From the newswire: The Missouri Supreme Court's affirmation of the dismissal of Tony Twist's defamation suit against Spawn creator Todd McFarlane pretty much puts paid to the whole affair, unless Twist decides to seek relief from the United States Supreme Court.
(Back story: McFarlane gave one of the villains in his 'Spawn' comic book the same name as a St. Louis hockey player. Said hockey player sued McFarlane for gadzillions of dollars, coming up against the usual defenses that spring from that pesky Bill of Rights thing. To everyone's surprise - including, I'd suspect, the plaintiff's lawyers - Twist actually won the jury decision. The appellate court reversed the finding that same year, in large measure thanks to an absence of evidence, and Twist took that to the Missouri Supreme Court, to no avail.)
What's really interesting is how so many people were taking such perverse pleasure in McFarlane's legal troubles, between this suit and the ongoing tribulations with Neil Gaiman. It seems that many people want McFarlane to lose these battles, not out of any sense of right or wrong, but because of their devotion to Gaiman.
Well, that and their odd hatred for McFarlane.
I've liked McFarlane's work since his early days at DC, working with Roy Thomas on the All-Star Squadron spin-off 'Infinity, Inc.' series. He took over the series very unexpectedly; Jerry Ordway had been replaced recently by Don Newton, but Newton's untimely death left the door open for McFarlane's big break.
McFarlane's art early on wasn't exceptional, but what really stuck out was the experimentation with page composition and design. My guess is that the sales on the book were at exactly the right level for this: just high enough to ward off cancellation, but low enough to give McFarlane the editorial freedom to play.
He was on the book for about two years, culminating around the time he did the first two issues of the 'Invasion' event mini-series for DC, before moving on to Marvel for the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man.
Spider-Man, of course, is where people really started to notice his work, starting with his art on the David Michelinie scripts (which included the creation of Venom). That lasted another couple of years, before Marvel accommodated his request to write Spider-Man, in addition to providing art, by creating a brand-new Spider-Man series for him.
The new series sold phenomenally well, although the speculator frenzy and the hero worship in the fan press helped fuel those numbers. This is where the backlash against McFarlane has its roots, I think. Even apart from the tragically human practice of resenting others' successes, for a lot of people McFarlane was the poster child for artists who thought that they were so talented that they could displace seasoned writers. That the sales numbers were so great only inflamed that resentment and ill will.
Within two years, McFarlane and other artists had left Marvel to form Image Comics, with McFarlane's 'Spawn' series launching to stellar numbers. The people who thought he was too big for his britches before could now resent the supposed hubris in his wanting to be his own publisher, as could the Marvel Zombies upset that he had left Big Momma Marvel's house for the financially greener pastures of self-publishing.
There were also a lot of people who really didn't like what he was doing on Spawn, and were certainly vocal about it. I have to give McFarlane credit for the way he handled the criticism, though. He ran the negative letters, and answered them candidly, asserting that if people didn't like the book they way he wanted to do it, they were free to leave it on the comic rack. It's a shame that more publishers, film/television producers, and media executives don't have had that kind of courage and enthusiasm for personal responsibility.
A lot of the criticism consisted of complaints about McFarlane's writing abilities, so he responded by bringing in a quartet of guest writers: Alan Moore, Dave Sim, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman. It's the Gaiman-scripted issue that's caused the other half of McFarlane's legal affairs, but unless you've been living under a stack of comic boxes for the last couple of years, you know about this already.
Gaiman's issue introduced a character named Angela that has since become fairly important in the Spawn mythos, to the point of getting her own mini-series. Gaiman claims that he hasn't been properly compensated for the Angela property, which, combined with the never-ending kafuffle over the rights to the Miracleman (which Gaiman and McFarlane both own pieces of, the latter due to his purchase of the creative assets of the now-defunct Eclipse Comics) has led to Gaiman filing suit against McFarlane.
(I won't delve into the details of all of this here; just plug 'gaiman mcfarlane angela miracleman' into Google, and sit down for a long read.)
Gaiman, of course, is very highly regarded by loads of people, primarily for his Sandman series for DC. His comics work provided a springboard to mainstream success as a novelist, which has given him a certain cachet in the real world. He's earned a highly devoted fan-base that would dearly love to see McFarlane lose, for no other reason than that he's perceived, rightly or wrongly, as Gaiman's antagonist.
That's utter nonsense, and people need to understand that cases should be won or lost based on findings of fact and the applicable laws, and not on blind value judgements. McFarlane prevailed in the Twist matter because Twist's lawyers were unable to satisfy the burden of proof required by law, the jury verdict notwithstanding. Likewise, the Miracleman and Angela messes should be resolved the same way, and completely separately.
The Miracleman thing shouldn't be that difficult to resolve, just time-consuming and resource-intensive. You start at the beginning - which would be the pre-Miracleman (aka Marvelman) Captain Marvel reprints in the United Kingdom - and you trace the activity on the properties gradually, year by year, determining at each step who owns what, in full accordance with the appropriate UK and US copyright laws. When you have a situation in which it's unclear whether Quality Comics even had the rights to revive the characters in the first place, a pedantic approach starting at the beginning is the only way to proceed.
The Angela business should be a matter of contractual definitions, nothing more. Was it work-for-hire, as defined by the appropriate legislation at the time? Or did Gaiman retain ownership of the character? Like Miracleman, this is completely solvable - and Gaiman's suit may bring this about - but it will take time and resources to straighten out.
My guess? Logic and attention to detail are going to prevail in both of these matters, just as they did eventually in the Twist suit. When all is said and done, and the verdicts are in, all of the rhetoric and hyperbole will just amount to so much hot air, and all of this will just become a footnote in our collective comics memories.
Fleisher v. Groth, Ellison, et al, anyone?