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Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies. 
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Post Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
As everyone has heard me grouse about to self-indulgent and tedious lengths, there are certain movies I've avoided seeing, out of objection to the treatment of the people who created the characters. The two biggest ones from last year were The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers.*

While I had misgivings about seeing those movies in theaters, or even seeing them in any way, shape or form that might contribute to the perceived success of their blockbuster-scale marketing patterns (e.g. by the data of rentals, video streams, or whatever), I am generally a fan of the characters and I haven't been entirely incurious about their big-screen adventures. Fortunately for me, I have absolutely no problem with seeing these movies in circumstances that don't contribute to their bottom line. The nature of my objection is in the final destination of the money.

I am confident that we are now far enough beyond the official release window that any contribution to the viewing data is unlikely to be attributed to the success or failure of the initial high-dollar investments that these movies represent. It's not that I've been waiting for the moment with bated breath--in fact, neither movie ever registered very high on my radar. (With hype, I guess you're not in for the pound unless you're in for the penny first.) But today is the proverbial rainy day. I think it's time I "acquired" these movies.

Don't judge me too harshly... mainly because it'll be a waste of time. I am beyond caring that Batman and the Avengers will not make these companies any richer on my dime. However, should DC and Marvel ever take meaningful steps to correct their shabby and exploitative treatment of Finger and Kirby, I will gladly favor them with my patronage once more. The characters and creators deserve it.

So, in summation, watch this spot for my forthcoming and belated thoughts on Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. If anybody still cares.

---

*For the kids in the cheap seats:

Bill Finger, the co-(and most likely majority)-creator of the Batman, was never credited or compensated with royalties, even after 1966 when his creative partner Bob Kane was given (i.e. seized) sole byline and a stipend for life. DC Comics claimed for decades not to know of any living heirs in Finger's family, but has since been made aware of Finger's living granddaughter, Athena. Nevertheless, no Batman adaptation to date has so much as given Bill Finger a spot anywhere in the credits, nor has a single red cent been doled out to his family. This situation continues to present day.

Jack Kirby created or co-created nearly every Marvel Comics character worth caring about, including the majority of the cast in The Avengers. Furthermore, the Avengers itself--the all-star superhero team presided over by Nick Fury--is also a Kirby creation. His lack of compensation beyond the normal workaday page rate he got while working at Marvel is unconscionable in itself. What's worse is the exploitative and downright abusive treatment he received as a result of his association with Marvel, both while working there and in the years since. For the full story on that, read the section on The Avengers here.

Consider how much money has been made from these characters in comics, TV, film, and endless merchandise. Because of these characters, the owners of DC and Marvel are very wealthy, as are their associates in their respective corporate parent companies. Their families and descendants will not be wanting for anything at any point in the foreseeable future. Batman and the Marvel stable of heroes are a continuous source of enormous cash flow with no end in sight.

The heads of these companies should be on their knees thanking Finger and Kirby. Instead, they've steadfastly refused to address their roles in perpetuating this legacy of shame. I don't want to see DC and Marvel go down in flames, because I've got too much affection for their contributions to my childhood and to our culture. I'd just prefer that their success come from properties that are not so egregiously ill-gotten.

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Last edited by Ken on Thu Aug 08, 2013 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:06 am
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
I agree that Kirby and Finger should definitely receive credit and their families should receive compensation, but I don't let this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff get in the way of we watching and enjoying the films, I don't really read comics much, so I wasn't aware of any of this until you mentioned it.


Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:17 am
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
I've had a pretty good time for about a year now avoiding certain tentpole movies. Sometimes avoidance offers its own rewards. Interested to see what you'll say about these though.


Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:03 am
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
Vexer wrote:
I agree that Kirby and Finger should definitely receive credit and their families should receive compensation, but I don't let this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff get in the way of we watching and enjoying the films, I don't really read comics much, so I wasn't aware of any of this until you mentioned it.
Most people aren't, even if they do read comics.

Shamefully, a lot of people who do read comics are aware of this situation. They just don't want to give up their monthly issues of Batman, the X-Men, or whatever, so they either ignore what they know or find a way to rationalize it. Anything to prevent their sense of morality from making them take a hard look at something that they enjoy.

