark Evanier writes great obits. I'll start you off with his post on Ebert.

Then there's George Gladir, unsung Archie scribe, co-creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and 2007 recipient of the Bill Finger Award, an award that recognizes great comics writers who don't get the attention they deserve.

A comics creator who did get plenty of attention also passed today: Carmine Infantino, one of the most important artists, creators, and editors in the history of the business. He's best known for ushering in the Silver Age between the co-creation of the Barry Allen Flash and the design of the New Look Batman. And he was art director during an era noted for stories written around crazy covers.

And I learned something about one of my coworkers today: when I told him Ebert and Infantino had died, I got a bigger reaction for Infantino. You know, I'm starting to like this place.

Last, but not least -- and I'm going with the New York Times here because Evanier doesn't have an obit for her -- yesterday marked the passing of Jane Henson, Jim's widow and earliest collaborator.

Sad times -- we lost some real talents. But they all had a good run.

Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka

Another old Who review. Originally posted Bronto, 2008-07-11. This is about Scream of the Shalka, starring Richard E Grant -- which is timely, as Grant's set to show up in this year's Christmas special.


Scream of the Shalka is an animated Webcast from '03 that was originally intended to serve as a pilot for a new series.

All in all, the biggest weakness is Richard E Grant's Doctor: bluntly, he's a prick. He's got all of Eccleston's sarcasm and condescension, with none of his whimsy or manic energy.

Now, there's a reason the Doctor is a prick, it's just not a very good or interesting one. The canonical #9 and #10 have done the "guilt and isolation" schtick too, but much better; the Doctor covering up his personal pain with constant wackiness is much more enjoyable than covering it up by simply insulting everyone and brooding all the time.

The most interesting element of the series is the robotic Master -- one of very few hints that Grant's Doctor has a sense of humor, and the only thread I would have liked to see developed had this made it to series. (The one brief nod on the current series: Derek Jacobi appearing as the Master in Utopia.) The serial's writer, Paul Cornell, would go on to use a similar idea years later in his Action Comics run, starring Lex Luthor and a robotic Lois Lane.

Aside from that, it's a generic alien invasion plot. The animation is serviceable -- and, since it's properly-done Flash, vector graphics and all, looks great on an HDTV -- but very low-budget; it would definitely look at home alongside any number of current cartoons on Nickelodeon or CN. Animations are simple, backgrounds are practically nonexistent (but lots of Kirby dots!). The animators' later attempts (the missing eps in The Invasion and The Infinite Quest) look a good deal better.

Anyway. It's worth checking out; the price is right. And I'd like to see more animated Who (either new stuff or more Invasion-style fill-ins of missing episodes). But ultimately, it's like the '96 movie: it's an interesting "What-If" for a series that never was, but the one we got instead is much better.

Comics!

Here are some of the comics I picked up last week that I liked. (They may not all be last week's comics; I'm kind of on an every-two-weeks cycle right now.)

iZombie #28 -- a satisfying ending, on the whole; it's rushed and all gets a little Allred-y in the end, but it works.

I've liked how the book has gradually moved toward a world where Portland is just this kinda weird, offbeat place where all the monster-people are just one more minority group, and somewhere where they're just regular dudes and are accepted. It's like X-Men without the angst. I'd certainly be interested in seeing Roberson and Allred revisit this series some day -- wonder what it takes for the rights to revert.

Action Comics #12 -- So wait, did this issue just start out like that, or was there a lead-in last issue that I completely forgot?

This is Morrison in full-on sprint-to-the-finish mode, like his last arc on New X-Men. He's throwing out interesting ideas a mile a minute and then abandoning them just as quickly.

This issue resolves the "Clark Kent is dead and Superman has a new secret identity" arc, which was an interesting idea I think he could have spent a bit more time on. The resolution -- well, there is no resolution to a "Clark Kent is dead" plot that isn't some sort of copout; honestly I kinda like that Morrison just ran with it and went for the biggest copout he possibly could. (I have mixed feelings on the landlady -- I kinda wish she'd just stayed as some eccentric old lady.)

Best part of the issue, though: Superman reading every medical textbook in the library and then performing surgery. Always fun to see him use his powers in an unusual way.

Batman #12 -- I don't know if there's anything in this world I love more than a done-in-one man-on-the-street story. This just so happens to be a done-in-one woman-on-the-street story drawn by Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke.

