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Grumpy Old Fan | Chris Roberson, marketing and the Silver Age

Anything you can do...

There are three things rattling around in my head today: Chris Roberson’s public departure from DC/Vertigo, John Seavey’s empirical evaluation of the Silver Age, and the notion of a Justice League movie.

Not surprisingly, the last is a product of the inescapable, wearying Avengers hype. My 3-year-old daughter, who knows superheroes mostly from her dad’s toy collection (or if they’re on “WordGirl”), happened to see a commercial the other day and exclaimed “Hey, it’s Captain America!” (She has since started playing with Mary Marvel and Katma Tui.)

As it happens, I’m perfectly happy to hold off seeing Avengers — and doing my part to deny it a big opening, in protest of Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby — until after its first weekend. (For this Bluegrass State native, the Kentucky Derby will always be a bigger deal.) Although I am obviously more of a DC guy, I should be at least moderately excited for this movie. I grew up on the Avengers of the 1970s and early ‘80s, when it was written by the likes of Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, and Steven Grant, and pencilled by George Pérez and John Byrne. A couple of decades later, I eagerly followed the Busiek/Pérez run. For the most part I have enjoyed the Marvel movies, especially Captain America; and I didn’t mind The Ultimates, which surely informs much of the new movie. I trust Joss Whedon to present Earth’s Mightiest in the best light possible.

So along with the bad taste of creator exploitation, perhaps it’s a bit of pre-movie burnout which has got me down, or perhaps it’s just the constant drumbeat of publicity. Either way, it got me thinking about a Justice League movie….

… until that line of thought ran into Chris Roberson’s Wittenberg-gate declaration. I am sad to see Roberson leave DC, both because it’s hard to argue with his stance and because I enjoyed his work on Superman, Superman/Batman, and the Star Trek/Legion crossover. I say it’s hard to argue with Roberson’s position because his actions speak for themselves and arise from his own perceptions.  Personally, I’m sympathetic.  No one wants to work for a company, or a group within it, which behaves unacceptably. That behavior need not be ingrained, either — I’m reminded of an NPR story on Wal-Mart’s practices in Mexico which asserted that bribery was at odds with its particular brand of cutthroat ethics.

Thus, Before Watchmen and DC’s treatment of the Siegel heirs were so transgressive that they caused Roberson to disassociate himself from the publisher. That’s fine, and I understand where he’s coming from. It’s a shame, though, because Roberson strikes me as someone who was poised for great work within the context of DC’s pre-relaunch superhero line. He has a distinct talent for blending beloved minutiae into straightforward, entertaining storytelling which doesn’t go overboard on nostalgia. Most of Star Trek/Legion was Easter eggs from both universes, his S/B arc combined DC One Million with an early-‘80s status quo, and he tried to wrangle J. Michael Straczynski’s characterization of Superman into something a little more recognizable. The New-52 relaunch made DC trivia somewhat less essential, so in a way he and the company were becoming estranged already.  If you don’t want a fun Superman story which picks up from a relatively-obscure 1970s element (let’s say the Elliott S! Maggin creation Towbee), you don’t especially need someone of his ability. This is not to say that I value Chris Roberson only for his grasp of obscure continuity — far from it — but obscure continuity is not something in which DC currently seems particularly interested.

* * *

By contrast, I suspect TimeWarner is at least nominally interested in doing with the Justice League what Marvel appears poised to do with the Avengers: build a billion-dollar multi-movie crossover franchise out of the idea that these folks all know each other.

This is at best a pipe dream. Most likely I won’t have to worry about protesting a Justice League movie, because there is next to no chance that one will be made in my lifetime. Warner Bros. would need at least four successful non-Batman superhero movies to be reasonable hits in rapid succession, and that isn’t happening. Other than Batman, Warners just doesn’t have a successful superhero franchise. Heck, it hasn’t had a non-Batman superhero sequel since Superman Returns (or Superman IV, if you measure a franchise by a sequel which appears fairly soon after its predecessor). That non-Batman list includes the four Superman movies and Supergirl (1978-87), the two Swamp Thing movies (1982, 1989), then Steel (1997), Catwoman (2004), Superman Returns (2006) Watchmen (2009), Jonah Hex (2010), and last summer’s Green Lantern trying their darnedest to find audiences.

Warners could easily copy the Avengers marketing plan, for example by using J’Onn J’Onzz in every lead-in movie. As a shape-shifter, he could lurk in the margins of the lead-in movies, posing as a random detective, government official, or ambassador. Still, Warners and DC have been trying to get Flash and Wonder Woman to the big screen for a long time now, with nothing so far to show for it. As much as I would like to see both characters adapted properly (not to mention Aquaman and another crack at Green Lantern), I am hardly confident of any future efforts.

That doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying. Marvel released Thor and Captain America last summer, so why not do two at a time? You could have Flash and Green Lantern 2 in 2015, Wonder Woman and the next Batman in 2016, Aquaman and the next Superman in 2017, and Justice League in 2018. By that time all the newness will be off the New-52, but so what? The movie will likely feature some alien invasion — yes, like Avengers, but JLA did it first, both with Starro and the Appellaxians — and why not make it Darkseid, like the inaugural New-52 arc? It’s not going to be anything deep. It’s going to be convincing audiences that they want to see these characters together, when there’s no compelling reason why they should care who half of them are.

Of course, that’s eminently appropriate for the origin of the Justice League, which (like the Justice Society before it) was grounded in marketing. Fannish wish-fulfillment was a part of it too, whether you’re talking about the JLA or the JSA, but that’s just the flip side of selling books — and it’s a sentiment the general public doesn’t automatically share. I’ve argued previously that the Justice League has no thematic reason to exist. It’s not a school, a family, or a demographic. In fact, in the context of the larger DC Universe, it exists specifically in relation to — and “above” — everyone else. The JLA is the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, but to moviegoers they’re just some more super-heroes … and hey, if they’re all teaming up, where are the Avengers anyway…?

That’s getting a little farther down the road than is probably necessary, though. I have the sense — perhaps unwarranted, but there nonetheless — that the New-52 Justice League is the precursor for a still-hypothetical movie in the same way that The Ultimates seems to inform the big-screen Avengers. Both marry a certain lack of grounding in comic-book history with an aggressively modern sensibility, and both can get away with it to some degree because each team’s all-star nature belies that kind of grounding. You can’t really do a straight-up New Teen Titans adaptation — assuming you’d want to, which is another question entirely — without getting into the histories of Batman and Robin and the Doom Patrol, because Robin and Changeling (nee Beast Boy) come into those series with particular emotional issues formed by their previous associations. However, because the Justice League is basically just this clash of archetypes, for practical purposes it doesn’t matter whether Green Lantern or Aquaman bring anything especially Silver Age-y to the table.

Naturally I say “for practical purposes” because the Justice League carries with it a certain Silver Age-y sensibility. This comes both from its prominence in DC’s shared universe of the 1960s and ‘70s, and from being defined negatively by what it was not. It wasn’t meant to be close-knit and dedicated, like the Detroit League; overly reliant on relationships, like the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International; or unsure of its status, like the Leagues of the early ‘90s. Instead, over twenty-four years the original Justice League of America became an institution, and when Aquaman disbanded it in 1984′s JLA Annual #2, an era went with it. That kind of attitude can’t be established simply by fiat at the end of six issues, and it remains to be seen whether a multi-year Avengers-style plan will do the trick.

* * *

Finally, John Seavey’s post on the Silver Age’s empirical merits helped remind me that DC will always have a love/hate relationship with its most influential period. Few phrases in comics history are more evocative (or, perhaps, more prejudicial) than “Silver Age DC,” which brings to mind everything from parallel Earths and various Jimmy Olsen humiliations to Space Cabbie and the lettering of Ira Schnapp. After citing better pacing, less solemnity, more creativity, and more diversity (in terms of story and characters), Seavey concludes that Silver Age creative teams “weren’t imitating the Silver Age all the damn time:”

Once you scratch off the veneer of humorlessness, decompression and self-consciously “adult” storytelling that covers modern comics, what you basically get is a bunch of people trying very hard to recreate the comics that were popular when they were kids. [...] Now all we get is an extended “house mix” of [Silver Age] stories.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing, but I’d say that for most of the past forty years, DC has been trying to update the Silver Age; and now, with the New-52, it’s trying to re-establish most of the books without relying on specific Silver Age foundations. As a practical matter this is not unreasonable, especially if DC sees Silver Age trappings as unfriendly to new readers. However, as we’ve seen with the ostensibly-untouched Batman and Green Lantern families, an established history doesn’t have to be a turnoff. It’s all in the execution, which is why it’s frustrating to see the publisher run away from its history as a general rule. Right now a clean break might have been the best thing for The Flash, but perhaps not for Superman or even (dare I say it) Hawkman. Hey, Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza wrote a credible Hawkman as part of Trinity’s supporting cast, and they had to deal with all that continuity….

