I don't post often at Robot 6, but a few weeks ago this opinion by Grant Morrison appeared there:
You look at the people who created those characters [i.e. Superman et al], and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.
There weren't a lot of responses to this thread, but most of them condemned Morrison's comment as-- let's see here-- "a weak cop-out."
I replied to both the Morrison attack and some questions about Bob Kane as well as Siegel and Shuster:
Re: Bob Kane– well, even before the incident where Kane claimed he’d been a minor, it’s my understanding (going on mainly the Gerard Jones book) that Kane brought in a lawyer to hash out his contract with National/DC. Jones represents that Siegel and Shuster did not do so, which if true has to go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes ever. And it’s all the more puzzling because at the time DC bought Superman, S&S weren’t two poor Cleveland kids any more. They’d been selling their work regularly to DC for 2-3 years up to that point and should have been relatively solvent, even before the Superman deal.
I don’t see anything despicable in what Morrison has said. The ethics of the deal DC negotiated can make fertile ground for discussion, but none of that discussion will show DC putting a gun to the creators’ heads to make them surrender Superman. I think it’s quite possible that S&S were just a little too hungry for a hit, and didn’t think about all the consequences.
We venerate EC today. But was William Gaines any more of an angel than Jack Liebowitz? (Well, probably more of one than Mort Weisinger, because everyone sounds nicer compared to MW!)
There are any number of horror stories about creators who did nasty crap to their friends and relatives, but ended up producing great artworks. Should we dismiss the works because we don’t like the workers?
I was hoping for a frank discussion of these matters. A day later I posted:
What happened to all the people badmouthing Morrison? Hello?
Morrison's comment about the necessity of having a good "business head" applies not only to the case of the SUPERMAN creators, but to the recent resolution of the Kirby Family's suit against Marvel. In brief, the judge ruled that the Kirbys' lawyer had not demonstrated that Kirby's contributions qualified as anything but "work for hire," thus invalidating the Family's claim for copyright renewal rights.
Steve Bissette in particular was incensed by the verdict, and has called for a boycott of Marvel Comics. But if the Kirbys were unable to supply to their lawyer sufficient proof of Kirby's having independently created the Marvel Universe, whose fault is that?
Some fans would say it's Stan Lee's fault, for not having nobly broken ranks with Marvel orthodoxy in order to declare Kirby's creative status (though it's questionable how much such a declaration would have mitigated against the definitions of work-for-hire). I would not expect Stan to say everything the Kirby Kultists take as gospel, but I will certainly admit that he has probably muddied the historical waters for his own benefit.
But the first person at fault in my book has got to be the guy who didn't keep adequate records of what he pitched to Marvel and under what conditions. I need not mention any names, but he was around, as many people besides me have pointed out, to see what happened to Siegel and Shuster when they lost SUPERMAN.
I couldn't re-locate the BEAT post where someone mentioned the "settlement conferences" between the Kirbys and Marvel's lawyers. I don't imagine Marvel offered very much, for the Kirbys didn't have a strong case. But it's not quite right to say, as some fans have, that Marvel didn't make any offer of compensation, even if they were just trying to make the case go away. I assume the Kirbys declined the offer because they're still bullish on a future appeal, but I can't see what information they can put together that will mitigate the work-for-hire verdict.
Finally, on both ROBOT 6 and THE BEAT, I noticed that a lot of fans were attacked if they didn't support the Kirby Kase; Tom Spurgeon in particular accused many of them of finding the fictional characters more important than the people who created them. This is a familiar brickbat indeed, and bears no small resemblance to the "cop out" accusation made against Morrison. My position is that though I've no problem with creators from the Bad Old Days trying to gain compensation, I don't automatically think that everyone who disagrees with me is valuing Superman over Jerry Siegel. This fan-slagging canard smells a lot like a distraction from the elephant in the room: that even given the inequities of the period, guys like Siegel and Kirby did make some really bad deals.
And the reasons why they may have done so will never come down to issues as black and white as Superman's latest battle against Luthor.