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The Wednesday Waffle Issue #30: Money and applause!

Hello! It's Wednesday! It's New Comic Book Day and you can click here to see this week's rack, which features some awesome new titles - including Marvel's Aliens #1.

It's another opinionated Waffle this week, provoked by a comment from writer Ed Brubaker about The Winter Soldier...

It is said that Love of Money is the root of all evil. Personally I think that over states things a little - to be philosophical about it, Evil has more than one root.

However. In the creative industries the two greatest sources of discontent, anger and frustration are most definitely money and recognition. For decades, for example, writer Bob Kane was given sole credit for the creation of Batman. Co-creator, the artist Bill Finger was disregarded until relatively recently, in spite of the fact that several key aspects of the character were in fact, Bill Finger's idea. That was clearly unjust, and I am happy to say that in recent years DC have taken action to deal with the situation.

Similarly, although they were always acknowledged as the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster didn't see very much of the great wealth the character created for DC until very late in their lives. Indeed, they spent most of their adult lives fighting with DC in one forum or another either to get control of their character, or to obtain what they felt would be appropriate remuneration. Indeed, it wasn't until a concerted public campaign in the mid-seventies, as Richard Donner's movie was in production that DC were shamed into granting the pair a stipend.

Deadpool makes his first appearance. Art by Rob Liefeld
Deadpool makes his first appearance. Art by Rob Liefeld

And of course, it's not just DC that has this issue - not by a long way. It might not be entirely Stan Lee's fault, but people assuming that he created every character in the Marvel universe by himself is a perennial problem. I had a very long lecture on social media not that long a go from a teenager who insisted that Stan Lee had created Deadpool, for example.

Of course, it's not always easy - especially as characters pass through many, many sets of creative hands over the years with each writer and artist adding something new to the mythos.

Deadpool is a great example here, in fact. Most people - including me until I looked it up - will tell you that the Merc with a Mouth was created by writer/artist Rob Liefeld. But he wasn't - not entirely. Writer Fabian Nicieza was also involved. But that was only the start. It was writer Joe Kelly who introduced the action comedy vibe which is now such an inherent part of the character. Other writers, such as Gail Simone developed the character still further. The current version of Deadpool - the one that was adapted for the movies - is very different to the character who first appeared in New Mutants #98. So can we still say that only Liefeld and Nicieza deserve the credit?

It's a complicated issue which the recent debut of WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ has brought into focus. Did you notice the epic list of "Thank Yous" in the WandaVision credits? I mean, you probably didn't, I strongly suspect that nobody sat all the way through them. But it's the Falcon and the Winter Soldier that has caused the greatest comment.

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

It's all about Bucky Barnes, who is about as complicated as it gets. He's been around for a long time - first appearing in Captain America #1, dated 1941. He was co-created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to be a kid sidekick. In effect he was Robin to Captain America's Batman - somebody for the hero to explain the plot to, to provide some comic relief and be a character that the young readers could identify with.

So far so good.

That's not the version of Bucky we see on the screen though. The Bucky we see in the MCU is all grown up. He has a metal arm. He was brainwashed to be an assassin. He is the Winter Soldier. And that version of Bucky is pretty recent.

He was created in the comics in 2005 - just three years before Iron Man kicked off the MCU. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting resurrected Bucky during their run on the Captain America comic - pretty much in the form we see him on screen. Just as in the movies, the canon at the time was that Bucky had been killed in the Second World War.

It was Brubaker and Epting who came up with the idea that his badly injured, near dead body had been found by a Soviet patrol, that General Karpov took him to Moscow and that there he was brainwashed, given the robotic arm and programmed to be a killer.

For all intents and purposes you could argue that this version of Bucky was in fact a completely new character made out of almost whole cloth. And it's fair to say that Marvel has acknowledged that Brubaker and Epting did create The Winter Soldier that we all know and love. Ed Brubaker even got to make a cameo appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So far, so good.

Brubaker though, is a little unhappy. You can read the whole story over on Comics Beat, but essentially it boils down to this:

Brubaker loves Sebastian Stan's portrayal of the character, he's never had a problem with anyone at Marvel or Marvel Studios, but that he and Epting have never really had more than a "thanks" for creating this character who is now such a lynchpin of the MCU and that "over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with." He added that "I’ve even seen higher-ups on the publishing side try to take credit for my work a few times, which was pretty galling"*.

And I can see the point. Just as with Siegal, Shuster and Superman, this version of Bucky is making Marvel Studios/Disney a whole bunch of money and the people responsible for making that happen aren't seeing a dime of it. I can see how that would rankle.

It's not an isolated incident either. Bucky's fellow MCU alumni Rocket Raccoon was created in 1976 by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen. He wasn't a big deal for most of his existence, but hit the comics big time in 2008 when he was included as one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. As a result of that inclusion he was also part of the Guardians when they hit the big screen in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Rocket Raccoon - art by Keith Giffen, words by Bill Mantlo. (c) Marvel Comics

Suddenly Rocket was everywhere. But like Siegal, Shuster and Brubaker before him Mantlo never saw a cent. He was, sadly, not in much of a position to care. As the result of a hit-and-run incident in 1992 Mantlo suffered a serious and irreparable brain injury and has been in institutional care ever since - which when you're a citizen of the U.S.A. is a very expensive thing.

Mantlo's own funds were exhausted long ago and recently his brother Michael, who as a result of Mantlo's loss of capacity acts as his guardian, was forced to launch a go fund me campaign to raise the money need to pay medical bills. He had previously reached out to Marvel, but received no assistance.

Legally this is all perfectly reasonable. The contracts that staff and freelancers signed were pretty clear and pretty straightforward. Generally known as "work for hire" contracts they usually state that any and all work done under such terms becomes and remains the intellectual property of the publisher. The only financial reward for the creator is the fee that they are due for that work, and (if they had a decent agent) royalties on any reprints.

But the characters created belong to the publisher, to do with as they please.

Legally there's no issue here.

Morally though?

There are cases where it might genuinely be difficult to unpick who should be in line for a cheque. But not in the case of The Winter Soldier or Rocket Raccoon. And in the case of Bill Mantlo it really wouldn't hurt Disney - who frankly have all the money at this point - to do the decent thing and pony up some cash. The sorts of figures involved would be little more than pocket change to Disney, but would be genuinely life changing for Mantlo.

I appreciate that they don't want to open the "who owns what?" can of worms, but they don't have to. They could simply pay over a couple of million as a "gesture of good will". Heck - their marketing department could spin it into positive publicity that would be worth a couple of million. And that would enable Michael Mantlo to ensure that his brother gets the care he needs.

Here at Desties we bang on about how geekdom in general and comics in particular is a community. At at the level that we operate it really is. It seems a shame that at the level where there actually is some money available things appear to be so very different.

*Brubaker doesn't name names on that, but he's clear in his comments that the guilty party wasn't his then editor Tom Breevort. We're happy to make that clear.