Which led to an interesting phenomenon, though one not so rare in our culture as I’d prefer to believe. Various comics dot-coms wanted me to create something for them in the ’90s, so I dealt, briefly, with quite a few of them. The one thing that struck me, over and over, was how they kept talking about “content” yet none of them wanted anything with content. Or comics, for that matter. Their idea of comics was generally a throwaway idea with some very identifiable (i.e. “marketable”) character that could be turned into a 30 second Flash animation. It was very schizoid, too. They all preferred something vulgar, in order to draw quick attention, or racist or disgusting or anything that would generate an “Omigosh, can you believe someone did that?!!” response, because all of them based their long-range chances of survival on how quickly they could draw huge audiences. But their business plans was generally: “create” media franchises via web technology (the Flash animation); license the franchises to TV and movies for millions of dollars; sell off the company and properties for hundreds of millions of dollars and retire filthy rich, while having positioned as a media mogul.
I dare anyone to need more than one hand to count how many “comics” from those dot-coms became Hollywood movies. Or TV shows. Any? It wasn’t because the dot-com crash wiped them all out. It was because the “content,” almost across the board, had no content. No point of view, nothing to impart. I’m not talking about a controversial stance, I’m talking about nothing more than vaguely recognizable as plot or character. Stories? You should live so long.
Speaking of Stan, we haven’t had time to delve into all the filings on the new $750 million lawsuit against Marvel and Stan, but we took a little peek at some of them and the crux of the matter seems to be that Stan assigned his intellectual property to Stan Lee Entertainment (later Media) in October 1998 and then to Marvel in November 1998. (Although, by our reading, the plaintiffs would have to prove he owned Spider-Man, etc., prior to the Marvel agreement in order for Stan Lee Media to collect.) While that sounds kind of unlikely, it wouldn’t be the first time that Lee had sold two people the same thing.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Lee was Marvel’s ambassador to Hollywood and spent his days busily selling the rights to Marvel’s library to various producers, for drastically less than they are worth these days. Many times these rights overlapped in a way that would make Larry Gordon blush, most notoriously Spider-Man, as this article from 1998 shows:
The seven-year battle over the feature film rights to the Marvel Comics character has become Hollywood’s costliest and most convoluted legal spectacle. There are five lawsuits pending before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Valerie Baker, with as many as 18 separate written agreements at issue.
Last month, a Delaware judge overseeing Marvel’s bankruptcy cleared the California cases for trial, which could begin before the end of the year. But that still leaves Baker confronted with a tangled mess.
“Spider-Man could be a movie, or it could be litigation,” said Howard Weg, an attorney who represents the liquidating trust of Carolco Pictures, which claims to have acquired the movie rights in 1989 but went bankrupt in 1995. “All the entities involved have elected not to make a movie, but litigation.”
Legal wrangling over who owned the rights to Spider-Man — involving Canon, Columbia, Carolco, and James Cameron — dragged on for years and years, but luckily they cleared up just in time for Sam Raimi to take over the franchise, so it’s all good.
Anyway, everyone knows Stan’s memory has never been very good, so he could have just forgotten who he gave the rights to here and there. To which we can only say, you gotta pay attention to these kinds of things.