* * *

The ultimate irony in all of this dot-connecting remains the notion that I, as a fairly-typical Longtime DC Fan, would like nothing better than an endless stream of extrapolation from the comics universe with which I am most familiar. That necessarily involves building on (or, if you’re so inclined, ripping off) any number of comics professionals who likely remain undercompensated for their work. That’s the bittersweetness of Chris Roberson’s situation: he refuses to participate in such a system despite his tremendous potential for creative success within it. More power to him, and hopes for continued success, but I’d love Roberson on Superman, New-52 or not, because I loved reading his Superman stories. Instead, I’m catching up on Memorial, and I’ll be looking out for his creator-owned work.

Meanwhile, who knows how many other professionals are turning away from DC and Marvel based on those companies’ actions? Corporately-produced superhero comics aren’t the purest form of creative expression, but they’re far from the worst. However, as long as DC and Marvel remain tone-deaf on these matters, their talent pool will dwindle and the overall quality of their superhero lines will suffer.

To be sure, I am complicit in DC’s and Marvel’s behavior as long as I continue to buy what they’re selling. However, although very little I do is entirely guilt-free, I am long past being satisfied merely by base fanservice and/or continuity porn. To keep this longterm fan coming back, DC has to do right, demonstrably and consistently, by the professionals on whose work it depends.

I recognize that DC will never be fully transparent, and I do not expect that.  Nevertheless, everyone has his breaking point.  Chris Roberson has apparently reached his, and mine may not be far off.

 

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Comments

48 Comments

Jake Earlewine

April 26, 2012 at 3:28 pm

“Nevertheless, everyone has his breaking point.” Yep. Mine was the nu52.

Still buying The Shade, though.

You know, if they announced a Justice League movie starring Batman, Superman, the Halle Berry Catwoman, Swamp Thing, Jonah Hex, Steel, Green Lantern, Rorshach and Supergirl, that would really be something to see.

Only if Steel is played by Shaq, and Batman by George Clooney

I love the points you bring up in this piece.

I feel that (building off the analogy of bad company/creator relations being in DC’s DNA since Jack Liebowitz) maybe it’s time that the Big Two were given a DNA transplant–and started acting like the kid they gave birth to that is Image.

I don’t really agree with Roberson. He seems to be picking a fight with DC where none existed for him, based purely on his personal ideal standards of corporate responsibility. He really has no “dog” in the “race” so to speak, but instead is making a “principled stand”. Or to put it less charitably, he is grandstanding by slamming his employer out of the blue. Either way, it’s basically unprofessional and self-defeating. I have sympathy for his situation but the reality is that there are scads of talented writers who could easily take his place.

Don’t know what else to say about it.

“I’m perfectly happy to hold off seeing Avengers — and doing my part to deny it a big opening, in protest of Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby — until after its first weekend”

Or, buy a ticket to any other movie but watch THE AVENGERS instead. Win!

“He really has no “dog” in the “race” so to speak, but instead is making a ‘principled stand’. Or to put it less charitably, he is grandstanding by slamming his employer out of the blue.”

What I don’t understand is, why do people value sucking up to your employer over sticking to your own personal ethics? How come when they even give the praise of “well, good for him for having principals,” it seems to always be followed with some sort of caveat along the lines of “…buuut, he should just shut up and fall in line, because it’s not gonna change anything anyway?”

It honestly blows my mind.

@Joe H

You’re equation of “shutting up,” “falling in line,” and “sucking up to your employer” isn’t valid. Falling in line and sucking up would require Roberson, or whichever writer, to literally issue a public statement saying “screw Alan Moore, DC is totally in the right, hurray for Before Watchmen!”

I think Paul’s point is more that Roberson’s actions, to many, don’t seem to be entirely rational, which I’m betting is why Paul said Roberson didn’t really “have a dog in the fight.” He’s not really standing up for himself and he himself was never wronged by DC, instead he’s made a decision out of the blue to burn a bridge on behalf of people he most likely doesn’t personally know and, at least in the case of Moore, certainly has no idea who he is and likely doesn’t give a damn about him. So basically, he gave up future work and burned a major bridge in a very public way over abstract ideals.

It’s his life, so I’m not going to come outright and say that he was wrong in making that decision, as he runs his life by his own ideals, as well he should. But I don’t think it’s a path many others would have taken, myself included.

I will say, however, that I have found the sudden lionization of Chris Roberson’s work as a creator to be interesting. Are all the persons coming out of the blue praising his work just silent up until now, or have his actions really caused people to look back on his work more favourably?

People, as in this article, have all started coming out praising his run on Superman, despite it being almost unanimously roasted critically when it was coming out. I personally also thought it was weak.

And then there’s iZombie, which, again critically speaking, was a pretty middling series. Again, it wasn’t a series I enjoyed, despite giving it a good six issues due to Allred. Part of that was due to the glacial storytelling, but the bigger part of it, admittedly, was due to my own personal tastes (I’m not a hipster and despise anything remotely “indie” in the indie rock scene sense of the word).

