Stan Lee Screwed Out of Spider-Man Profits

Slashdot linked to this article highlighting the Enron-like accounting system used by Hollywood. Stan Lee has a standing agreement with Marvel Entertainment that he is to receive 10 percent of the profits from any television or film venture using characters that he created.

Well, Spider-Man, raked in over $400 million in the United States, but under Hollywood accounting that means it didn’t make any profits at all and so Marvel has told Lee, sorry, but Spider-Man just wasn’t profitable. Lee is suing Marvel for $10 million and hoping he doesn’t get screwed out of profits for The Daredevil, Hulk, and the X-Men sequel.

Speaking of Spider-Man, the other day my wife and I are watching it with my daughter on DVD. During the big crowd fighting scene between Spidey and the Green Goblin, I tell my wife, “hey look, there’s a cameo with Stan Lee.” I rewind it and run it again, at which point she looks at me and asks, “Who’s Stan Lee?”

Men are from Zenn-La, women are from Venus, I guess.


Spider-Man creator sues Marvel. Reuters, Nov. 12, 2002.


Henry Hanks writes:

I can’t exactly shed a tear for the guy since he’s made every effort to take full credit for work that was partially due to the toil and sweat of others…

That may be, but I think the bigger issues is the persistent uses of creative accounting by Hollywood to make blockbusters appear unprofitable on paper so they don’t have to fulfill their contracts with writers and others intellectual property creators (but, of course, they then turn around and assert their own intellectual property interests to make damn sure that I don’t do something as horrible as make a backup copy of the Spider-Man DVD.)

The Future of “The Defenders”; and Printer Rejects Marvel Comic

It just abandoned the Comics Code a few weeks ago, and now ComicBookResources.Com reports that a printer stopped production on a Marvel book in mid print-run after deciding that the book, Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias #1, was “offensive.” The comic book is the first title under Marvel’s new “mature” imprint, MAX Comics.

And while I’m at it, ComicBookResources.Com has an outstanding interview with Kurt Busiek about the future story arc for “The Defenders” including a lot of spoilers.

Marvel Comics Abandons Comic Code Authority

Under pressure from Congressional investigations, in 1954 comic book publishers formed the Comics Magazine Association of America. With New York City magistrate Charles F. Murphy at its head, in October 1954 the organization publish one of the most restrictive codes of conduct every promulgated by an American media industry. The code was revised in the 1970s, but remained incredibly paternalistic. In May, marvel Comics became the latest to abandon the code in announcing that it would develop its own code of content and label its comics accordingly.

If anything, it is amazing that the code lasted as long as it did, but its abandonment has generally come down to economics. Given the huge changes in what was acceptable in film, music and fiction during the 1960s and 1970s, the code looked like an antique by the mid-1970s (when it was revised to allow for comic books to portray police and other authority figures as sometimes corrupt!)

Marvel’s Joe Quesada’s comments hit pay dirt,

In retrospect, thinking about the Code and the CMAA, I just think the CMAA did a very poor job with respect to letting people in the general public know that there were comics other than the one for kids, thus, I think in a lot of ways perpetuating the CMAA, and Marvel was a very big part of it.

As an aside, it is fascinating to look at the rhetoric which led to the clampdown on some of the best comic books ever published — especially the EC Horror comics — and notice that the rhetoric has survived almost unchanged, except directed at today’s popular youth obsession, video games and film. When Sen. Joe Lieberman gives a speech calling for an FTC investigation of the film and video games industries, his comments could have lifted almost verbatim from Frederic Wertham’s classic anti-comic book rant, Seduction of the Innocent (and it is worth remember that, like Lieberman, Wertham was not a member of some far right conservative movement, but instead was a progressive best known for his work with poor and minority communities in New York).


Marvel drops the code. Comicon.Com, May 16, 2001.

Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America. Bradford W. Wright, Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001.