20/20 Special on Marvel Comics 25th Anniversary from 1986

I’ve been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story every chance I get for the last couple weeks, and so it was with much interest that I watched this news piece from 20/20, produced back in 1986.

The first thing I noticed was that this features Jim Shooter, who was fired soon after. The second thing I noticed, and it was painful to watch, was a real time example of Jack Kirby getting completely ignored.

Please Stan, say something! Don’t take all the credit!

Maybe in the second part?

Nope, in this part, it’s the exact same soundbite you’d get from people today if you asked about the difference between Marvel and DC. Also, they ignore Steve Ditko too.

Even if you don’t get cranky like me, it’s an interesting look at how the mainstream media depicted the comics industry 26 years ago.

Thanks to Scott Koblish for posting this on Facebook for us to see.


  1. Stan taking all the credit? In other news, water is still wet and bacon is still tasty.

  2. “An industry who’s best years occurred long ago.” Don’t worry, the early nineties will be pretty good for them.

  3. I always thought a movie could be made about the history between Stan and Jack in the 60’s with the rise of Marvel. 2 friends that start something together that is extremely successful yet one get all the credit and the other is left behind. Think “Social Network” but in the 1960’s. Name for that movie? “Marvels”.

  4. So, what ARE the main differences between Marvel and DC? More than just “Marvel characters have angst and real world problems” because while that was true in 1975, things have clearly changed.

    • I heard exactly the same thing on an NPR story a couple months ago.


    • Yeah. The template’s been set. Journalists won’t stray from that regardless of fact. Sound FX are the “scientists baffled” of comic book stories.


    • This may be rooted in eighties / nineties comics, but I always felt Marvel had a higher propensity for heroes fighting each other for no good reason–just mindless, several page long battles–which bugged the crap out of me as a younger reader (you’d never see Batman and Superman just fighting each other over a misunderstanding for an entire issue).

      In my mind this kind of placed Marvel a little bit more in the Greek mythology tradition, with a lot of flawed characters (one big, crazy soap opera), whereas DC felt like it was reinforcing some sort of moral code. That being said, the first several issues of the latest Justice League incarnation in the new 52 felt very ‘Marvel’ to me (the Jim Lee art probably added to it).

  5. Biff-boom-pow “They’ve come a long way since ‘bonk'”.

    Was that a young Ron Richards in the second clip?

    Also how does Stan Lee age at the same rate the Marvel Characters do?

  6. SeeeuPERman

  7. LOVE the pop culture professor with the bow tie and tweed jacket. Finger on the pulse… =)

  8. Kinda strangely fascinating thing about our culture in general, we always look to give ONE PERSON credit for everything. Sports, film, music, comics, tons of other stuff….it doesn’t matter. Even though we know its always a team effort, its the one guy that gets the credit for other’s contributions and its kinda preferred by the hive mid of pop culture for it to be that way. Its as if its easier for our brains to process one person than a whole bunch of em.

  9. I hear what you’re saying about Stan not saying anything about other contributors, but, to be fair, it seemed in the interview there wasn’t much of a chance for him to talk about the actual creation of the characters. I mean, the first question was how he would respond to questions about his profession at a cocktail party.

    On the other hand, I completely understand where you’re coming from in terms of Jack and Steve still getting the shaft, so to speak.

    Nice find, btw. 🙂

  10. Is it cool to pile on Stan every single time Stan doesn’t mention Jack when talking about what he did? Do you think Stan edited this piece or did 20/20? Do you think the whole point of the 20/20 piece was to establish who invented which character or merely to present an insiders look into Marvel comics? BTW, they didn’t mention Joe Simon or any other influential writer or artist either.

    • It may not be cool, but it’s fair, and it’s interesting. This was basically a PR piece for Marvel. It was also at a time when they were actively battling the Kirbys for control of copyright. Stan’s one part of it, and it’s not so simple as to be “Stan’s the bad guy” or “Jack’s the good guy”, but give him the benefit of the doubt is also specious.

      An interesting thing is that Stan has changed his approach a lot since then. I give him credit for that. I like Stan Lee. I think Stan Lee is immensely important. I don’t think Stan Lee is perfect. I am fascinated by him and his story.