Marvel, for understandable reasons, would prefer that people not know how they screwed Kirby--how, for example, the bosses used to refer to him as "Jack the hack", as if they would have anything more than dick-fucking-squat without his contributions to their business. And DC, in an official capacity, has basically made Bill Finger an unperson.

MGamesCook wrote:
I've had a pretty good time for about a year now avoiding certain tentpole movies. Sometimes avoidance offers its own rewards. Interested to see what you'll say about these though.

Agreed re. avoiding tentpole movies. That said: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.

Put these two films in a shootout and it's absolutely clear to me which one is left standing. While the Dark Knight Rises may not quite reach the cogent character-driven social commentary that it aims for, and while it may even be a little too self-serious for its own good, its sense of indomitable human spirit and willingness to reach beyond its grasp are very compelling. And while The Avengers is every bit as entertaining and distracting as it aims to be, it is ultimately an exercise in combat choreography broken up by banter that only really feels at home when Robert Downey Jr. is serving as the messenger. Stylistically, both films are noisy and dissonant, often to the point of annoyance. In terms of their ultimate impact, they're night and day... so to speak.

Sorry, Joss, but as fun as it is, The Avengers is just as inconsequential and factory-made as all the other movies in the Marvel Studios catalog. DC may not outmatch Marvel in terms of the sheer number of successful titles, but Marvel cannot match DC in terms of ambition and respect for the characters. The Dark Knight Rises put me in touch with the sense of a soul that will not be extinguished. The Avengers put me in touch with the sense of a bag of Skittles--an empty sugar rush, followed by an inevitable comedown.

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Thu Aug 08, 2013 5:48 am
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
I found both films enjoyable but overpraised as a whole, I didn't really see them as superior to other blockbusters like Transformers.


Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:26 pm
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
Quote:
Sorry, Joss, but as fun as it is, The Avengers is just as inconsequential and factory-made as all the other movies in the Marvel Studios catalog. DC may not outmatch Marvel in terms of the sheer number of successful titles, but Marvel cannot match DC in terms of ambition and respect for the characters. The Dark Knight Rises put me in touch with the sense of a soul that will not be extinguished. The Avengers put me in touch with the sense of a bag of Skittles--an empty sugar rush, followed by an inevitable comedown.


This pretty much sums up how I feel about both films to a degree. I ended up respecting some of the ambition in Rises, especially with Nolan's acknowledgement that he could never re-create the crowd-pleaser that Dark Knight turned out to be. You're also right to single out Downey Jr. In the end, instead of succeeding in bringing the avengers together, they really only succeeded with one character: Tony Stark. Chris Evans was miscast, Hemsworth leaves no impression at all, Johansen was out of place and had no purpose in the movie, Renner, whether possessed or not, looks like he has no idea what's going on, and Ruffalo is just another stand-in, like Edward Norton. The Skittles analogy really hits home for me, as does the factory-made observation.

There's only one thing I'm left wondering about. I wonder to what extent the difference between the recent DC and Marvel treatments stems from the guys who happen to be in charge right now vs. the inherent depth of the actual characters and universes. Do the Avengers even have any potential for depth on any level at all? Would a Snyder-directed Avengers have been so different? Somewhat, perhaps, but I have my doubts as to how much. It seems more and more likely that DC is fundamentally deeper and more resonant on a conceptual level than Marvel. Green Lantern is a fairly poor movie overall, but even there I can see the greater philosophical, existential ambition behind it.

There must be a reason why the avengers have been second-rate for 50 years, while any 5 year old was always able to tell you who Batman and Superman were. Superman could just as easily be named "Superhero" in the way that Achilles could be called "Hero." He's still the one who most comprehensively and fundamentally defines the concept of a superhero. Twenty, thirty years from now, when kids have access to more superhero and action hero movies than they can wrap their heads around, things will once more be back to the way they were 10 years ago, before Disney decided to launch a massive MCU campaign. The Avengers films will be curios, hardly sufficing even as guilty pleasures. It's already obvious that the special effects in the film will age badly compared to Man of Steel, Transformers, District 9, Chronicle, War of the Worlds, Abrams Star Trek, and even the first Iron Man movie. Avengers doesn't even look like a Hollywood movie; more like a demo reel from some independent theme park ride company trying to pitch a replacement for the Back to the Future simulation ride at Universal Studios. Like a lot of people, I need a little nourishment even from popcorn films. Something richer and more satisfying than a bag of skittles or a 3-minute attraction.


