The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marvel, Jack Kirby’s heirs ‘amicably’ settle legal battle over superhero-character rights

Placeholder while article actions load

IN 2012, amid the bountiful box office of “The Avengers,” Comic Riffs proposed that the Disney/Marvel mega-force — that Galactus of Hollywood box office — offer a million-dollar thank-you to the man who co-created so many of those characters: Jack Kirby.

That shoot-for-the-moon “Immodest Proposal” was met with skepticism — Marvel, came many a reader reply, would never budge in sharing the wealth.

Today, such a gesture seems not quite as preposterous.

That’s because Marvel and the heirs of Mr. Kirby have just reached a legal resolution, averting a potential Supreme Court showdown.

The opposing litigants say in a joint statement released today:

“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.”

The resolution settles a long-running battle over the copyrights to characters from such Marvel titles as X-Men and the Fantastic Four — a fight that has sometimes pitted interpretations of the 1976 Copyright Act against the definition of “work for hire.” Marvel had won most lower-court rulings, but Kirby’s family members, represented by attorney Marc Toberoff, had made a concerted push this year to have the Supreme Court hear their appeal.

“The trustees of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center are delighted with the out-of-court settlement arrived at today between the Kirby Family and Marvel/Disney,” representatives of the museum tell Comic Riffs. “As an entity dedicated to promoting the study, understanding, preservation and appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby, we view this as a day of vindication for Jack as an artist and writer of extraordinary talent who literally shaped an industry through the force of his imagination.”

Disney became involved in the litigation after it bought Marvel in 2009 for $4-billion. Seven films featuring Marvel characters have each grossed more than a half-billion dollars worldwide.

In 2012, when acclaimed cartoonist Roger Langridge (“Thor: the Mighty Avenger”) quit Marvel over its treatment of creators like Kirby, he told Comic Riffs: “There is an enormous amount of affection for those companies’ characters out there. It would take very little to get people to believe that they’re trying to do the right thing.”

The eminently influential Kirby, considered one of the cornerstone creators in the history of comics, died in 1994, at age 76.

“Although Jack cannot be here to witness this historic moment,” the Kirby museum tells Comic Riffs, “we know that, somewhere out there in the cosmos, he is smiling a humble smile of satisfaction at this long-awaited outcome.”