Kirby vs. Marvel in the Playoffs

Batter up! SNIKTA little more than a week ago, a friend of mine updated his Facebook status to say simply, "I love me some Madness!"

Immediately, everything I thought I knew about our friendship was called into question. "Madness? What has happened to Andy since he moved away? In all the years I've known him, I've never even heard him mention ska, much less his love of the seminal British group that won our hearts with 'Our House.' Last time we talked about music, he was into Sammy Hagar. My God, I'm losing touch with everyone."

It stuck with me all day. "There's no way he's talking about the band. It would be more likely for him to be talking about the actual condition of madness." God knows I've had days like that, those days when the world is coming at you from all directions and you think, "Ohhh, what's that I hear, brain? Is that a snapping sound? Oh, boy! Today's the day it finally happens! I get to drive around town with an enemies list, a cricket bat, and a trunk full of cream pies! Woo hoo, I love me some madness!"

It was probably six hours before I realized he was just talking about the basketball thing.

Generally speaking, unless a stadium is being built or torn down along my daily route home, sports never make it onto my radar. I could probably chalk it up to the fact that the local teams in St. Louis were terrible when I was an impressionable young man. The college basketball team is routinely eliminated in the parking lot; the football team fled town in fake beards under cover of darkness when I was in junior high; there is no testimony from a living eyewitness that the hockey team is real. And yet… there is that full-scale invasion by the Cardinal Nation every summer. I did grow up thinking that a World Series or a home run derby was something that just broke out every couple of years.

The more I think about it, the more I think I stayed away from watching sports because I knew it would destroy me. Andy– he who loves him some Madness– went to med school at KU, so he spent some time on the edge of his seat the other night before "millions of brackets cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced." After his team lost, he was able to say "they had a good run" without losing any sleep over it. In his shoes, I have no doubt that I would be a disaster that brought shame upon my family. Rivalries, pissing contests, and us-versus-them squabbling are simultaneously nerve-wracking and soul-draining to me. I know this because so many things have started turning into sports without the balls in the last few years. Everything is a team now, whether it's politics, late night talk shows, cell phone operating systems, fiction (even teenage girls reading books about sparkly vampires have to decide between Team Edward or Team Jacob before embarking) or of course comics.

The actual stories in superhero comics don't have the tension or unpredictability of real contests; there's not the same thrill in rooting for your favorite guy, because all the games are fixed. Doctor Octopus enters the fight as an underdog, but there is less than no chance that he is going to stage an upset, kill Spider-Man, and be the star of the book from now on. (Yes, I realize that the Green Goblin has essentially been running the world for the last year, but as that story reaches its conclusion we can't say we're loving it because of how much it's surprising us. We find it satisfying because we finally get the release of seeing the way they're doing the thing we always knew they were going to do. It's not like any of us think Nekron's going to eat all life in the universe, either; if the sequel's existence didn't spoil that, the sequel's name sure did.) Where comics are concerned, all of the us-versus-them boosterism and pissing contests center around what's going on in the bullpen. We gossip about the behind-the-scenes wranglings with all the heightened drama of Glenn Beck announcing a heavyweight title bout.

Alan Moore vs. DC. DC vs. Marvel. Blackest Night tie-ins vs. Siege variant covers. Kirkman vs. Bendis. To be candid and delicate at the same time, I f***ing hate this s***. I literally do not want to hear about it; it drives me crazy. Why can't two companies each put out a big miniseries at the same time without me having to hear about which one is "beating" the other one? Could World War Hulk and Countdown possibly have less to do with one another? If I'm enjoying Siege and mostly still enjoying Blackest Night, what do I care which one is selling better? It's not like either one's gonna get canceled. What the hell are we doing reading sales figures anyway? Show of hands: any stockholders in the audience?

In this regard, I have to hand it to the iFanbase most of the time. Cooler heads usually prevail. I was impressed with the recent "Marvel vs. DC" discussion in a way that, well, let's just say I was not expecting to be and leave it at that. Of course, then there are other times when I post an article like "Ghost Rider Movie Reboot Discussed" and someone comments, "PWNED, DC! PWWWWNNNNED!!!!" and I have a bottle of Nyquil for lunch just to fast forward to tomorrow.

The publishers can say what they want about friendly rivalries and healthy competition; I just wish they'd take some of that energy they devote to making one another look bad and put it into their comics look good. Let's take some of those calories being burned on razzing DC and burn them on selling Doctor Voodoo next time. Because over time, a kind of poison builds up, and before you know it people are reading hostility into every innocent and well-meaning (however tired and unfunny) teaser image.

gerber, then you"This picture of the president is a blatant attack on Team Marvel!"
"How is that any different than what Deadpool did to Team DC?"
"Well, Team DC killed my great grandfather's goat during the War!"

…and on and on. It's almost unbelievable that there isn't a decal of Calvin peeing on one of these companies by now. At a certain point, you might as well be calling the AM talk station to rant about which coaches are idiots or which congressmen are in league with Satan. You don't get loyalty points you can redeem at the store. It wearies my blood.

