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Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

I am conflicted.

I grew up in the 1960s, a time of changing ideas about social responsibility.  President Kennedy's inaugural address reflected this changing mood when he said "ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."

Freedom Riders in the South dared to partner Black and White people together as they rode through areas of the country where the laws prohibited this action.  If the laws were wrong, people would disobey and get the laws changed.

Television began to show this as well.  Gone were the old shows with their antiquated ideas.  Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best were replaced with shows such as Star Trek which featured the first interracial kiss at a time when some states prohibited interracial marriage, and That Girl which featured an independant single woman.

Comic books changed too.  National Periodicals had re-invigorated the super hero.  Archie was going strong with their teen oriented titles.  Gold Key and Tower Comics were making their mark with Magnus: Robot Fighter and T. H. U. N. D. E. R. Agents.  A small company called Marvel Comics was the only one to step up and create characters that dared to challenge the status quo.

All the characters in all the other companies just did whatever the law said regardless of whether the law was correct or not.  Marvel characters did the right thing even if it hurt them to do so.

Peter Parker made tough decisions everyday.  Doctor Octopus is on the loose, but Peter's aunt May needs medicine.  Which takes priority?

Ben Grimm is in human form again, but his friends need him as the Thing to survive.

Rick Jones knows that Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk at night.  He also knows that the Hulk is wanted by the U. S. Army.  Does he follow the law and turn Doctor Banner in to the authorities?  No, because he knows that Doctor Banner is a victim of the Gamma radiation he was exposed to.  The law is not right in this case and Rick Jones does the morally correct thing and protects Dr. Banner until Dr. Banner can find a cure for the radiation poisoning.

Marvel characters fought the tough fights: the inner fights.  Is it any wonder that Marvel had the best selling comics?

So strange that Marvel Comics itself follows the letter of the law instead of the morally correct action.  But I get ahead of myself.

Marvel Comics attracted the majority of comics readers in the sixties because they broke the rules and they had the best creators to break the rules of art.

Tower Comics had Wally Wood, and the occasional piece done by Al Williamson.  Marvel Comics had Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Adam Austin (Gene Colan), and others.  National Periodicals had Murphy Anderson (though they didn't use him enough).  Marvel Comics had Joe Sinnott!  'Nuff said!

Jack King KirbyMarvel's creators were not creating copies of what had been created before.  The stuff at Marvel was different, dynamic and fit the changes in society.  From Jim Steranko's Pop-Art, psychadelic compositions to Jack Kirby's splash page - in your face - foreshortening.  These artists were INFLUENTIAL!  Take a look at contemporary mass media.  Esurance ads are clearly inspired by Jack Kirby.  His stuff is copied everywhere from commercials to the Cartoon Network.  As good as the Galactus story was only a Jack Kirby could have illustrated it and brought it to the level of mythology it has attained.  In the hands of any other artist The Fantastic Four would have been as big a flop as a comic book as it was as a movie.

So, why didn't Jack Kirby's estate get any money from The Fantastic Four movies?  Was it because the movies flopped?  In a sense, yes.  What is disturbing to me is that Jack Kirby's estate would have received the same amount of money if the movies had been successful.

From an interview with Marvel executive, Avi Arad:

Avi, I noticed of course that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's names were in the credits, but did any money go to the Kirby estate?

Avi Arad: There is no money going to the Kirby estate. Jack Kirby was a hand for hire, like all the Marvel artists. He got credit but not money.

"...hand for hire..."

GOD, I AM HAPPY THAT MOVIE BOMBED!  I WILL SHOUT IT TO THE HEAVENS, I AM HAPPY THAT MOVIE AND IT'S SEQUEL BOMBED!

I was happy to watch Spider-man in 2002 and then buy the DVD later that year.  I was content because Steve Ditko's name appeared in the credits.  I had assumed that his name appearing in the credits meant he got some money.  After reading the quote from Avi Arad I suspect he got nothing.

Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are not alone.

Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan created Blade when they were working for Marvel on a comic called Dracula.  Keep in mind that Dracula is a character that was created by Bram Stoker, yet Marvel never paid this man, or his estate, one penny for the use of the character.

Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan never saw a dime from any of the Blade movies or the television series.

It might be argued that the Blade we saw in other media was substantially different from the Blade in the comics.  So, what?

Take a look at Spider-man, Batman, The X Men, or any other comic character in movies or television.  Notice any changes?  You bet!

Yet that doesn't stop DC or Marvel from claiming licensing fees.  Why are the people who actually CREATE left out in the cold?

The answer can be found in an article about Mike Grell in Back Issue #10, pages 34 and 35:

"Mike had created, written and drawn DC's Travis Morgan, the Warlord, but he didn't own it.  It was under the old "work for hire" deal they had.... The Warlord, would last over ten years, and would even get his own squat, pro wrestler-like action figure.  But again, The Warlord was not owned by Mike Grell; Travis was owned, lock, stock and winged helmet, by DC Comics, Inc."

