Collaborative mediums can lead to some interesting situations with regards to credit owed. Things can be even more prickly when ego gets involved. As Deadpool was breaking records at the box office over the Valentine’s Day weekend, we got to see quite a bit of that with discussions of credit over Deadpool’s origins.
Recent interviews with Deadpool creators Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicienza (See here and here) not only display an interesting contrast in generosity towards a co-creator of a character- Liefeld at one point in the interview downplaying Nicienza’s contributions to the character by stating he alone did all the heavy lifting and that a janitor could have scripted Deadpool’s first appearance (New Mutants #98) and earned co-creator credit for it –but also in the individual perception of how important the different aspects of the creative process are.
However, before we tackle Deadpool I want to look at a few other creations and see where we might place the lion’s share of credit for not only creation, but for the popularity of the creation as well.
Wolverine is an interesting character to discuss when these things come up. His creators are unquestioningly and inarguably Len Wein, John Romita, Sr., and Roy Thomas. But the Wolverine these men created was barely even the beginning of the Wolverine we all know. Hell, some of his most basic abilities weren’t even intended to be his abilities by his original creators.
Len Wein had originally intended Wolverine to be a younger character, something in the style of Spider-Man with regards to agility, physicality, and wit. That changed when Dave Cockrum draw a hairy, 40+ unmasked Wolverine. Len Wein also originally intended Wolverine’s claws to be a part of his gloves. It was Chris Claremont who would make the claws an integrated part of his body once he got the character on X-Men. Claremont would also later have the claws be a natural part of his mutation even before his skeleton was laced with adamantium when he was enhanced by the Weapon-X program.
Claremont would certainly have a strong level of creative control over the character’s earliest major arcs of development, but he wasn’t a favorite character for Claremont. Indeed, at one point he wanted to remove the character from the book. Most fans would have actually been fine with this. In what seems like a discussion of another universe rather than another decade, Wolverine wasn’t a hugely popular character with the fans either. It was John Byrne’s petitioning to keep Wolverine on the book that kept him there.
Byrne would contribute to Wolverine’s character and backstory; including introducing Alpha Flight into the Marvel Universe in order to expand on Wolverine’s history. But it still wasn’t the Claremont/Byrne team that truly propelled Wolverine to the position he would achieve as the fan favorite Marvel character the company would later treat like a bigger franchise character than the team he was a part of. That moment came in the form of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s Wolverine miniseries.
Many of the eventual character traits and backstory most fans view as essential and vital elements of Wolverine- as well as his catchphrase –can trace their genesis to that miniseries. Those four issues in 1982 redefined Wolverine as an existing character and defined him as a character for many fans. For the better part of the next few decades, even outside of comic books, much was built on the things introduced to the character in 1982 more so than it was on what we had seen in the earliest X-Men appearances and far more so than what we saw in his first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #181.
Again, no one can really argue the fact that Len Wein, John Romita, Sr., and Roy Thomas were the creators of Wolverine. They were there to put him on the page for the first time. They were the ones who were there when he was given his first moments of four color life. But can we also call Byrne, Miller, and (especially) Claremont Wolverine’s eventual secondary co-creators? Or would you call them principle co-contributors? They built almost everything we think of when we discuss Wolverine, and it was certainly Claremont who spent the most time refining that creation just before and during Wolverine’s ascent to the top of geek culture’s popularity charts.
Batman is another creation with more than a few hands involved in his early days. He’s also a character where you can find some of the most heated discussions about just who should or should not get credit for him.
In the wake of Superman’s success, Editor Vince Sullivan asked a young Bob Kane to create a hero to run in another series. Kane went home and created Batman. The thing is, he didn’t create the Batman we know and love. He came up with the name, and based on the name he created the visuals for the character. The basic outfit is there, including something that looks like a utility belt, but the colors are all wrong with the majority of the costume being bright red. The trademark cowl and pointed ears were missing as well since this Batman design had only a domino styled mask. Batman’s cape was also absent. In its place was a set of more or less fixed bat-like wings. Kane called Bill Finger to give him a hand. Bill suggested the darker colors, the cowl and ears, and the cape that would hang loose when standing but open to mimic the wings when in motion.
