March 27th, 2010 | Posted in News

©????- (ok… ©Marvel Comics until further notice)

Marvel Comic’s superheroes are famous for being different than the typical type because they are written as having to deal with personal and human issues and problems as often as they do the superhuman kind.

Apparently Marvel itself is no different.

A legal battle is shaping up pitting Marvel Comics and its new parent the Walt Disney Company against the heirs of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, who are arguing that a portion of the copyrights to many of Marvel’s most marketable characters belong to their late father and his estate. This is similar in some respects to the recent lawsuit between the heirs of Jerry Siegel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. In fact, the same lawyer in that case is representing the Kirby family.

No doubt this legal process will take many years to clear up once all appeals and such are exhausted. It does have some far reaching copyright implications, though. There are a lot of complexities and angles to argue, but essentially I think it all boils down to one thing… did Marvel observe the legal niceties way back in the 60’s when that kind of thing was sometimes an afterthought and was all the work Kirby did legally work-for-hire? If Marvel has signed agreements from Kirby covering all the work he did for them, then they have a strong legal position even if Kirby did the work from his home using materials he provided. If they can’t produce those signed agreements… then that is another story. This could end up having a bearing on the rights of many golden and silver age artists and the rights they relinquished on characters that are being mined as brands today.

Kirby had a significant hand in co-creating most of Marvel’s most popular and most marketable characters. With big money films having been produced and on the horizon, and all the marketing, toys and tie-ins associated with them, there is big, big money at stake. This should be a long and interesting story.


  1. Mark Engblom says:

    The problem is, the Kirby estate really seems to be overplaying their hand here. One of the claims is that Jack Kirby created Spider-Man, a character whose creation he had nothing (or virtually nothing) to do with. I realize the “shoot for the moon” strategy is a common one in the world of high-stakes legal schenanigans, but the Kirby estates “all or nothing” strategy could very well blow up in their faces. We’ll see…especially now that Marvel has Disney’s deep pockets (and legal ninjas) behind them.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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