Sometimes, this misplaced team loyalty gets so twisted up that people essentially end up arguing against themselves. I think one example of this is starting up as we speak. On March 9th, legendary artist Jack Kirby's heirs sued Marvel for the copyrights to just about all the classic Silver Age characters you'd expect, and also Spider-Man. (Given that Steve Ditko designed Spider-Man as we know him, I look forward to hearing that argument as this moves forward.)

The issue hinges on whether or not Kirby co-created those characters as "work for hire." You can read the case for yourself for the accurate details (I'm not one of your fancy, big-city lawyers) but to grossly, grossly oversimplify: the Kirbys' argument is that their dad was a freelancer who didn't sign a work-for-hire agreement until 1972. Marvel's argument is that Kirby was only coming up with characters Marvel editorial asked him to come up with and only worked on the books they told him to work on, so "work for hire" is the only way to describe it. I think of this as the Stan Lee Argument, since I just read his autobiography and even now Smilin' Stan seems to come as close as Stan Lee can to saying "oh, bullshit" to the idea that the artists were his co-creators for this very reason.

From my position of staggering ignorance, it seems almost too complex an issue. A company run by people who are gone now may have mistreated a talented creator who is gone now, and the reverberations continue to be felt decades later. These stories I enjoy would not exist without Kirby, nor would they exist without Marvel 1961. Practically speaking in 2010, the Kirbys aren't going to take the Hulk away, and as a Disney company it seems unlikely that Marvel will be put out of business by any of this. I hope it works out; I do not have a team in this game. As I read about all this, though, I had no doubt that there were loyalists foaming at the mouth about this lawsuit, people who would never normally side with a corporation against the little guy who now found themselves spitting posthumous invective at the very man who helped invent all the things that made them join Team Marvel in the first place.

It's great, and somewhat rare, to find books you love so much, even if most of them are made by the same people. Just don't mistake it for your tribe or your team, or sooner or later the only person who loses will be you.



Jim Mroczkowski will get 'em next year.


  1. Great article. The picture of Cyclops pitching made me smile. I miss those odd team issues.


  2. @jamesseals  Yeah, i think i ahve that exact issue somewhere

    excelelnt article sir, as always

  3. Man, Jimski, it warms the cockles of my heart that I was able to communicate across the sports-fan/non-sports fan divide via a ‘Star Wars’ reference.  (Even if that tweet was followed by an argument about whether it was also an X-Men reference.  Because it’s the Internet).

    But seriously, excellent point about how everything’s a competition, even when it doesn’t need to be.  The Kirby lawsuit could be interesting for other reasons, though . . .I wonder what took them so long? 

  4. First of all, that is a FANTASTIC picture of Cyclops playing baseball, it made me laugh.

    Second of all, thank you Jimski, for week-in and week-out pointing out all of the random things in life that need pointing out but people just don’t. Great article as usual

  5. Jimski, I know I say this almost every time you post an article. But, thank you! Someone needed to say it, especially as eloquently as you have here. These monday morning bits of wisdom always make my week better. Hopefully, enough of comics fandom gives this a read where we can just stop this ridiculousness. I’d say we’re pretty good about it on iFanboy (although there are times where it gets a bit out of hand.) but there I go again comparing teams. It’s hard not to be proud of team iFanboy, though.

  6. I wonder if the Siegel family winning their lawsuit had anything to do with the Kirby’s decision to file a lawsuit?

  7. I like to create brackets for iFanboy writers each week.

    First round: Josh vs. Mike, Conor vs. Jimski, and Ron vs. Paul.

    Then I create brackets for iFanbase member of the week.  I’ll keep that one private. 

  8. @ohcaroline – It took them this long because now, with Disney’s backing, Marvel has the cash to pay them.


  10. soooo, that Kirby Icon series from a couple years ago… guess it didn’t sell very well.

  11. I love that you posted a cover to Gerbers Destroyer Duck in the middle of this artile. People go do yourselves a favor and wikipedia that series.

  12. A great article with an admirable sentiment.  No comic company is ever going to earn my cash by winning a cynical game of one upmanship, they’ll earn them by putting out interesting product. I also find it interesting that the smaller companies (even the mid level ones like Dark Horse, IDW, Oni et al) don’t participate in anything similar.  Sure they hype their own product, and rightly so, but they don’t feel any need to belittle their competitors.  If only the big companies would follow that example: knuckle down and get on with your jobs…

  13. @Jimski RE: Jack Kirby and Spider-Man, apparently there’s been talk that Stan Lee originally went to Jack with the Spider-man idea. It’s speculated that he may have created the costume and added some powers simlar to another Kirby creation called the Fly. Since Stan Lee and Kirby both have/had horrible memories no one quite knows all the details associated with this story. There’s a whole chapter about it in Brian Cronin’s book "Was Superman a Spy?"

  14. What I always wondered from people who take combative sides in the arguments you mentioned is that what do they expect to accomplish from their perpetual negative bitching? The way they get all crusader like makes you think that these companies/books murdered someone in their family, Shogun Assassin style.