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Trouble with Comics, TWC's Trouble With Marvel Comics

TWC’s Trouble With Marvel Comics

I recently reviewed Marvel’s Thor Omnibus here on Trouble With Comics. That’s likely the last time you’ll find on this blog a review of a Marvel Comics product that stems from the original work created by Jack Kirby, unless Marvel Comics changes its corporate policies enough to do the right thing for the heirs of Kirby’s legacy. I’ve discussed this with my colleague Alan David Doane, and we agree that, even though we’re just one small part of the online comics discussion, we’re going to be true to our own values and not continue to endorse Marvel’s profoundly unethical treatment of the Kirby family.

The older I get, the more I prefer to just read and review comics and leave the punditry to others. And let’s face it, being a pundit/industry commentator is a fulltime gig, and who wants someone like me only piping up a few times a year to touch on the issues that dozens of others are already addressing quite capably. When it comes to the recent Kirby  heirs vs. Marvel lawsuit, which found in favor of Marvel but is now set for appeal, luminaries like Tom Spurgeon and Stephen R. Bissette have written eloquently on the issue, more towards the moral and ethical aspect rather than the legal side.

As far as my own opinion, I just wanted explain where it comes from, and then explain how it will affect future content on this blog. My day job is underwriting Workers Compensation insurance. While it’s a legal requirement for employers to carry such insurance, the layperson probably doesn’t know just how subjective it can be to set pricing. Some of it’s driven by competition, some by analysis of the information that varies based on each underwriter’s knowledge and experience. You may think superhero comics are grim ‘n’ gritty, but how about a job where it’s better if an employee falling from a scaffold dies rather than becomes paralyzed, because death claims don’t cost as much? Some lives are worth $5MM, some $500. My world is not one where there is good and bad but where everything has its price.

Is it fair to hold Marvel Comics to a higher standard than a corporation whose products are not of the intellectual property variety, just because Marvel’s properties are characters who represent the triumph of good over evil? I’ve wrestled with that. I don’t think Marvel is evil or horrible because of some bad policies, and obviously it’s no coincidence that Marvel’s good fortune in being bought by Disney, having successful films, etc., leads to them being targets of lawsuits like this, but opportunism doesn’t by itself invalidate a position. I tended to always follow the precept that whatever a court of law decided in the case of creative ownership lawsuits, that was good enough for me. Wolfman’s Blade? He had his day in court, he lost, end of story. But the impact that Jack Kirby’s co-creations have had on Marvel Comics over the past 70 years is just too overwhelming for me to continue that stance.

I’m no paragon of virtue, and will get off the soapbox now, but the fact is that Marvel/Disney have the resources to make things right with the Kirbys without it hurting them substantially. It’s the right thing to do, it’s good PR, and quite frankly, it seems rather shortsighted to continue thinking that you can keep these old characters going forever with work-for-hire deals with talent who keep their original ideas to themselves. Legality and morality are fluid. What seemed fine in the ’60s doesn’t work now, just like we no longer own people like chattel, marry our 13-year-old cousins, etc. Marvel likes to be an industry trend-setter and seem progressive. Day-and-date digital comics are fine and all, but wouldn’t this be a more significant way to put their money where their mouth is?

Until such time as they make things right on this issue, Trouble With Comics will no longer be commenting on or reviewing Marvel product that derives wholly or in part from the efforts of Jack Kirby. We urge our fellow writers-about-comics to consider making the same commitment.

Christopher Allen

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