But hey…his Cinderella was ok and that series he did for BOOM was forgettable, but decent enough.

But yeah, when I look back on his body of work, I just see Roberson as a decent/ok writer, but suddenly, it seems like the internet is spinning Roberson’s departure as being a MAJOR loss and creative blow to DC, as though they’d just lost Scott Snyder or something. Alright, maybe not that bad….maybe more like Jeff Lemire or Brian Azzarello.

I haven’t enjoyed most of Marvel’s movies. Still haven’t seen Thor or Captain America, and probably won’t see Avengers for a couple of years. While the recent Batman movies have been good, I wouldn’t bet on Justice League being a success.

This talk of “dog in the fight” misses the point. If your current boss (spouse, teammate, etc.) is mistreating, in your opinion, a former employee (spouse, teammate, etc.) that changes how you perceive your current boss (spouse, teammate, etc.).

On the topic of lionizing Roberson’s work… I am a fan but I know that the titles he has been on aren’t going to earn lots of water cooler talk. Was Roberson’s Starborn better than Waid’s Traveler? Yup. But most people are never going to read them, so it doesn’t matter. Were Matt Sturges’ filler issues of Zatanna, Power Girl and the Spirit better than more than half of the nuDC? Yup. Should comicsalliance and bleedingcool have articles about that? Newsarama won’t because no one will release that as a press release. The smaller news sites like comicscontinuum, majorspoilers, io9, brokenfrontier, etc. don’t do that. CBR’s reviews are mercurial so they’re worthless.

When someone is in the news, that’s the time to say “hey, I remember liking her/his comics.” It’s less lionize and more applaud.

Given that Roberson’s Monkeybrain Press has published Jess Nevins’ annotations to Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s a safe bet that Moore knows who he is.

@Frank

And yet are DC’s actions with respect to the matters that seem to have spurred Roberson on particularly revelatory? There’s a lot he’d probably have known prior to starting to work for DC. Of course, at that point, he was a relatively unknown creator given an in by his buddy Bill Willingham so…..perhaps he decided to bite his tongue, make a name, and then let his moral indignation kick in?

Or were all these matters only suddenly revealed to him when Before Watchmen came out? I’m struggling to see how, realistically, his perceptions of his employer could change so dramatically based upon issues that had been churning for years.

Also, changing your perception is one thing….that change being strong enough to burn your bridge in a public, inflammatory matter is another level entirely.

@Steve

That would actually explain quite a lot. If there’s this personal and/or professional connection between Moore and Roberson, it makes his actions very easy to understand.

Of course, as I said, that also would only further beg the question of why he ever worked for DC to begin with….

Perhaps Roberson decided to compromise his personal feelings about DC to make a name for himself, and then only once this was accomplished to some degree, spurning DC and letting his personal ethics kick in. After all, having been given no book to write in the new 52, perhaps Roberson felt that he’d gotten as much mileage as he could out of DC and that now was the time to stop biting his tongue.

Honestly, all the more power to him if that’s at all the case.

If anyone actually bothered to actually read Roberson’s Comics Journal interview, they’d know that Roberson and Moore do know each other, and that Roberson discussed the Watchmen situation with Moore. As the above poster said, Roberson has also published books on Moore’s work. Roberson is also very close friends with Michael Moorcock, who is a good friend of Alan Moore’s. Enough of this “taking a bullet for someone who doesn’t care he exists” crap. I assume that someone who actually has contact with Moore and his circle knows a little more about what’s going on behind closed doors thanJoe Fanboy.

Many of us who are lauding Roberson’s talent know his work from other media. He’s a novelist and publisher who was very well-known in the literary SF world before coming to comics.

Oh, and on a lighter note, if a JLA movie ever happens, forget an alien invasion or Darkseid. This is one area where they could one-up Marvel and the Avengers. The villain has to be: THE LEGION OF DOOM. Luthor, Zod, The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, Black Manta, etc. sitting in the same room together is a hell of a better movie trailer than Loki and a bunch of aliens and explosions. It even builds the origin in: what greater threat could there be than the heroes’ greatest villains banding together to destroy them? You just know that Luthor would think of the team angle first, anyway (of course, Batman would have his contingancy plan…)

I’ve been awake too long…

If they want a JL movie maybe Marvel Studios should be contracted to do the lead in movies. They do have a track record…

Roberson had Monkeybrain up and successfully running long before he did any work for DC. He had already published several novels and short stories. He didn’t need DC to make a name for himself.

