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…"


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.


Comments are closed.