If the juicy, fact filled excerpts aren’t getting you to run down to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Sean Howe’s MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY, you must be dead to comics. io9 has a lengthy excerpt that goes right to the heart of the glory days of Lee and Kirby. I cut and pasted five different revelatory paragraphs before to settled on this one, regarding Carl Burgos, the original artist on the Human Torch, and his thoughts back in the 60s of trying to get the rights back.
Burgos was also at that time pursuing legal action against Marvel Comics over the Human Torch copyright. Then, one day in the summer of 1966, his daughter, Susan, watched as he destroyed every trace of his Marvel Comics career-which had to that point been hidden away from her. “I never saw his collection until the day he threw it all out. I just happened to be in the backyard this summer day and there was a whole pile of stuff in the yard. I took as many of the comics as I could carry back to my room, like they were some treasure. He came in and demanded that I give him my comics. . . . I got the impression that he either lost the case or something else had happened pertaining to it.” Again Burgos withheld details from his daughter, but over the years she learned the source of his ire. “I grew up believing that he came up with this fabulous idea,” she said, “and that Stan Lee took it from him.”
In fact, Burgos’s claims may have never made it to court; his dark ritual on that summer day may have instead been reaction to a new Marvel comic book. In early August, Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four Annual #4 featured Burgos’s original Human Torch, battling the new teenage Human Torch and the rest of the Fantastic Four. Cover-dated October 1968, it appeared exactly twenty-eight years after Marvel Comics #1-in other words, exactly as the initial twenty-eight-year copyright was expiring. The original Torch had been revived just long enough to ensure their copyright claim-only to be killed again, pages later. “Well, let’s face it,” mused the Thing when Burgos’s creation had been extinguished, “ya win a few . . .’n ya lose a few!” Lee had Johnny Storm, the last Human Torch standing, eulogizing his fallen predecessor this way: “He tried to defeat me . . . and yet, I can’t find it in my heart to hate him!”
For anyone who thinks that the battle over comics copyrights just began, it just isn’t so, but has been a sad part of comics history going back to Siegel and Shuster’s original, futile lawsuits.
On his equally essential tumblr, Howe has posted another ground zero artifact: one of Marvel’s checks with the infamous “voucher” on the back:
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.