If I have a criticism, it's that there are two penciler credits at all -- Batman is currently a four-dollar, 28-page book; typically that's one 20-page story and an 8-page backup, but this issue it's one continuous story that just switches artists (and, apparently, writers, though that's less obvious) on page 22. Now, both artists are great! But the transition is jarring. It feels like someone failed to hit a deadline and they had to bring in a backup artist -- that's not what actually happened, but it's what it feels like.

So, points off for a kinda weird presentation decision, but aside from that, a damn fine book.

Rasl #15 -- Welp, it's an ending. I'm curious how the whole thing will read together as a complete work, but as it is it wound up being kinda like Planetary in that its publishing schedule was so far apart that I couldn't remember what was going on by the time a new issue rolled out. To that end, I guess the significant portion this issue spends on Rasl sitting in a car explaining the plot to Uma is helpful.

It looks damned good -- Smith remains possibly the best cartoonist of his generation --, and there are some satisfying developments and twists on the way to the end. But I still feel like this is a series that sorta went off the rails after the first few issues. Again, maybe reading it straight through will leave me feeling differently about it.

Not bad as an ending, though.

An Overrated Classic

Now, I love me some Grant Morrison. He wrote the quintessential Superman story, he made me revise my "I hate the fucking X-Men" policy, and just look at what he's done with Batman.

But in the mid-1990's, I was more of a Marvel guy, so I never read his run on JLA.

Now, I've been told for years that it's a classic run, and so I finally picked up the first trade the other day. And I have to say...what the fuck is this shit?

Image: Constipated Green Lantern

Yeah, it would be a lot easier to appreciate the spectacle of the seven greatest and most iconic DC superheroes if they didn't look like this:

Image: Mullet Superman, Pointy Batman, Bimbo Wonder Woman, Popeye Flash, Surprised Martian Manhunter, Enraged Green Lantern, Angry Aquaman

Hell, let's take a look at that entire Popeye Flash panel; it's a great "goofy faces" picture in and of itself:

Image: Giant Spitcurl Superman, Grimacing Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter picking up his skirts, Very Surprised Wonder Woman, Popeye Flash

And of course the 1990's art aesthetic didn't just apply to the pencils -- let's see some Photoshop Blur!

Image: Photoshop Blur Abuse!

WHUTT! indeed. And the Photoshop problems don't stop there. It's not really easy to tell onscreen, but I can assure you that on the printed page, there are badly-antialiased fonts and jaggy pixels on backgrounds.

Now, I'm picking on the art a lot here, because it is a constant barrage of pure eye-searing awfulness, but what about the story? Can a brilliantly-written Grant Morrison story redeem truly reprehensible art?

Well, as we all know from New X-Men, the answer is "sometimes". Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced this story was written by Morrison, or even a human being; it reads like it was written by the Justice League Cliché-o-Matic 5000.

New superhero team shows up and promises to save the world?
Image: The Hyperclan pledges to save the world.
Check. They're actually bad guys?
Image: The Hyperclan pledges to bring the world to its knees.
Check. They lose because they underestimate Batman?
Image: Protex dismisses Batman as too fragile to be a threat.
Check. Martian Manhunter is set up as a traitor because he's an alien who doesn't fit in...
Image: Protex recruits J'onn.  Sure he does.
...but it turns out he was a double-agent the whole time and he's still on the JLA's side?
Image: J'onn fakes out the bad guys.
Check and check. (An aside: that's the one artistic touch I really like in the book, is the Martians' shape-shifting depicted as clay crumbling off and reshaping. So kudos for that.)

Overcompensating for the fact that everyone makes fun of Aquaman by constantly showing that no really guys, Aquaman is a total badass!?
Image: AQUAMAN IS HARDCORE.
Check. Kryptonite?
Image: Protex has Kryptonite.
Ch--
Image: THE KRYPTONITE IS A LIE.
Ha, good one, Grant. Almost had me there. But I'm still pretty sure I had a Bingo two clichés ago. ...okay, one more.

Facile explanation for why the JLA doesn't just fix the world like the bad guys said they should?
Image: If you fall they will catch you, they'll be waiting -- time after time

Check. Also, what the hell are they all looking at?

Soooo yeah, a JLA story that would have sent me to the hospital if I'd made it into a drinking game, complete with Liefeld-lite 1990's art atrocities.

My question is, does it get better after that, or has everybody been having fun at my expense and this "classic" run is actually that terrible all the way through? Should I bother picking up any of the rest of it, or just skip to Earth 2? Please advise, Internet.

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: