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Superheroes in Court: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

In 1969, Joe Simon launched a bid to reclaim Captain America's copyright 28 years after the character's debut. “It was agreed that Kirby would side with Marvel in contesting my claim,” Simon writes. “Kirby signed a document surrendering to Marvel Comics all rights to Captain America in perpetuity. In return, Marvel promised to pay Kirby the same amount they would pay Joe Simon on settlement of the case.”
The case was eventually settled out of court, and arrangements made to pay Simon the agreed sum. He writes: “Part of the payment was made to me, part to my attorney - a much larger share than his legal fees would constitute. My attorney, in turn, passed his payment on to me. Almost three years later, I ran into Kirby. He told me he had not collected his money. Eventually, he was paid the sum that I received as my share. The second share of the settlement, the money my lawyer turned over to me, was not included in Kirby's payment.” (7)
Simon renewed his challenge to Cap's copyright when the character reached his 56th anniversary in 1996, filing notice to terminate just before that window's December 1999 deadline. With plans for a Captain America movie then underway, Marvel settled out of court in September 2003 in a deal giving them “any and all copyrights” Simon held in Captain America. “He says his royalties for merchandising and licensing use of the hero now help pay his legal bills from the case,” The New York Times said of Simon in 2008. (21)
After the 1969 Cap row, Kirby hastened the discussions he'd already begun with DC, joining the company in late 1970 on what was initially a three-year contract. He brought with him a concept he'd been developing ever since his early days on Thor, but refused to offer Marvel. “He had the New Gods years before,” comics writer Marv Wolfman told me in 2003. “I saw the material when he was still living in New York, long before he ever moved to California - and he was working for Marvel for years from California. He wasn't about to give those characters over without getting a percentage.” (22)

Kirby's Fourth World saga brought DC all the grandeur of his peak 1960's work at Marvel

This was the Fourth World, a trio of inter-linked books telling the epic story of a war between New Genesis and Apokolips, which Kirby would write, draw and edit himself. DC's price for giving Kirby the three new bi-monthly titles - The New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People - was to have him take on Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, which he also handled solo. The first Fourth World story appeared in Jimmy Olsen's October 1970 issue, using Superman as a guest star and splashing its cover “Kirby is here”.
The Fourth World saga had all the grandeur and cosmic scope of Kirby's peak Marvel work - strengthening his claim that he'd been those titles' prime creator - and many of the themes it contained resurfaced in George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars movie and its sequels. But Kirby's new work also showed what Lee had contributed to those old Marvel books. Overblown as Lee's dialogue could be - “Stand back, human! None may leave this building by imperial order of Prince Namor himself!” - it had a certain corny charm. Kirby's characters spoke in a stilted, awkward dialect which was sometimes very hard to read. In that debut issue of his Jimmy Olsen series, for example, he has Morgan Edge declare: “No deal, no how, Kent! Not you, Buddy Boy! The 'hairies' who inhabit the wild area - trust nobody over twenty-five!(23, 24)
It's also true that Kirby's Fourth World characters sometimes had a slightly cardboard feel compared to those he'd created with Lee, and the soap opera aspects of their lives lacked Lee's compartive lightness of touch. One of Marvel's most striking innovations had been to give its heroes commonplace problems in their civilian lives, and a degree of ambiguity about whether their powers were a blessing or a curse. Spider-Man was always short of money, for example, and The Thing gained his phenomenal strength only at the cost of his new, hideous appearance.
“I would create a team of superheroes if that was what the marketplace required,” Lee later wrote of Fantastic Four #1. “But I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading if I were a comic book reader. And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to. They'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and, most important of all, inside their colourful, costumed booties, they'd still have feet of clay.” This approach played a big part in Marvel's early success, Lee's the only common factor in all the debut books using it, and its not something you find in either Kirby or Ditko's solo work. For all those reasons, it's fair to credit Lee as its inventor. (16)
What Kirby did bring to the Fourth World saga was an unmatchable sense of sheer wonder, and you'd have thought DC might be grateful. Despite the fact that they'd promoted Kirby's arrival in Jimmy Olsen so heavily, though, the company's editors still insisted on having his Superman faces there redrawn by more traditional artists like Murphy Anderson to keep the character's depiction in line with the version sold on lunch boxes and kiddies' bedding. “Jack was royally pissed that someone at DC insisted his drawings of Superman and Jimmy Olsen had to be retouched,” Kirby's friend Mark Evanier later wrote. “I mean, what artist wouldn't be unhappy about something like that?” (25)

Blood feud:
Marv Wolfman & Blade (1998)

Blade first appeared in a 1973 issue of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan. He went on to appear in three hit movies starring Wesley Snipes in the title role, which grossed a global $418m between them.
      In August 1998, the same month the first Blade movie was released, Wolfman filed suit against Marvel, New Line Cinema and Toy Biz claiming that Blade was still his intellectual property, and that Marvel had violated his rights by licensing the character for movies and toys. He claimed a host of his other Marvel characters too - including Blade's principle adversary, Deacon Frost - but Blade was by far the biggest.
      Wolfman's contention was that he had created Blade before he started working for Marvel, never signed any paperwork transferring the character's copyright, and that Blade therefore remained outside Marvel's work-for-hire rules. He asked for $35m to cover lost profits and the damage to his reputation, plus three times that sum in compensation.
      The case was complicated by Marvel's Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which meant it was heard in a Delaware bankruptcy court as a question of asset allocation.
      When the three-day trial began in November 1999, Wolfman testified that he had created Blade while freelancing for other comics companies (but not yet Marvel) in early 1972.
      “I knew what he looked like, I knew his origin, I knew the story, ” he told the court. “The concept of Blade was that his mother was a black woman, giving birth. A vampire attacked her just as she was giving birth. The blood mixed with her, and created this baby that was half man, half vampire. [...] Blade's mission from Day One was to find Deacon Frost, the person who had killed his mother, and turned him into this sort of thing that he became. ”

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