There it is.  Due to this part of copyright law, corporations can deprive creators of their rights. 

"...hand for hire..."  Not a creator, a "hand." 

Something to be used until it is no longer useful and then to be cast off.  And that's the regular business model, the way things are done in normal business.  But comics creators are not paper-shufflers in an office, or ditch diggers in a field, or dish-washers in the back of a restaurant.  They don't type memos.  They create culture, the stuff that bonds us all.

People I admire and respect are being cast off like used McDonald's wrappers now that their productive years are behind them.  To make matters worse, those early creators are dying.  Dave Cockrum is gone.  Gil Kane is gone.  Jack Kirby is gone.  John Buscema is gone.

They have given us so much and have received so little.  Many of those still living live in poverty.  It seems as if every year there is a charity book to help these people pay their medical expenses or to just survive.  Hero Initiative is an organization that provides monetary assistance to former comic book creators requiring supplemental health, medical, and quality-of-life assistance.  It was started because so many past comics creators, "cannot afford adequate health care and are in dire financial need."

At the same time Marvel wants me to pay big dollars to support their multi-million dollar franchises on film. 

Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk premiere this Summer.  Let me be honest, I WANT to see Iron Man.  Yet Marvel Comics is a company of scumbags for their treatment of the men who created Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.  My gut is reeling at the thought of spending money to make Marvel rich while they ignore their MORAL obligations to the men who created Iron Man: Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Gene Colan, George Tuska, and the many other artists and writers that followed.*

As a socially responsible man, can I go watch Iron Man?

What happens if I go see this movie?  Am I removed from any obligation here?  In a sense I have always supported the status quo by buying the comics?  Do I change anything by not going to a movie or two?

What happens if I don't go?  Do I keep my integrity?  Do I help those creators that have been abandoned by the multi-million dollar companies they built?  Will Marvel even notice the absence of two tickets and the purchase of a DVD?

Right now, my impulse is to not go to either movie.  My current plan is to save the money and the time for something better.  Will that do any good?

I don't have immediate answers to these questions.  I am hoping some of you can help me out with this decision.

 

* I left Stan Lee out because he took care of himself decades ago.  He gets paid.  He lost out on "Spider-man" because he contracted for net profit instead of gross ticket sales.  Everyone in Hollywood knows that on paper no movie EVER makes money.  Stan Lee has rights.  From what I can infer from Avi Arad's statement, Steve Ditko has no rights.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

CyberLord's picture

What a waste!

The June/July issue of "Complex" (has the lovely Grace Park on one cover, two guys on the flip cover) has an article asking if comic book creators (it says "creators" on the cover!) are being compensated for Hollywoods use of comic book characters.
I thought somebody was in agreement with me, but I was disappointed.  It's thesis is that comic book COMPANIES are not benefiting from Hollywood exposure as they used to.  What a drag.  :(
 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

 While I certainly feel for struggling artists, the fact of the matter is these guys all willingly signed contracts stating that their creations would belong to DC and Marvel. They were not tricked. They were not bamboozled. They chose regular work and a paycheck over creative control of their ideas. Granted, at the time, they had no idea these characters would be making millions of dollars for the companies in the decades to come. But hindsight is 20/20. Yeah, if Marvel was a company run by saints, they'd send these guys a residuals check out of appreciation for creating these characters. Sometimes you need to accept that corporations are what they are- completely self concerned establishments. Either boycott them or don't. It's fairly pointless to try and hold them to any kind of morality.

Sometimes our forefathers had to learn hard lessons so those who came after them wouldn't make the same mistakes. Comic creators today now know perfectly well that any character they create can potentially make a fortune(Even if it isn't likely, it's possible). It's unfortunate that such great creators didn't get to profit off their ideas like some independent creators today have. But as I said before, at the time it was sign away creative control and get a regular paycheck or... nothing. Comics in general were barely a profitable enterprise for the larger companies, independents couldn't even exist in that market. 

And as an aside, I think you're overstating the "failures" of the Fantastic Four films. Maybe they were critical flops, but the films did make money.  The general public seemed to enjoy them well enough.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

[quote=Brian Daniel]They were not tricked. They were not bamboozled. They chose regular work and a paycheck over creative control of their ideas. ...

But as I said before, at the time it was sign away creative control and get a regular paycheck or... nothing. Comics in general were barely a profitable enterprise for the larger companies, independents couldn't even exist in that market.[/quote]

You're contradicting yourself, saying they had a choice and then saying they hadn't. Choosing to keep "creative control" means nothing if you can't get published.

It sounds to me that they had Hobson's choice, and that Hobson took and continues to take advantage. Well, maybe corporations are incurably amoral. But fans don't have to be. Anyone who enjoys the superhero genre, and anyone who creates within it (paid or not), benefits from the work those "wage-slaves" did to shape it. For that reason alone they should be concerned. There's also the little matter of what the genre's about. Is it unreasonable for people interested in heroic characters to show a little honor and concern about justice themselves?

