Last Wednesday the world watched as Marvel Entertainment premiered the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. , their highly anticipated foray into the wild world of prime time television. Despite all the hype, gadgetry, special effects and the reintroduction of Agent Coulson the thing that surprised me the most was a line in the opening credits that skipped by quickly. It simply read, “Based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.”
I’m not so sure I was as surprised at the inclusion of the credit or my immediate negative reaction to it because as happy as I was to see both men credited, all I could think about was how the Kirby family must feel seeing Jack’s name brandished on yet another blockbuster that they will see no royalties from.
Unlike films, this television series which I suspect will be around for a while will be a weekly reminder of how their father’s creative genius was largely responsible for the success of Marvel Comics and the empire that it has become without ever receiving reasonable or fair compensation for his contribution other than a measly page rate.
The Kirby family continues to fight the good fight, struggling to seek copyright revision of characters that their father co-created. Their legal battles have been a very public roller coaster ride that may take the issue of creator’s rights within the work for hire relationship eventually to the Supreme Court. A victory there would change the standard of living for generations of comic book creators and their heirs.
Is the inclusion of Jack Kirby’s name intended to be salt on the wounds of the Kirby family who recently took a big it in the Court of Second Appeals in New York?
Is it intended to motivate them to settle their dispute as Stan Lee had, to the tune of ten million dollars in 2005 followed by a small rash of other creators who have made more recent settlements?
Has the Jack Kirby name become another valuable marketing brand that Marvel seeks to exploit just as they do with Stan Lee (but with Stan’s consent of course!).
Or is it just a pale display of goodwill intended to appease the fans who flooded the internet with rage and petitions when it was anticipated that Kirby might not be credited on the Avengers film?
Regardless of the motivation, I hope the credit remains and finds its way on every film, television show and piece of merchandise that would not exist without the contribution of Jack Kirby.
The public is slowly becoming aware of how pervasively his creativity effects the entirety of our poplar culture. As that awareness continues to grow it inevitably will will shed a spotlight that can no longer be ignored on the injustices exercised by Marvel and now Disney.
Who wants to be known for having screwed over possibly the most influential single artist of the twentieth century? Certainly not the biggest media conglomerate in the world.