So we started with a basic concept, a name, and a template visual created by Kane. We end up with a basic concept and name created by Kane with a costume designed by Kane and Finger based on Kane’s original design. The thing is, despite that looking at first as if the lion’s share of the heavy lifting was Bob Kane’s, many (if not most) comic professionals and historians will tell you, sometimes rather forcefully, that Bill Finger deserves far more credit for the creation of Batman.
While Kane’s name appeared on many early stories and he oversaw their creation, occasionally doing the art as well, most people now credit Bill Finger with the things we most associate with Batman. It was Bill Finger who named his alter ego “Bruce Wayne” and made Batman the world’s greatest detective. It was Bill Finger who named Batman’s home city as Gotham City. It was Bill Finger who contributed in the creation of many of Batman’s most famous villains like Cat-woman, Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, and Clay-Face.
Gardner Fox and Bill Finger have both laid claim to Batman’s origin story, and Kane, Finger, and Kane’s art assistant Jerry Robinson have all claimed at one time or another to have collectively come up with Robin. The Joker is also a character that Kane and Finger both lay claim to while citing different inspirations, but it was Finger who wrote the character’s first appearance.
Again, in the world of comic book professionals and historians, it’s Bill Finger who is seen as the man who did the heavy lifting with regards to creating Batman. Even in the world of hardcore comic fans, you’ll find people who will come across as angry when talking about the issue. Still, at least none of them ever slapped Bob Kane over the issue as one pro once reportedly did.
This brings us back to Deadpool. By pretty much all accounts it was Liefeld who drew the first sketch and came up with the name. Liefeld also plotted or co-plotted the issue he first appeared in with Nicienza scripting. It was however Nicienza who created the character’s alter ego, his style of speaking, his attitude, and the tragedy of his seeking a cure that cost him a bit of his sanity and ability to function as a normal, healthy person in society. But, even given all of that, the interesting thing with Deadpool’s first appearance is he isn’t really the Deadpool we now all know and love.
Deadpool was a villain with attitude, but he wasn’t yet the “Merc with a Mouth” most people think of when they talk about Deadpool. While Nicienza’s scripting gave the character an attitude and sensibility that set Deadpool apart from the other dime a dozen, trigger happy villains popping up monthly at that time in Marvel’s books, he still had to go through a bit of an evolution before getting to where he needed to be. He was going to see several years of tweaks and changes, and the changes the character was about to see were largely not Liefeld’s doing.
Deadpool made a handful of X-Force appearances in the title’s first year, but that was the limit of Liefeld’s contributions to the development of the character. Liefeld was one of several artists to have a falling out with Marvel, leading all of them to go off and form Image Comics. Nicienza remained the writer of X-Force for several years after that, shaping the character’s personality and attitude over that time in both X-Force appearances and the character’s first limited series.
Mark Waid would later work on the character in another miniseries before writer Joe Kelly and artist Ed McGuinness would take the character on in 1997 for Deadpool’s ongoing series. It may have been six years after the character first saw his debut, but this series may have been the most important part of the character’s evolution into becoming the Deadpool we all know and love. Indeed, it’s this era of the character that the creators behind the film have cited as the inspiration for their take on the character. Christopher Priest and Gale Simone would later do time on the character as well before Nicienza would return to the character for a close to five year run on Cable & Deadpool.
Now, no one sane would dismiss Liefeld’s contribution to the character or seek to diminish his status as the character’s co-creator just as no one sane should seek to do either of these things with regards to Nicienza. Nicienza was very much Deadpool’s Bill Finger and Chris Claremont rolled into one, and Joe Kelly can make a claim at having something of a Miller/Claremont status with regards to Deadpool’s evolution and overall growth in popularity.
Going back to the question posed above; the people that came to the character later on certainly aren’t co-creators by any stretch of the imagination. But they are people who should be seen as contributors to the mythos who are almost as important as co-creators. Not everyone who comes along later and works on a character should be given the same level of accolades as the actual co-creators, but certainly the people who came along, turned the concept a bit sideways, and created a new(ish) take that launched the character’s popularity into the stratosphere do.
You’ll see a lot of that with collaborative mediums and work for hire creations. You’ll even see it with some of the most famous creations in the world when you start looking at how much of what you see as the “essential” basics of a creation weren’t a product of the mind(s) of the original creator(s). For example- No one can reasonably argue that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were not the creators of Superman, but you might be surprised by how much of what you consider the “essential” aspects of Superman were in fact the creations of others; sometimes even from other creative mediums than comic books.