I never said and don’t think that Roberson should “suck up” to his employer. Paladin King made the point very well, which is that Roberson burned a major bridge publicly for an abstract ideal. Not getting on a high horse and slamming your employer is not the same thing as sucking up. Roberson even says he was happy for the Siegel heirs when he started working for DC. Really? Happy that they would get tens of millions of dollars from DC just because it was “right”? Rooting for your company to shell out that much money in essentially punitive damages is misguided and again begs the question of why work for them in the first place.

It’s like saying, I know DC is number two in the market and I want to work for them because I like losers. But Roberson wasn’t even that straightforward.

“Oh, and on a lighter note, if a JLA movie ever happens, forget an alien invasion or Darkseid. This is one area where they could one-up Marvel and the Avengers. The villain has to be: THE LEGION OF DOOM. Luthor, Zod, The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, Black Manta, etc. sitting in the same room together is a hell of a better movie trailer than Loki and a bunch of aliens and explosions. It even builds the origin in: what greater threat could there be than the heroes’ greatest villains banding together to destroy them? You just know that Luthor would think of the team angle first, anyway (of course, Batman would have his contingency plan…)”

That is a great idea. I can see DC’s villains teaming up easier than Marvel’s.

I never quite understand the hostility on message boards towards a creator slamming a company publicly. In this case, Chris Roberson has said that he can’t in good conscience work for DC Comics again for a number of issues which he has cited. That was his decision, and it is likely that he will not work for DC again under the current management. It doesn’t really effect anyone else. Just him and DC.

Does he raise some pointed questions about the ethics of the comic books industry? Most certainly. Have some creators been unfairly treated through the years? I don’t know. Maybe/Maybe not. However as consumers it is our decision to make on whether we want to allow that to influence our decision to continue buying their products.

Personally, I hadn’t really given too much thought to the creators rights issues around Watchmen and Before Watchmen. As a writer (not in the comics medium), I’m sure that I probably should have, but I didn’t even consider it. I won’t be buying Before Watchmen, because I think that it is a creatively bankrupt idea, and is basically cashing in on Watchmen as intellectual property (which is DC’s legal right) when I would prefer that they produce the next comic to breakout into the mainstream (like Scott Pilgrim, like Kick-Ass, like Walking Dead).

I haven’t read a lot of Chris Roberson’s work. I liked I Zombie, and some of the Superman issues he did, although overall I thought the story was pretty weak. I loved his Superman/Batman two-parter. I will be interested to see what he does next. From what I can see, there is a culture of Editorial/Corporate control creeping into DC which is limiting the options for creativitiy (e.g. Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen’s first issues of Superman being turned into a launch of an old Wildstorm villain, picking up threads from the Stormwatch book), and he would be better off away from DC and doing his own thing.

By the way, I saw Avengers last night. I loved every moment of it. Ever frame of the film is a loving tribute to the comics, produced by people who love them. Every character get’s his/her moment. The cinematic Hulk is now truly incredible (and pretty damn funny), and Scarlett Johansson gets something to do other than pout. It was one of the most enjoyable nights at the movies that I have spent in my entire life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Fascinating piece, as ever, Tom.

Were you thinking of someone else when you cited Steven Grant as a notable Avengers creator? I can think of the odd credit, but nothing much.

Posters who seriously are suggesting that Roberson’s marketability and public profile haven’t gained significantly from his work with DC are kidding themselves.

Let’s not pretend that prior to working with DC, Roberson was a well-known, prominent science fiction author known to all sci-fi and fantasy fans, or that MonkeyBrain is some well-known, powerhouse publisher. China Mieville he is not.

@KG

He wasn’t a “known-to-all sci-fi” writer before, nor is he now. What’s your point?

@Paladin King

It seems you’re looking for a reason for why Roberson made a decision. There’s no demonstrable process to prove a thought process.

About a year ago, my enthusiasm for Marvel hit rock bottom. It wasn’t a creator issue. I just felt the people in charge were purposely overcharging. Over the past three months, my enthusiasm for DC has been in free fall. This past week, I’ve been reading and thinking about what David Brothers, Tom Spurgeon, etc. have been writing. And I did change my pre-order because of that. Do I have a selfish motive for this? No, I just don’t have fun reading a comic when I’m actively thinking about something that (at least) annoys me.

Talking about this isn’t burning bridges. DC or Marvel could change. I wouldn’t bet on that, but they could. Saying you want to avoid a situation that will turn toxic is a good thing.

@KG: I don’t think anyone is arguing that Roberson is a commercial superstar in the prose world, but, as I said before, he is pretty well-known within the literary SF world. His company has released books by Michael Moorcock, Philip Jose Farmer, Rudy Rucker and Kim Newman. He’s released books with contributions from people like Paul Di Fillipo and China Mieville. He’s also been nominated for the World Fantasy Award three times. I don’t think his jaunt through the relatively isolated world of comicdom has had any impact on his profile in the non-comics world.

