Most of the time Stan Lee is Smilin' Stan, the energetic, happy-go-lucky face of Marvel Comics who's been lauding the joy of comic books for five decades now. But there are things that get him grumpy, and apparently one of those things is asking him why his former partner and Avengers co-creator Jack Kirby's name doesn't appear in the credits for Marvel's The Avengers.
Lee and Kirby created Earth's Mightiest Heroes together back in 1963, part of a string of collaborations that also included the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk. The two worked together for more than a decade, ushering in the Silver Age of comics, before Kirby left Marvel for DC in 1970 over persistent dissatisfaction with the way he was treated as a creator. Since his death Kirby's estate has waged several legal battles with Marvel over both the rights to the characters Kirby helped create and the ownership of his original art.
Kirby's Marvel troubles continue to be a rallying point for advocates of comic creators' rights, as well as a persistent source of fan anger that's only grown in the lead-up to the release of the Avengers film. Most recently the issue was highlighted in an op-ed by Comics Alliance's David Brothers, who said the Avengers issue drives him "crazy," and claimed he no longer buys Marvel comics.
But while Kirby fought Marvel, Lee embraced it. He rose through the ranks from editor-in-chief to president, and continues to be a public figurehead for the company. His name will appear in the Avengers credits (as it has in every other Marvel film to date) as an executive producer, but fans contend that Kirby should also be credited as a creator. While promoting the new documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, Lee was asked if he thinks Kirby's name should appear in the credits.
"I don't know how to answer that because in what way would his name appear?" Lee asked.
The interviewer explained that Kirby's name isn't included as a co-creator of the characters, and Lee responded that Kirby already has been credited ... in the comics.
"Well it's mentioned in every comic book; it says 'By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby,'" Lee said.
The interviewer clarified again that because The Avengers will expose characters Kirby co-created to a much wider audience (and, by the way, make Marvel helicarrier-loads of money), fans feel he should receive credit for the characters in the film. Lee responded by both ducking the question and trying to change the subject.
"I know, but you're talking to the wrong guy because I have nothing to do with the credits on the movies. I'm credited as one of the executive producers because that's in my contract. But Jack was not an executive producer. So I don't know what he'd be credited as. Again I know nothing about that, I have nothing to do with the movie's credits. You'd have to talk to whoever is the producer of the movie. Is there anything you want to ask me about the documentary because I thought that's what I was supposed to be talking about."
Kirby died in 1994, before he ever would have had a chance to sign an executive producer contract for Marvel's blockbusters. It's probably true that Lee himself has no control over who is or isn't credited in Marvel films, but comments like this will just add more fuel to the fan-rage fire.