Disney's legal memo supporting Marvel's position against the heirs of Jack Kirby this week got me thinking. Not, necessarily, about the legal positions adopted by all parties involved, but more along "What If" lines (Somewhat fittingly). Namely, what if Kirby's heirs won?
For those coming in late, the heirs of comic creator Jack Kirby are suing Marvel and Disney to terminate the copyrights of Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Thor, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, Rawhide Kid and material created between 1958 and 1963 for Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Amazing Adventures and Tales To Astonish, a suggestion that both Marvel and Disney, unsurprisingly, take issue with. But what if, somehow, they got what they wanted?
Marvel, of course, would be in trouble, not only losing the ability to publish a large percentage of their line (Even assuming that non-Kirby characters and series spun out from the Kirby series - X-Factor, War Machine, and so on - would remain with Marvel) but also having to surrender the rights to almost every active movie project at multiple studios (No surprise, perhaps, that Marvel is moving forward with a movie based on Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways, which will not be affected by any ongoing lawsuits coming from the Kirby heirs' demands), effectively - if, presumably, only temporarily - wiping them out as a multimedia power altogether.
Perhaps more worryingly, what would Disney do with a Marvel devoid of the reasons it bought the company in the first place? It wouldn't just be that the big name characters would be gone, but a large chunk of the mythology responsible for the remaining characters would be missing as well (Remove the Avengers, FF and X-Men from the Marvel Universe, and what are you really left with?) - Would Disney really care about a company whose flagship characters are Luke Cage and Captain Marvel, or care enough to not think about offloading the stripped publisher to someone else?
All of this assumes, of course, that - were they to gain the rights to all of the characters and concepts they're asking for - the Kirbys wouldn't just license them back to Disney/Marvel for some likely-to-be-undisclosed sum, which is admittedly a massive assumption; no matter how bitter the legal arguments may get, it would be within both parties' best interests to not completely burn bridges or destroy the possibility of working together at a later date. I mean, aside from DC/Warners, who else would have the ability (read: money) to offer the Kirbys as good an offer as Marvel/Disney, and from Marvel's point of view, they get to keep old material in print and not require a Crisis-style continuity reboot or some similarly inventive workaround. It's these two last points that makes me think that it's unlikely that this subject will get resolved in any way other than a generous settlement before it ends up in court - It's in both parties' ultimate best interests, after all - as much as the vulture in me longs for a long and bloody legal battle full of disclosures and stunning revelations.
But, just imagine - What do you think would happen if Marvel didn't have the Kirby creations to play with?