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Stan Lee Takes Action

Something potentially ugly just happened at Marvel Comics, and we don't mean a scheduled nude photo shoot of The Thing.

The Dow Jones Business News reports that Marvel Enterprises has filed a Form 10-Q with the Securities and Exchange Commission, It states that Stan Lee has sent them a written claim for 10% of company profits earned from movies and television that use the company's characters.

No slouch, that Stan The Man (nor his lawyers), this includes any ancillary rights, meaning DVD and VHS, but also possibly extending into toys, games, and clothing that use the non-comics images. If Marvel doesn't pay, Lee threatens to sue (actual wording: "the threat of litigation").

According to the filing, Lee believes that the profits are owed to him under the employment agreement he signed with Marvel Enterprises on Nov. 1, 1998. That agreement revised Lee's lifetime deal with Marvel as "Chairman Emeritus," allowing him to participate in other ventures such as Stan Lee Media and writing for DC. (Rumors even have him working on a project for CrossGen.)

Under the recent agreement, Lee receives an annual salary of $1 million, and Marvel Enterprises dismisses Lee's claim as "…being without merit."

Does this really come as a surprise? With the success this year of Spider-Man, Lee has been in the spotlight a lot as the man who built Marvel, a claim few would dispute. Since May he has appeared as the subject of a documentary (Stan Lee: Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels -- review coming next week), commenting on Disney's animated Spider-Man home video releases, and of course in extras on the Spider-Man DVD. Just last week 60 Minutes II interviewed him for a piece on Marvel.

And that one should have been our clue that this was coming.

In a column published this week at Comic Book Resources, long-time comics writer Steven Grant points out that the venerable news show made Stan Lee into "…the national poster boy for creators' rights."

Despite having co-created Spider-Man, he has gotten no money from the movie's success, while Marvel President Avi Arad admits that the company has earned tens of millions of dollars from it. When asked if this bothered him, Lee declined to comment, and now we know why.

While it may be hard to feel sorry when the guy still makes a million a year from Marvel alone, the fact remains that others are making still more off of the children of his imagination. Should the guy see some more of that? We may find out in a court battle.

Before anybody writes complaining about the giant screw-over of Steve Ditko in this whole thing, please note that Ditko has refused any and all of Marvel's overtures to make peace with him over the movie version of Spider-Man. Lee mentioned at San Diego that Ditko would not even accept an invitation to a screening. Ditko is another story, and the reclusive artist refuses to tell it.

Derek McCaw

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