In bringing up Roberson’s non-comics work, the point isn’t that he’s some kind of Mieville-level name, but that he’s very well established in another medium, and not dependent on the comics world (or the opinions of its fans) for his living.

@Brad

Which brings up another shameful aspect of comic publishers’ mistreatment of its talent. Many comic creators depend solely on the industry to make their living, and therefore may not feel they have the freedom to speak out like Chris does

To be fair to Superman Returns, it found an audience to the tune of 200 million in the United States and 191 million outside the US. That nearly 400 millions dollars. Where it failed was because of the huge budget not because audiences didn’t want to see it.

@BradRZ
I dont mean to be childish, but did you make up the name Michael Moorcock, or is that just the least lucky person of all time?

On a more serious note: I don’t have any strong feelings for or against DC and creators right, that being said it is odd to me that all reports seem to be fairly one sided. Every story or interview that I have read about this guy has basically just tossed him softball questions giving him outlets to justify what he did. There is a place for that in an interview but lets have some questions challenging him as well. I dont think this issue is as simple as people make it out to be and I dont think his actions and the reactions to it help to move the discussion forward. There are two aspects of these cases, the legal and the moral, and either side wants their argument to be granted authority. The thing that DC has on its side is the law, morals are unfortunately not universal.

You know i am all for supporting Kirby, but it feels to me that a lot of these guys who say “I wont go see Avengers to Support Kirby” is just ridiculous and seems like a convenient way for topical anti-hype fan boy rage. I don’t think it has anything to with with Jack and his plight because if anyone ever really care about that they would have stopped buying avengers comics the day they learned about Jack’s case. I think its just a way for people who are full of it to try and knock the hype.
What will it help Jack Kirby for Avengers to fail? Don’t you think that using a success by the avengers to bring to light the problems people like Jack Kirby have had in the comics industry would serve a better purpose than failure?
It just seems incredibly disingenuous of people to use Jack Kirby in this way.

“As it happens, I’m perfectly happy to hold off seeing Avengers — and doing my part to deny it a big opening, in protest of Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby — until after its first weekend.”

Wow – postponing seeing the movie for at least three days. Way to take a stand.

I know this makes me a bad guy, but I will never understand how DC (or Marvel for that matter) entering into a contractual relationship with a creator and then abiding by the legal letter of that contract, makes them evil. If Moore, or any of these other individuals, felt the contract was unfair, they shouldn’t have signed the contract. I’ve just no sympathy for this issue.

wow really? You’ve never heard of Michael Moorcock? Author of the Elric saga?

@Fred

You have it backwards. Fanboys are the ones who could care less about Kirby or such ethical issues – because all they want is their next issue of guys in tights punching bad guys in the face, and they don’t want to have to intellectually engage in a creators’ rights discussion if it might interfere with them buying the next guys-in-tights punch fest. Those are fanboys

Phylemon is right! They signed an employment contract. Alan Moore continued to do W4H after his DC stint. He knows the deal. Work for hire is only debated/rejected when the work is successful. Then greed steps in. DC put up the money, they did some work. That was fine until the $ came in. Could you imagine having to put up some money BEFORE you get hired? And if it fails you lose that money AND dont get paid for your efforts? Thats what DC did. Could you imagine if Watchmen failed and Moore had to pay for the printing, distibution, etc. after the fact? Moore did not do that for any of his work that did not live up to expectations. Its funny that Moore knows he did not own everything when he wrote the story. He even changed the characters from ones DC owned, putting ownership into the forefront of his mind, to characters he created. Or carbon copied. Then failed to put into the contract any claim of ownership. Can he own something that he admits is an intentional copy/ripoff? He took the name and mask from a well known psych test. Does anyone know if he is paying the dude that invented that?
Image creators smell what I’m cookin’. Image creators/owners/employers have to front as much as 3 months worth of expenses. I’ll refer to recent interviews the big 7 have given over at newsarama (no relation). Jim Shooter’s comments on the subject are also interesting. Even the creator’s rights champeens over at Image have W4H problems. Employers/investors put alot of money at risk. That is their part. Its a whole big thing that I havent explained very well but bottom line is they signed a contract.

