One of the topics we’ve all had our eyes on here at Creator Watch 2012 is the Jim Starlin Thanos Situation. In brief, as you all know, Thanos was teased as a villain at the end of THE AVENGERS, and the announced Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be setting up some kind of cosmic menace for Marvel’s movie universe. And it just so happens that Thanos–and Gamora, who is a member of the GotG–were both created by Starlin as part of his run on Warlock.
In the case of Thanos, Starlin has posted evidence showing that he created the character prior to working at Marvel. And when asked about the character’s appearance in the third highest grossing movie of all time, it turned out that he had been in the dark about it. As if that wasn’t ominous enough, a Thanos miniseries to be written by Joe Keatinge was announced with great fanfare and then very hastily canceled, with no reason given, leaving room for all kinds of speculation that the character might be in some kind of ownership tussle.Well, Starlin attended Dragon*Con and spoke with Comic Book Therapy, and he reveals some of the behind the scenes, although in necessarily oblique fashion:
I know you’ve talked about your relationship, or lack thereof, with Marvel when you see these characters and things you’ve helped bring to life is that kind of a mixed feeling as you’re watching?
I didn’t know Thanos was going to be in the movie until a couple weeks before and so there were some mixed feelings on that. Marvel and I are now talking. I can’t say anything more than that at this point about it. As far as the books go, I stopped reading Thanos when I stopped writing it, so I have no feelings about anything anyone’s done with it because I don’t know what they are. [snip] I promised David Bogart I would say he was the best thing since sliced bread in my next interview. Things are doing much better, but you know we’re not done yet and will be eventually.
Starlin also professes no knowledge of why the Keatinge project fell apart:
I did talk to the author of it and he told me that they were going to go through and pretty much stick with what I had put down and he was going to do some time things with his mother that I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. It sounded like he had a good recap, which I’m not quite sure why you would need that these days because you have all the books in print.
That was one of the things many people were worried about as fans when that was announced, that they would be touching that.
That may have had something to do with why they decided to do it. I know they got a really good job right afterwards, you know, a replacement job so they’re not unhappy about it. I know the author was very hot to do it and I was really sorry to see it fall apart like that.
Why is Starlin and Thanos an issue anyway? Well, DC/WB’s policy is to pay original creators some money when their comics characters are used in film or TV. For instance, writer Chuck Dixon co-created the Bane character nearly 20 years ago (with Graham Nolan), and received some money for the character’s mumbly but memorable appearance in DARK KNIGHT RISES:
“Graham and I both signed participation agreements, which are good in perpetuity. So it’s not up to them whether they take care of us. We’re taken care of. We’ve seen money from Bane all along – the Lego games and the little Bane-shaped piece in the Spaghettios. We always get a piece of what Bane makes. We’ll see money from this movie. They have graphs and charts to figure out how much based on how many lines of dialogue he has and how much he’s in the movie and how much impact he has on the story. We were part of it the last time when Bane was in the last [Joel] Schumacher film really briefly. We participated in that.”
DC’s policy on this is very scrupulous, and no matter what else you may hear about the company, creators have had few complaints about getting paid for the use of their characters in other mediums, even under work for hire and no matter how small the role.
By contrast, Marvel has
no such policy, more muddled policies, doesn’t pay movie royalties and has been very active in defending themselves against lawsuits, including one filed by Marv Wolfman over the Blade character, and of course Gary Friedrich’s Ghost Rider suit. Marvel prevailed in both suits, but nowadays the idea of a creator taking to Twitter, Facebook and online media to complain about how they’ve been treated is something a company would prefer not to deal with.
As we’ve mentioned when discussing this story before, a very much alive and kicking Jim Starlin is far more of a potential thorn in the side to Marvel/Disney than a dead and buried Jack Kirby, but it’s good to know that the situation is being discussed.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.