Where Credit Is Due
So the Avengers is a billion dollar movie.
Someone’s getting rich. But you know who isn’t getting rich? Jack Kirby. Probably because he’s dead, but that’s not stopping a lot of people from getting very angry about it.
You may not know it, but in many comic book industry circles, there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on about how all that money is being generated by Jack Kirby’s creations and none of it is going to his estate. And there’s a lot of slacktivism happening in the facetweets and twitsbooks trying to get people to boycott the movie or give to the Hero Initiative to counterbalance the karma-carbon footprint you left when you saw the movie three times and enjoyed it. You monster. Don’t you know that you’re just filling the coffers of an evil corporation while the estate of Jack Kirby goes unpaid. He created ALL THOSE GUYS! Even Thor (which was incidentally created by the Norse).
Now some people are saying “hey, this isn’t about the money. It’s about proper credit. It’s about Jack Kirby’s legacy. About how he created the Marvel Universe and nobody cares. This is about creator rights.”
Except wait. Here’s a picture of the Avengers from Jack Kirby’s Avenger’s #1
And here’s a picture of The Ultimates from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.
Which looks more like the movie you saw?
Jack Kirby worked for Marvel until 1970, and then he returned for another three years in 1975. But since then. in the 30 some-odd years since he left Marvel, hundreds of creators have added to the mythos and stories of the characters that Marvel owns and Jack helped create. Hundreds. And many of them added integral aspects to these characters which are just as important to their legacy as Jack and Stan ever did Take a look at Walter Simonson’s run on Thor and tell me that he doesn’t deserve as much credit as Jack or Stan when it comes to the lasting mythos of that character as a modern day super-hero. Or how could you have the Tony Stark we saw on screen in Iron Man without David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s “Demon in a bottle” run on Iron Man in the late 70’s?
Nick Fury was co-created by Stan lee and Jack Kirby. A fictional WW2 army hero. He was reintroduced later as a cold-war spy. A Jack Kirby creation. But then Jim Steranko got a hold of him and transformed him into something else entirely. Steranko injected 60’s pop-culture and sensibilities into the character and his book. Fast forward to 2000, when Marvel decided to reboot their entire universe in a separate line of books called the “Ultimate Universe.” in 2002, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch launched “The Ultimates” which reinvented the Avengers. A team assembled by a very different Nick Fury, modeled with the actor’s permission after Samuel L. Jackson.
You tell me. Are any of these guys even the same character? Or are they different characters with the same name?
I don’t like that Jack Kirby got screwed over by Marvel back in the day. I don’t like it at all. It’s a sad story. It’s as tragic as the story of the men who created Superman. These guys got screwed over. But that was over 40 years go,guys. The men involved are dead and buried. The policies that screwed them over were changed decades ago. Things have changed for the better, even when it comes to doing work-for-hire with the big two. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from this. I’m saying we’ve ALREADY learned from it. I have no doubt that we learned from it. The black and white creator-owned books of the 80s. The exodus of Marvel creators to form Image in the 90s. The indy comics movement now. Webcomics. Kickstarter. We’ve learned this lesson, folks. You’re getting angry over nothing. You’re suiting up for a battle we’ve already won.
It’s a child’s argument to say that Marvel is the bad guy and the Kirby estate is the good guy. It’s just infinitely more complicated than that. 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. And these are men and women who are well aware of Jack Kirby. They’re doing this in the spirit of Jack Kirby, not to spite him.
Am I really expected to be angry at Joe Quesada for something that happened before he was even born? Just because he’s a big-wig at Marvel now? Am I really expected to be upset with Stan Lee for deciding to stop writing comics and get paid to be a tireless ambassador for Marvel? The man earns every penny he gets paid at that job. Ask anyone who knows him or spends any amount of time around him. Are YOU going to be traveling the globe at 89 with infinite patience and enthusiasm for every person that approaches you? Hell no you won’t. Nor will I. But Stan does. And that’s why he gets paid. And that’s why he get the cameos every movie.
I’m sorry that I can’t muster the energy to be angry at Stan Lee for having some business sense and not dying.
I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to argue the merits of the Kirby estate’s case against Marvel. I’m not a theologist, so I’m not going to debate whether it’s a moral imperative for Marvel to just GIVE the estate a couple million dollars cause they can afford it. But I am a grown ass man, and I can tell you this: the real world does not operate like the morality plays we see acted out on the silver screen in movies like “The Avengers.” Life can not be summed up by “that’s not fair.” It’s not as simple as “Give Jack’s estate some money, Marvel. You can afford it.” That’s not pragmatic thinking. That’s cynicism. And I’m so tired of the cynicism.
Guys, learn from the Avengers movie. The real villains here are the cynics. They are our Loki. The people looking to pit fandom and an entire industry against itself to make themselves feel powerful. The worms who never had the courage to create anything themselves looking to forge an identity on the internet by getting in a good dig. By being the guy who got the awesome last word in. These are the real bad guys of our world. Not Marvel executives. Not movie studios. Not the hundreds and thousands of creatives who make movies. Don’t fall for it.
“Dr. Banner, put down the scepter.”