I honestly can't say what choice to make about the films. But bringing the topic up was definitely the right thing to do.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

CyberLord's picture

Love that, but I can't do it for several reasons.

First, I support copyright.  Copyright exists to allow creators an opportunity to be supported by their works.  I hate some provisions of the existing law, but I do support the idea and really hate things like that.

Second, despite the above, I have bought bootleg DVDs.  These are for works that I know I am going to buy when they are published, but have not appeared in stores yet.  Alien VS Predator was a prime example.  I saw the movie when it was in the theater.  Later some guy came up to me offering bootleg DVDs.  I told him I had no interest and then immediately changed my mind.  I asked if he had AVP and bought it from him.  Later when the official version appeared in stores I bought that.

Third, bootleg DVDs can suck bricks!  I bought "Transformers" last year as a bootleg knowing I would buy the official version the day it came out (I did!).  Boy did it suck!  Bootlegs have improved in many areas over the years but it looked like this guy was asleep when he filmed the screen.  He only captured half the image.

Fourth, guys I talk to at work all tell me the movie was no better than OK.  One of my buddies took his son to see "Iron Man" because I guided him so well in 2007 telling him to take his son to see "TMNT" and "Transformers" .  He bought two tickets for the premiere at an Imax presentation.  He told me his son was not impressed.  The movie took too long to get started and they saw too little Iron Man.  I have little desire to see the movie now and will probably never see it.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

DumokDuvalles's picture

Personally, I would just wait until I see the DVDs from the "Friendly Neighborhood Brother Man" and just pay the Five Bucks each

My Online Store At LuLu
Check out My Comics!!!.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

Or you could get over yourself and stop pretending your little morality histrionics matter to the universe at large. Seriously: you are soul searching about whether or not to see a comic book movie. Generally that's a warning flag to re-examine one's lifestyle.

And Dracula is in the public domain in the USA from the start (something about Stoker messing up the copyright procedure), and since 1962 in the rest of the world.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

CyberLord's picture

My point about "Dracula" was to serve as a focus on how corporations raid the public domain (Disney is a classic example) for their own profit while ignoring their creators or their own customers.

Disney in particular went to great lengths in the 1970s to stop the publication of "Mickey Rat and the Air Pirates" claiming trademark infringement.  Walt Disney himself signed his name to the work of real artists (a crime in my book if not the law).  All you have to do is look their "their" titles to see how they have raided the public domain while paying bribes...OOPS!  Excuse me, making "campaign donations" to politicians everytime copyright is about to expire on "Mickey Mouse".  It's absolutely AMAZING how every time copyright is about to expire on "Mickey Mouse" congress enacts new legislation to extend copyright.  From the constitution it is clear that copyright is to be for a limited time, yet every time that rodent's copyright is about to expire another extension is granted.

Don't get me wrong.  As a creator I am in favor of copyright.  I just think it should serve the people as it was intended and should not be used as an excuse to screw over creators or the general public.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Please get over yourself samosadude.  Trolling the internets is actually a huge red flag to re-examine your own lifestyle.

If you care about creators and art (which includes comics as well as every other form of expression) it's a perfectly good question to think about.  I don't necessarily agree with the current copyright scheme in the US (or the rest of the world via the Berne convention) but it's not really the point when you're talking about whether artists got the shaft or not and whether or not something you do assists in the continued shafting of that artist.

Just to pick the most prominent example, I don't think anyone can seriously argue Jack Kirby did not get the shaft on a lot of his creative work.  Maybe it was his own fault legally for doing the work under such onerous terms but if you're talking about justice I don't think a Marvel gets off just because it extracted a unjust bargain from its creators.

The Dracula example is actually just as bad (although probably for different reasons than Charles used it for) -- because the author failed to file something correctly he had no - ZERO - copyright in the US.  How is that just?

 

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Here's a Marvel related Ironman story - they're threatening to sue popular tech industry blogger Mike Arrington b/c he set up a group screening for Ironman - http://techdirt.com/articles/20080429/225016981.shtml

 

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

CyberLord's picture

That is a STRANGE story.

Especially considering that I saw "Hulk" at a similar screening.  The company where I work bought out several shows on opening night and the entire company was given tickets to see it at the local AMC theater.

Lawyers are weird.  What else can be said.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

Just go read Hero By NIght instead. It's dedicated to all the great guys you mentioned.'

And don't beat yourself up over it-- those creators would want you to go see those movies, and watch their names on the screen. I hope Marvel will do something permanant for the Kirby family or Kirby museum. And things are also looking up for creators, look at what just happened for the Siegel Superman rights.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

 I'm pretty sure the creators are even going to see these movies. Don't beat yourself up about it.

Re: Marvel's Moral Compass Needs Righting

CyberLord's picture

"Destroyer Duck"

If you get the chance to read an issue, do so.  It might enlighten you as to how Jack Kirby would have responded.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands at times of challenge and discovery. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.---------CyberLord