Thu Aug 08, 2013 7:56 pm
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
"Consider how much money has been made from these characters in comics, TV, film, and endless merchandise. Because of these characters, the owners of DC and Marvel are very wealthy, as are their associates in their respective corporate parent companies."

Isn't this how corporates in America and the rest of the Western world ALWAYS operate? e.g. if I invented a new CPU at Intel, do you seriously think Intel would compensate me the BILLIONS of dollars said invention earned the company? Would you therefore also boycott Intel if this was the case? When you work for a corporation ALL the intellectual property you invent or create is THEIRS, not yours, THEIRS. I'm not saying it's right (or acting as an apologist for corporations which I generally loathe), but it is the way it is. One reason for this is fairly clear: you need to ask yourself, would the creator of Batman or The Avengers (or any other IP) have gained any money/fame whatsoever if they had created said IP WITHOUT the marketing muscle/branding of the corporation they work for? Does anyone working at US corporations expect to be paid a percentage of profits their creations might generate for said company (with the possible exception of banksters)? Conversely, how many workers generate no profit or even losses for the corporations they work for - i.e. do you feel they should also pay back the LOSSES a failed IP had on the company (which sometimes run into millions of dollars)? Didn't these employees sign, with open eyes, waivers saying all rights and eventual profits of their creations are exclusive property of the company?


Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:39 pm
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Post Re: Ken makes up for missed massively money-making movies.
MGamesCook wrote:
There's only one thing I'm left wondering about. I wonder to what extent the difference between the recent DC and Marvel treatments stems from the guys who happen to be in charge right now vs. the inherent depth of the actual characters and universes. Do the Avengers even have any potential for depth on any level at all? Would a Snyder-directed Avengers have been so different? Somewhat, perhaps, but I have my doubts as to how much. It seems more and more likely that DC is fundamentally deeper and more resonant on a conceptual level than Marvel. Green Lantern is a fairly poor movie overall, but even there I can see the greater philosophical, existential ambition behind it.

I've heard it said that DC's characters are more akin to mythology and Marvel's characters (especially when talked up by Stan Lee's carnival barker personality) are more akin to folk heroes or circus performers. While that's obviously a bit reductionist, it does get into how differently the two companies spin the archetypes that they draw upon. Universal vs. specific. Calculated blandness vs. calculated quirkiness. Etc.

nitrium wrote:
"Consider how much money has been made from these characters in comics, TV, film, and endless merchandise. Because of these characters, the owners of DC and Marvel are very wealthy, as are their associates in their respective corporate parent companies."

Isn't this how corporates in America and the rest of the Western world ALWAYS operate? e.g. if I invented a new CPU at Intel, do you seriously think Intel would compensate me the BILLIONS of dollars said invention earned the company? Would you therefore also boycott Intel if this was the case?
I'm not suggesting these people must be compensated to the tune of billions of dollars. I am suggesting that they be compensated in a way that is at least slightly reasonable in proportion to contribution that their ideas have made to the success of the companies. Zero dollars in royalties, no credit (in Finger's case) and extortion (in Kirby's case) do not constitute reasonable.

That said, If you invent a new computer component that completely reverses the fortunes of a small-time company for the better, a component that sells computers entirely by its reputation alone, a component so popular that it becomes the face of the company, a component whose reputation is so durable that its popularity endures for decades beyond any sort of predictable lifespan, a component that becomes a cultural icon in its own right, a component that subsequent creative people aspire to spend their careers working with... then damn straight, you don't deserve to be left nameless and in the dust by that company. Damn straight that company has a moral responsibility to do right by you. Damn straight I would avoid contributing money to the success of that component if I were to find out that such a thing had happened.

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When you work for a corporation ALL the intellectual property you invent or create is THEIRS, not yours, THEIRS. I'm not saying it's right (or acting as an apologist for corporations which I generally loathe), but it is the way it is.
I am acutely aware that companies with no legal obligation to do something are unlikely to do that thing out of a sense of moral obligation. Strangely, I do not find this to be a particularly compelling reason to absolve those companies of their actions.