      That doesn’t mean he, or Marvel get a free pass.

    • Josh sums it up pretty well.

    • I guess we agree that it isn’t cool to pile on Stan but disagree on whether it is fair to do so based on the 20/20 video. I agree it was a PR piece for Marvel, and so I don’t think it needed to discuss the content you think is lacking. I also think that Stan just answered some questions asked by 20/20, and 20/20 put together the piece that aired. I don’t know why you say that giving Stan the benefit of the doubt is wrong. This article assumes that Stan is guilty of something wrong, but then fails to provide any evidence of that wrongdoing. Are you asking me to defend what someone did or did not do 25+ years ago? I don’t want that job. However, for a web site that is supposed to be out highlighting what is positive in comics, I find it an interesting choice to level charges against one of the most influential people in the medium without this video offering any evidence of the claim. The 20/20 piece was interesting and worth posting on its own merits… I guess I don’t understand how the video evidences the narrative that “Stan is taking credit where he shouldn’t”. I don’t equate not trashing him publicly on often repeated charges based on this video with a free pass.

    • Part of highlighting what is positive about comics is making sure people remain aware of where credit is due. No one on this website (or any true believer) hates Stan Lee. To deny Lee’s mark on comics would be asinine, just as it would be to deny Kirby’s. Jack Kirby’s work, imagination, influence, and life story is the very definition of what is positive about comic books. The guys consistently do their part to maintain an awareness in the community of Kirby’s specific and overwhelming contribution to the medium, and for that I applaud them.

      There are several great books chronicling the story of Lee and Kirby if you’re interested. They range from biased to completely objective and combine to paint a thorough portrait of the entire saga. After reading any or all of them, I can’t imagine any comic fan not walking away feeling sympathy for Kirby, and a little bitterness towards the way Lee handled the situation from beginning to end.

    • @WheelHands – My point is not that Jack Kirby is not worthy of respect. He is a legend. I have read many books about the early days of Marvel. I understand that the whole big picture is nuanced. That is why I am confused why the lead tag line to this article is “This is why Roz Kirby didn’t like Stan.” I hear what you are saying, but I just don’t think this video is an explanation for “Why Roz Kirby didn’t like Stan.” I don’t see anything in this video offensive to merit the negative suggestions and comments about Stan Lee. You say that Stan should have mentioned Kirby in this short video. If it was appropriate for this 20/20 piece, I would definitely agree, and that the piece should include Colan, Ditko, Joe Simon, and others. The 20/20 piece was about Marvel Comics. Stan Lee and Marvel go hand in hand, and I think it is ok for Stan to talk about Marvel Comics in a piece about Marvel Comics without mentioning Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, etc. I wouldn’t get upset if I watched a YouTube video with an interview with Abe Lincoln if he didn’t mention George Washington in the same breath.

      I fear that younger readers, who haven’t read the books and know the backstory that you and I do, will read the headline and the comments and conclude something that is not supported by this video. This, IMHO, is disrespectful towards Stan’s legacy and contributions.

      Jack’s contributions to the medium can be discussed without diminishing Stan’s contributions or disparaging the man himself.

    • Stan made a habit of taking full credit over decades. It was literally what made Roz Kirby upset, and this is another example of that.

      It’s not disrespectful about Stan’s legacy. It’s honest about, if not a little tongue in cheek. But does he deserve that criticism? In my opinion: absolutely.

    • @Josh – I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this. As ConanXXXV points out, Jack signed a contract that was aligned with the practices of the day. Some could argue that Stan was reasonable to think he was due sole credit based on the standards and practices of the time. As an intellectual property attorney, I can tell you this is a very nuanced situation and I don’t feel it is so black and white as it is being portrayed in this post.

      I respect that you feel differently, but I also can’t see how this video is an example of Stan taking credit for Jack’s work. It just isn’t there. There is no example in the video of Stan taking credit for Jack’s work. If I am wrong, I will eat the cover off a Marvel comic.