ps. Typing on a nookcolor e-reader with internet capabilities is not the best. Very limited editing so please bare with my scrambled thoughts in this post

promethean1453

April 29, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Well, I hate to go off-subject on the creator-rights/Kirby treatment debate… but DC has got a major issue with their characters. They rely too much on basic mythological archetypes (or at least the heavy hitters like Aquaman-water guy, Martian Manhunter- poor man’s Superman, Wonder Woman- hey, a super LADY, and Superman- super-duper messiah like fella that can do everything and does it all just cause he’s a nice guy raised by simple folk). Even the guys with a little more character depth like the Flash, Green Lantern, and especially Batman suffer from these generalities. DC just does not recognize that modern audiences need something a little more than just semi-religious awe to make their characters work. And their goals need to be more specific than, “Oh I’m an alien that looks human, but I will use my great powers for mankind” (which is a really empty goal when you think about it) or “Rrrrggghhhh, my parents were shot! Rrrgggghhh I’ll fight every last criminal to the last man!” (I mean jesus, talk about a 2D character). DC really needs to concentrate on WHY their characters do what they do, because right now none of them have any true motivations. What they do have are casts of incredible supporting characters and locales and essentially everything but strong central characters. And until they can develop them, DC is going to be in the movie-shitter for quite some time.

First off, Alan Moore is a hypocrite. I am sorry if that pisses some people off, but it is the truth. He is a great writer and creator, but, if Watchmen had failed as a comic piece, would he have been willing to return any amount of DC’s investment in the mini to offset their losses? Of course not. Did he sign a ‘work-for-hire’ agreement that he should have gotten approved by an attorney of his own to make sure he was protected? I have never heard an answer to that question. The fact is, was, and will always be that Alan Moore signed a contract to do work for DC that gave him no ownership claim of the work, he knew this, or he would have if he would have had someone explain to him what he was going to sign. Oddly enough, he has pulled this BS routine with how many other publishers? Personally, it only takes one screwing for me to make sure I am covering my 6 from that point forward. I am getting so tired of everyone acting like Alan Moore is being creatively raped or something, he got exactly what he signed the contract to receive. Sellers remorse be damned. I love how in this day and age, a contract is worthless if someone thinks they are being wronged. But, why is Alan Moore a hypocrite? Read Lost Girls, read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and ask yourselves if Alan Moore is paying anything to the estates of Barrie, Carroll, Baum, Verne, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Stoker and others for the use and abuse of their characters? Or is he ‘relying’ on the law that his playthings are in the ‘public domain’ and thus free for him to do with as he wishes without recompense?

I’ve heard several people say they would be boycotting the Avengers because of Marvel’s treatment over Jack Kirby, but is this something Kirby’s heirs would want? I mean, they’re currently litigating over the rights to several characters in the Avengers (and presumably the Avengers as a team as well), so wouldn’t they want those characters to all be as profitable as possible in the event they are ever successful in their lawsuit? Particularly since its films like the Avengers that are going to be earning them their biggest amount of money, and far more than what will come from their share of publishing.

@Phylemon: One of Moore’s big points of contention has been claiming that DC have not adhered to their side of the Watchmen contract. We don’t know all of the details of the contract, but it was not a typical work for hire contract and did grant Moore and Gibbons more control than WFH creators would normally get. The event that precipitated Moore’s leaving DC was his claim that the company used “creative accounting” to cheat he and Gibbons out of merchandising royalties that they were owed under the terms of their contracts. The other events that poisoned Moore’s relationship with DC were their (eventually scrapped) plans to institute a ratings system, which Moore opposed, and their firing of Marv Wolfman when he sided with Moore in opposition to the ratings plan.

Moore did tons of successful work-for-hire material for DC prior to Watchmen, and has never claimed any rights to ownership/control of it. Whatever the Watchmen deal was, it was not a typical WFH contract, and Moore’s main talking point is that DC has not honored that contract.

“I never quite understand the hostility on message boards towards a creator slamming a company publicly.”

Personally, *I* never quite understand the hostility on message boards towards a company for doing what it’s legally allowed to do–and, for that matter, for trying to make a profit for its shareholders. As some others have pointed out, it seems like there’s a portion of fandom that views every disagreement between creators and company as a David-vs-Goliath battle and automatically roots for the creator as some sort of underdog. In fact, it seems like even creators like Bob Kane and William Moulton Marston, who were savvy enough to set up certain deals that benefitted them, seem to be nearly villified for being successful. This is why I’ve gotten over the knee-jerk “how dare the companies do that!” reaction whenever I read about a dispute between companies and creators.

Paul, I totally agree — no one in human history has ever benefitted society by standing in support of an abstract ideal.

there is a J.L.A. film set for 2013/2014..the news reported it, why cant supposed journalists for comic articles read the news?? the female head of WB/DC FILM entertainment cited black canary will be in it, if she has her way.