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One reason for this is fairly clear: you need to ask yourself, would the creator of Batman or The Avengers (or any other IP) have gained any money/fame whatsoever if they had created said IP WITHOUT the marketing muscle/branding of the corporation they work for?
What brand? What marketing muscle? During the Depression, DC was an anonymous repackager of newspaper strips that occasionally dabbled in original content when it wouldn't cost them too much to do so--i.e. when the content generators were young Jewish men struggling to put bread on the table.

Know how DC gained marketing muscle and credibility as a brand? We can all venture an educated guess.

The early superheroes did not rise to prominence on the shoulders of DC Comics. It was very much the other way around. For a very small investment, and with very little marketing foresight on their part, the heads of the company found themselves balls-deep in sales. Do they deserve credit for making the investment and putting the work into the marketplace? Of course they do. I don't take that away from them at all. But make no mistake: it was the strength and uniqueness of the ideas that pulled DC up from obscurity.

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Does anyone working at US corporations expect to be paid a percentage of profits their creations might generate for said company (with the possible exception of banksters)?
If you liken them strictly to workers-for-hire, it's doubtful. If you liken them to creative people working in an entertainment enterprise--which they are--then yeah, there's a pretty big precedent for receiving residuals and bylines for their work. Monetarily, comics has hoisted itself out of the industry ghetto, but in terms of its attitudes toward its creative lifeblood, it has lagged behind the movie, the novel, recorded music, and just about any other arm of the entertainment business that you can think of.

Quote:
Conversely, how many workers generate no profit or even losses for the corporations they work for - i.e. do you feel they should also pay back the LOSSES a failed IP had on the company (which sometimes run into millions of dollars)?


Suggesting that creative people paying back the losses on a failed venture? That seems a bit sophist--once again, I'm not suggesting that we ignore the companies' role as investor. That said, I'm not sure what DC invested in Batman, but I believe they invested around $130 in Superman. (In unadjusted 1938 dollars, to be fair.) Would you consider it a multibillion dollar loss if Superman hadn't made it? I wouldn't. Maybe if you were an accountant in the industry, but other than that...

What I am suggesting is that the these companies are taking the opposite view--that the investment is all there is, that creative people like Finger and Kirby are effectively interchangeable, and that coming up with a new idea is fundamentally no different from working on an idea that already exists--as if ideas spring fully-formed from the ether and the creative people just write them down and draw them. The publishers and editorial heads pat themselves on the back for taking the risk without ever stopping to think about the utterly unique embarrassment of riches that they were fortunate to be able to take a risk on. I don't know if it's that they truly don't understand it or if it's strategic ignorance.

First and foremost, they believe that it's completely okay for an idea to earn billions of dollars and for none of it to go to the person who came up with the idea in the first place--and that the only way they should feel compelled to think otherwise is if someone even bigger and more powerful forces them to. Some people might agree with them. I have a fundamental difference in world outlook, personal philosophy, and perhaps even brain chemistry with those people.

Quote:
Didn't these employees sign, with open eyes, waivers saying all rights and eventual profits of their creations are exclusive property of the company?
Sure, they did. And it seems hopelessly naive to us that they did. Sure, they signed on the dotted line. They didn't foresee what would become of their creation, so they lose. And while nobody foresaw the immense return on investment, the company still takes all. Winner winner chicken dinner.

But not only are we not young Jewish writers/artists struggling to put bread on the table during the Great Depression and during an unprecedented time in which a ghetto industry was on the brink of an unexpected boom, we're also the 21st century beneficiaries of almost a century of rather ugly hindsight into the way that the entertainment industry tends to handle creative people. We now understand this treatment to be frequently amoral and exploitative. The fact that we know that it happens is not an excuse for it happening, neither is the fact that such treatment occurs (usually) within the bounds of the law.

And why not proudly trumpet Bill Finger's achievement to the world? What harm would it cause? Even if it's fully within the company's legal standing to do so, what good comes of suppressing his name and hoarding whatever pitiful amount of the DC fortune it would take to enable Batman to provide for the Finger family? And how in the hell does Marvel's standing as the legal copyright holder of the Avengers and a zillion other bonafide classic superheroes justify the downright maliciousness of the way they treated Kirby? If there's a good (i.e. not amoral and apologist) explanation for this, I'm all ears.

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Fri Aug 09, 2013 6:16 am
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