Comics Icon’s Estate Initiates the Death of Superhero Films

By  · Published on September 22nd, 2009

A report in the New York Times is claiming that the estate of Jack Kirby – the creator of some of the most notable comic book characters in history – has filed claims against the use of those characters by Marvel, Disney, Paramount, Fox, Universal, Sony and anyone with a camcorder and a Captain America Halloween costume. There are obviously some frustrations that are born from this. For one, when I first read the story I thought they were claiming that Jack Kirby was suing, and since Kirby died in 1994, I thought that zombie Jack Kirby was suing which would have made this story far, far more interesting. For two, it should definitely make things difficult for studios as the Kirby estate is seeking to regain the copyrights to the characters by as early as 2014.

The article points out what I think is the most important issue at play here – Disney’s purchase of Marvel already came with problems since Marvel has spent decades not understanding how to make clean rights agreements and now finds itself amidst a mess of them that will become Disney’s problem. And now this.

Plus, this sort of thing is almost always complicated by the appeals process as neither side wants to lose.

So what’s the potential fallout? How will the studios (and, thus, the fans) be affected by all this?

Most likely they won’t. Or at least there will be a lot of time to prepare for any change in planning. Even the massive S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers project of combining The Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man, Captain America, Thor and Samuel L. Jackson in an eye patch should be fine considering that their releases should come within that deadline. In fact, part of me wants to believe that the Kirby estate took those particular films into consideration when planning their lawsuit.

You’d rather have more complications, you say? I had a feeling. Of course I’m happy to oblige by pointing out that there might be an interesting copyright holder situation since Kirby’s character were created while working for Marvel, and it may be unclear whether those characters are company property.

Of course, if the lawsuit goes through in favor of the estate, it will be a scenario in which people that had nothing to do with the creation of beloved characters reap the benefits from the films being made with them. Another fine example of commerce kicking art’s ass in the epic never-ending battle royale.

Since this is fairly dry and boring and speculative, we’ll keep an eye on it as it develops into something more interesting. For now, it’s just papers being shuffled around and a lot What If happening. If comic book movies are ended completely by this lawsuit, you’ll be the first to know.

What do you think?

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