Jack “The King” Kirby may have not been a superhero himself, but he sure was an unstoppable force in the annals of comic book history.
His prolific contributions to the comic book industry are still helping sustain the big two companies, Marvel and DC. Sadly, his contributions continue to go unrewarded.
For Marvel, Kirby created or co-created characters such as Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, The Hulk, The Silver Surfer and Thor. These are the foundations that still sustain the company and in recent years made them valuable enough for Disney to purchase Marvel for $4 billion. He not only created characters, but was a prolific and style-defining artist for the company. Many of the comic book artists who worked for Marvel benefitted from his experience, while he defined the company’s style and they learned at his drawing board.
In 1994 Kirby died of heart failure at the age of 76. Since then his estate has tried to regain the copyright ownership of these characters working with attorney Marc Toberoff who also helped the Siegel and Shuster airs regain some control and money regarding DC Comics’ Superman character that they created. Unfortunately, Kirby’s estate was given a severe blow this week as a federal judge in a New York court granted Disney/Marvel’s summary judgment and also denied the Kirby estates cross-motion for summary judgment. What this means is that the court has confirmed Marvel’s ownership of the characters and that Kirby’s work was “work-for-hire”. So, even though he helped create these extremely valuable assets for the company, his meager salary during those years is what he is entitled to. Surely without these characters, Marvel would not be valued at $4 billion.
This past summer’s movie list surely would have been a lot less interesting as well without Kirby’s contributions, so maybe Disney/Marvel should do the right thing and come to some agreement with his estate. And at least acknowledge the true value of his work.