The comic sites are buzzin’ about former Marvel honcho Stan Lee’s lawsuit against Marvel Comics: Tuesday, he filed a $10 million lawsuit charging that the company is cheating him out of his share of lucrative movie profits. With the movie versions of Daredevil and X-Men II on the event horizon (and blockbuster Spider-Man currently entering Xmas gift-giving season w./ two different DVD sets) that’s probably a nice chunk of change.
It’s the type of story guaranteed to appeal to the press: comic book superheroes are supposed to be about fairness, about fighting the good fight for truth and justice. Now, here we’ve got what appears to be a corporate entity screwing an 80-year-old man out of his fair share. This is based on an agreement signed between Lee and the company in 1988, which includes this pertinent sentence:
“In addition, you shall be paid participation equal to 10% of the profits derived during your life by Marvel (including subsidiaries and affiliates) from the profits of any live action or animation television or movie (including ancillary rights) productions utilizing Marvel characters.”
Marvel’s response has been to assert that the $400 million spider hit hasn’t seen any “profits” as defined by the contract. The entertainment industry is filled with tales of creative accounting, so it’s possible they might have a legal case here, but it’s still a public relations nightmare for the comics company. During the Spider-Man movie’s p.r. blitz, Lee was all over the media as the “Man Who Created Spider-Man” (w./ a little help from artist and collaborator Steve Ditko, of course). And now this genial old guy is the public victim of slippery corporate types.
Lee’s lawsuit demands damages and a court order forcing Marvel to turn over his share in any profits from movies about characters he created. In reply, Marvel has issued a statement saying Lee “continues to be well-compensated” for his contributions to the industry. In comparison with the piss-poor treatment that fellow collaborators Ditko or Jack (Hulk, Fantastic Four and more) Kirby received from the company, this is doubtless true. But it doesn’t make that contract any less binding.
As someone who grew up reading Marvels when Stan Lee was the comics line’s most vocal voice (as scripter for most of the early titles, it was Lee who personalized comics writing in a way that is still being felt today), I’m rooting for the guy. The comics industry has had a long and sordid history of mistreating its creative people. And while this case won’t redress all the earlier grievances (some of which Lee himself at least tacitly supported) between creators and company, you still can’t help wondering if a dose of korporate karma isn’t being doled out. . .
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UPDATE: Per Journalista!, Marvel’s third quarter report is – as Chris Puzak notes in the comments section below – claiming two mil in profits from the movie. (This doesn’t include merchandising profits, which add a few more bucks to the till.)