Friday, April 13, 2007

Marvel Movies: Iron Man And Ghost Rider Redux

I'll be honest. I'm not sure how I really feel about the upcoming Iron Man movie. After seeing the unintentionally laughable 300 on the weekend I'm getting both tired and frustrated with movies that appear to be CGI heavy and thus missing all human emotion. You can program the computer, but you can't make it react in a natural, human manner. Having said that there's some actors who make the CGI creations look like Sir Anthony Hopkins when it comes to acting, but hey. Sadly at least one of those actors, Gwyneth Paltrow, is in the Iron man movie (and stop trying to tell me she can act - she's a hopeless, one dimensional actress with limited range and is all that is wrong with the current American acting community. Without nepotism she'd be working as a customer service consultant somewhere). Having Robert Downey Jr cast as the part-time alcoholic Tony Stark was inspired though. With his past Downey (who actually IS a good actor) should play that part with ease.

The first images that have come through have given me some form of hope that the film makers might have gotten this one right, but I'll wait to pass judgement. I will say this, this one still has given me a lot to look forward to. I also note that it's more than likely that the film-makers have given creator credit on the film to Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby. That's very fitting and hopefully Lee and Lieber, along with the estates of Heck and Kirby, will be suitably rewarded, along with any other creator who's work is referenced for the movie.

In other news, for all of those who thought that I was out there and not making any sense at all when I felt that Marvel and/or Sony owed Dick Ayers a debt for using his creation in the Ghost Rider movie just read on. It appears that Gary Friedrich has thrown his hat into the ring as well. Here's the press release that crossed the desks of all mid this week:


"Ghost Rider" creator sues over copyright
By Leslie Simmons Reuters
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 5:49 AM

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.) - The creator of Ghost Rider has sued Marvel Enterprises, Sony Pictures Entertainment and several entities over what he claims is an unauthorized "joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize" his copyrights to the comic book character.

Gary Friedrich and his company filed the 61-page complaint April 4 in federal court in Illinois claiming 21 violations based on the production and marketing of Sony's recent "Ghost Rider," starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes. Friedrich claims the copyrights used in the film and in related products reverted from Marvel to him in 2001.

The defendants include Sony's Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, producers Relativity Media, Crystal Sky Pictures and Michael De Luca Prods. as well as Hasbro Inc. and Take-Two Interactive.

Friedrich alleges copyright infringement, and accuses Marvel of waste for failing "to properly utilize and capitalize" on the Ghost Rider character. Marvel's attempts to do so, Friedrich claims, have only damaged the value of his work by failing to properly promote and protect the characters and by accepting inadequate royalties from co-defendants. Friedrich also claims that toymaker Hasbro and videogame firm Take-Two have improperly created merchandise based on the
characters.

Friedrich created the character of Johnny Blaze and his alter ego Ghost Rider in 1968. Three years later, he agreed to publish the character in comic books through Stan Lee's Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment.

Under the agreement, Magazine Management became holder of the copyright for the first issue, which explains the origin story of Ghost Rider. Lee's company also held the copyrights to subsequent Ghost Rider works.

However, Magazine Management allegedly never registered the work with the Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, Friedrich regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.

"Nonetheless, without any compensation to and without any agreement, consent or participation of plaintiff ... in late 2006 or early 2007, the defendants herein wrongfully embarked upon a high-profile campaign, arrangement, joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize plaintiff's copyrights, the Johnny Blaze character and persona, the origin story and the related characters and personas created by plaintiff, in various endeavors, including, but not limited to, the use of the same in movie theater presentations and promotions, commercials, action-figure toys, video games, clothing and novels," the lawsuit states.

The "Ghost Rider" film opened February 16 in North America and has grossed an estimated $214.6 million in worldwide box office, according to boxofficemojo.com.

Friedrich seeks unspecified damages for claims of copyright infringement, violations of federal and Illinois state unfair competition laws, negligence, waste, tortuous interference with prospective business expectancy, misappropriation of characters,
unauthorized use of the characters and false advertising and endorsement.

A Sony spokesman said the studio had no comment on the suit and had not been served with the complaint.
It appears that part of the argument might be the use of Friedrich's character Hell Rider at Skywald. However if that's the case then things might get a tad tricky. Hell Rider, while it might appear similar, has enough differences to have the entire case thrown out. Ghost Rider is a man who sells his soul to the devil and becomes a demon at both day and night, creates his own flaming motorcycle and spits fire from his hands (and eyes in some cases). He turns into a flaming skeleton when he needs to (or is forced to) and punishes evil in all it's forms. Clear cut. On the other hand Hell Rider is a man who, due to an experiment, gains super human strength at times, rides a modified motorcycle that spits flame from the front and rides about getting beaten up by various people and having sex a lot. Marv Wolfman's claims for Nova and Blade were thrown out for less than that. I won't mention Steve Gerber and Howard The Duck because I'm not exactly sure what happened there.

If Friedrich has evidence that he created his version of the Ghost Rider in 1968, as he says he does, then he might have a claim. What I find interesting in the whole thing is the claim that Marvel 'allegedly never registered the work with the Copyright Office'. This isn't the first time I've seen such a claim made. Recently Tony Isabella wrote about something very, very similar in relation to another Marvel property, the Champions. Both the Ghost Rider case and the Champions case (if either make it to court proper) will be interesting to watch.

POSTSCRIPT TIME:
To all of those who said I was merely whinging about giving Dick Ayers credit for his creation and that Marvel would respond to emails etc etc - not a word. I've personally emailed Joe Quesada twice now, very politely, about the Dick Ayers/Ghost Rider situation and nothing. Nada. Guess he's too busy to get back, no great biggie as frankly I didn't expect him to reply. I did find upsetting that some people would take such great offence at what I wrote about Dick that they'd take the time to personally insult and abuse me on a mailing list, a list I've now left as I have no desire to be anyone's whipping boy, let alone the whipping boy of people as ignorant and rude as they are. As always, with most bullies, they missed the entire point and probably still do.

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