Jack Kirby's estate sues: Will Marvel lose control of Iron Man?

Contributed by
Jul 4, 2015

Looks like Iron Man's biggest threat isn't Whiplash, the villain of this summer's blockbuster sequel, but rather a lawsuit that puts the character's ownership—and that of many other Marvel superheroes—in jeopardy.

Jack Kirby's children have officially sued Marvel to terminate copyrights and gain profits from Iron Man, Spider-Man, the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and other characters, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The heirs of the comic-book icon filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles as a follow-up to a September move when the estate sent out 45 notices of termination to Marvel and owner the Walt Disney Co., as well as Sony, Universal, Fox and others, hoping to recapture control of much of Kirby's work. Back in January, Marvel countersued, asking a judge to invalidate notices.

You can read the complete filing by Marc Toberoff, attorney for the Kirby estate, here.

Paragraph #19 gives an idea of how large a swath of the Marvel Universe the lawsuit would affect:

Between 1958 and 1963, Jack Kirby authored or co-authored numerous original comic book stories featuring a variety of characters, including "The Fantastic Four," "X-Men," "Iron Man," "Spider-Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor," "The Avengers," "Nick Fury" and "Ant-Man," which were purchased by Marvel's Predecessors and published in their following periodicals: Amazing Adventures, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-6; Amazing Fantasy, Vol. 1, No. 15; The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-7; The Avengers, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-2; The Fantastic Four, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-21; The Fantastic Four Annual, No. 1; Journey Into Mystery, Vol. 1, Nos. 51-98; The Incredible Hulk, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-6; The Rawhide Kid, Vol. 1, Nos. 17-35; Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-4; Strange Tales, Vol. 1, Nos. 67-115; Tales of Suspense, Nos. 1, 3-48; Tales to Astonish, Vol. 1, Nos. 1, 3-50; and The X-Men, Vol. 1, Nos. 1-2 (hereinafter, the "Kirby Works").

The suit is careful to recognize that many of these properties were co-created with others, and so refers to them as Co-Owned Kirby Works, rather than seeking sole ownership rights. The lawsuit makes no mention as to what the proper restitution would be, though The Hollywood Reporter suggests that "any termination of copyrights could be worth tens of millions of dollars, if not more."

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