      So, is it appropriate to overlay some narative on this video that Stan Lee “has made a habit of taking full credit over decades”? I say thee nay. I am glad you posted this video – it is extrememly interesting, if nothing more than seeing the bullpen in the 80s and the wonderful hair everyone sported. However, this video does not show what you think it shows.

      Other people have tried to point to other specific instances and have tried to advance the same narative. See:

      However, as explained in the above article, the situation is more complex than what was originally asserted, and I think Stan had nothing to do with Jack’s name being left off the Avengers movie in that example. This video is another example, I submit, of Stan being wrongly accused of bad behavior. It was a PR piece which Stan had no control over.

      This video is awesome and definitely worth seeing, and I am glad you posted it. It is ok for two people who love comics to disagree – that is what makes comics fun. Each of us is our own continuity. I do not seek to offend or be rude, but just wish to give respect where it is due*. Don’t worry Josh, if you ever make a video and twenty years later someone unfarily calls you out for not mentioning Conor or Ron, I will come to your defense 😉

      * especially in view of comments like “Does it feel like we should be a bit more angry at Stan Lee?”

    • BTW, I named my cat Kirby in recognition of my admiration and respect for Jack Kirby, so my defense of Stan should not be taken as a slight to Jack.

    • I’ll tell you this, when I’ve interviewed Stan in recent years, he always shares credit. Again, I really like and respect the guy.

      If anyone’s talking about this in 20 years, I’ll be shocked.

    • From the youtube comments for part 1:

      “In 1986 Bullpen Bulletins, Jim Shooter wrote- this is before this episode premiered- that Stan made many, many comments about the contributions of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, etc. and the program simply edited hours of interviews into a few minutes, and they were upset and there was nothing they could do about it.”

      Take it with a pinch of salt maybe, but it’s not like Stan asked the questions and edited the piece.

  11. According to the author (Sean Howe), In 1985, Jack Kirby’s lawyer broached the subject of copyright claims for Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four—after a Variety ad announcing Cannon Films’ planned Captain America film credited the character not to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, but to Stan Lee.

    I think this goes beyond Stan Lee. This was Stan Lee gladly playing along with Marvel Comics and their legal games.

  12. Nice flashback moment! NO ONE tells a story with such genuine fondness quite like Stan Lee.His smile just gives the listener the feeling that he enjoys evey moment in the spotlight. Ask him the same questions today and I think he’ll give you the same enthusiasm in his answers!
    best part: Jim Shooter hovering over some inker: “you gonna finish that today?”
    that soooo wouldn’t fly in today’s world!!

  13. This was poorly edited but at the time they probably didn’t put much thought into it. They introduce Marvel with the Spiderman/ Power Pack child Molester issue. That is what they chose? I would of thought Marvel would give them something better to promote. That came out at the time so maybe. Then when they mention licensed characters that were successful and they show the last issue of Star Wars that says “last issue” on it along with Care Bears that I doubt had more than 10 issues.

    I’m not sure the specifics on the Jack Kirby issue and I know creators got a raw deal when it came to rights back then but they were paid for their work and that is they way it was back then. They signed a work for hire agreement. At some point a contract is a contract and this revisionist history on anyone that may have signed an unfair deal is ridiculous.

  14. This is going off ALLLLL memory here (meaning I’ve tried looking on the internet, but couldn’t find where these would be archived), but I seem to remember Shooter running a Bullpen Bulletins a few months later in all the Marvel books, talking about this 20/20 piece AND talking about how everyone DID attribute credit to Jack Kirby AND laying all the blame for absence of it at the news makers feet. Not saying what he was saying was true, but I think this was an issue that was immediately addressed back then. Anybody want to find a link to THAT, I’d be forever grateful.

  15. Very bizarre how the music in this feature is taken from the Star Wars soundtrack of the original three. Something very unoriginal going on at 20/20 in the 80’s. 😉

  16. Does it feel like we should be a bit more angry at Stan Lee?

    He has gotten better at not making himself the sole person of praise for all the classic Marvel books. But I feel like we give Stan a pass more often then not. Like, we all know people like Kirby and Ditko have not gotten their fair share (and to also be fair that isn’t all Lee’s fault). But still….I feel like because of his age we don’t get more annoyed at him like we should.