–as for watchmen, Alan moore created them based loosely off of charlton heroes, which makes them HIS. batman was created loosely off of zorro. superman was a modern day Hercules. and based loosely on him, as even stated so by his creators. DC can be legally right all they want. MORALLY, superman would have a problem with his creators being at poverty level, and the watchmen all fought against those who profit off of suffering. so did the avengers.
the point im making is,: if ya love comic book characters, you should strive to live the way they live. by their morals, companies making money and not sharing it with the very people that allowed them to make said money by creating these heroes, is WRONG. –Alan Moore is in the RIGHT. fighting for Kirby to have a credit, and for his heirs to have bank, is RIGHT. the superman heirs deserve all the rights to superman, and superman himself would state so. -if you have no morals after reading a J.L.A. comic, and promote the B.S. of companies and their legal contacts, then you are the bad guys the heroes you read about, are factually fighting against.

no one currently at DC or Marvel were in diapers when these icons were created, or first used. therefore they do not deserve the fame or money for using them now. if they want those things, they need to create new heroes themselves, instead of hiring others to do their work for them, and then screwing those others out of a paycheck. UP WITH CREATORS, DOWN WITH EVIL CORPORATIONS WHO WANT MONEY FOR THINGS THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH!!!!

@Alan Williams: Bob Kane isn’t villified just because he was successful. He’s villified because he’s seen as having built his career off of claiming other creators’ ideas and work as his own. He was a canny businessman, and, on the whole, I don’t think that he did anything illegal (although I think that if he did what he did today, Street and Smith and the producers of “The Man Who Laughed” would probably sue him, and win), but morally, it stunk. I believe he did concede, later in life, after Bill Finger’s death, that Finger should have received a co-creator credit on Batman

I am so sick of posters repeating Alan Moore’s words as a reason to not buy Before Watchmen. Everyone says they would like to see DC work toward creating the next great story or characters. I wonder if any of those people buy or have bought Batman…same thing. DC should apparently not ever use any of the characters they own in attempts to try to create the new great character and then never use that again too. What a joke. Condemning the Before Watchmen books before they are even published shows nothing but ignorance.

@ dude,: no, they shouldn’t use their characters to create a new character. they should simply create a new character based off of old characters (as was factually done with batman and superman) and do this repeatedly. then they should give the old characters back to the heirs of the actual creators, as they aren’t theirs!!! watchmen is NOT DC comics!!! neither is superman!! NO ONE currently at top level positions in DC was even in diapers when the watchmen graphic novel came out. therefore they should create something, in order to make bank, instead of making bank off of others creations, and then not paying those others! Alan moore created. no high paid exec at DC or marvel, ever creates anything. they hire this out, for a low fee, then reap the most profit, and pay a few small royalties to the creators, which should be illegal.

I personally want to support all of these super-hero projects and creators. I feel that if these projects make gazillions MAYBE the corporations will not be so greedy & will share some with the heirs or even cut deals that would be fair to the creators.

unfortunately since cain beat abel over the head & killed him, brother will always abuse brother if left to their own.

bitter sweet days we live in indeed.

@defiant

Wow. Naive much? I won’t get into the fact that the characters are property of DC/Marvel/whomever, because its been said a thousand times already. My question is this…when they create a new character, obviously not done by the execs but by some “hired out low-fee” creator, then you will be complaining that those creators are treated unfairly.

Your contention seems to be that there should not be a DC or a Marvel, and the creators should all own everything they create, which in a perfect world would be great. But it is because of DC and Marvel that we get to read stories about Batman, Superman, Watchmen, and the rest. If every creator owned the characters, their stories would never be published and comics in essence would not exist. I think you are saying they should stop publishing those characters and then create knock-offs of them, which is absurd.

And where is the support for all the small time creations right now? The majority of comic readers are buying titles like Batman, X-Men, Justice League. And creators growing up have dreams about drawing these same titles. You have this ideal that cannot possibly be achieved with the way the world, and more specifically the comic industry works.

Alan Williams

May 1, 2012 at 6:20 am

@ BradRz

“Bob Kane isn’t villified just because he was successful.” Just is a telling word in that sentence, given its placement.

And I stand by my statement, with the further observation that, as has been observed numerous times, these IP battles occur over the “blockbuster” characters. I’ve yet to see the Siegel estate (and Toberoff) go after the Spectre, and I expect no one would give a crap if Watchmen hadn’t been so popular. Then again, if it hadn’t been, the characters would already be in Moore’s hands, and presuming he can play nice with co-creators again, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if there had been sequels. For that matter, didn’t Moore himself contribute to the Watchmen supplement for the DC Heroes RPG in the 1990s? That doesn’t sound like “leave the characters alone, dammit!” to me.

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