Aspects of Superman’s origin were also shaped by the contributions of Russell Keaton, a Buck Rogers comic strip ghost artist, who worked pre-publication with Siegel during a brief period of separation between Siegel and Shuster. His idea was for a man living on the dying Earth of the future to send his son back in time to help save the future. The infant would travel back in time to heartland America and be found and adopted by Sam and Molly Kent.
Superman’s most famous tagline, that one about his speed, power, leaping tall buildings and such, was created by Jay Morton and not used until the radio serials and animated shorts.
The animated shorts also brought in new abilities. Superman couldn’t fly. He could leap or hop approximately 1/8 of a mile or so, but that was it. The ability to fly was a request by the Fleischer Studios to DC in order to not have Superman hopping like a bug when traveling any great distance. This was also a time that saw his strength and invulnerability increase quite a bit. As originally conceived, Superman could be hurt by high powered artillery shells. That obviously went away for transitions into other mediums, and those changes impacted the book’s Superman.
The source of Superman’s powers changed over the years as well. Once it was simply his alien heritage. His people were what he was. This changed over time to being a result of Earth’s lesser gravity and eventually that was changed into his powers being the effects Earth’s yellow sun on his alien physiology.
Kryptonite is seen as an essential element of Superman’s origin stories, but it didn’t come along until later. An unpublished Superman comic story reportedly had a precursor to kryptonite in it- although not named as such –but the element we all know and love was created for the Superman radio serial in 1943. It didn’t appear in the comic as an official part of the Superman mythos until 1949, and even then it was red rather than green. It didn’t become green until 1951.
Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen wasn’t there for him until Superman’s radio days either. While some point to an earlier comic with an unnamed office boy with a bowtie standing in the background as Jimmy’s first comic appearance, the character was neither named nor used in a way familiar to us as Jimmy Olsen. That character as we know him is a product of the radio show that was later moved to the comic books.
The same is true for ace editor Perry White. Like Jimmy, Perry is considered an essential part of the Superman mythos by many. Like Jimmy, he was born by the creative team behind the radio show and only later introduced into the books. Oh, and originally The Daily Planet was known as The Daily Star.
Lana Lang, a character fans will complain about being left out of adaptations or stories going back to the basics, was a later addition created by Bill Finger and John Sikela. Lori Lemaris was likewise a later creation by Bill Finger and Wayne Boring. While Lex Luthor and the impossible Imp Mister Mxyzptlk sprang from the minds of Superman’s co-creators, probably the third member of his most well-known trio of adversaries, Brainiac, was a later addition curtesy of Otto Binder and Al Plastino.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Despite the confusion one can find in the work for hire environment and in collaborative mediums, as well as the unfortunately not so occasional rise of petty egos, we can nail down credits for creators and co-creators of various characters fairly easily these days. It hasn’t always been easy and it’s not something some publishers have always wanted to do, but it can be done. But at times like this, when a character rises to near pop culture dominance in its original medium and then busts out beyond even that in the way we all saw with Deadpool on its opening weekend, the people who were essential in that explosion of popularity should be getting damned near the same recognition and credit.
There are much loved and enjoyed characters in and aspects of the Deadpool mythos in the film that were not the product of the original creators. No, as I’m sure some people are jumping to their keyboards to type, those things would not have been added in, would never have existed, had the original act of creation not taken place. But, given they exist and are so loved on top of having helped propel the popularity of the character beyond even what the original co-creators could do, does that matter here? Daredevil was created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. Does anyone truly believe we’d have an awesome Netflix show and the character we’ve seen portrayed there had their creative hands been the only or primary ones on the character over the years? Would anyone actually argue that the creative elements, the ideas and flavor drawn on for the show, owe more to later Daredevil creators like Frank Miller and John Romita Jr. among others than they do Lee and Everett?
I’m not attempting to diminish what Stan Lee and Bill Everett did just as I’m not attempting to diminish what Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicienza did. No one should try to diminish or deny what any of them brought to the table, but we are talking about work for hire characters in a collaborative creative environment that have been around for a little bit. While it’s nice to see many ranging from Marvel to major media outlets falling over themselves to praise Liefeld and Nicienza in the wake of Deadpool’s record breaking success, I’d just like to see more voices out there, especially outside of our bubble of fandom, made aware of and praising the other people who helped create not the character itself, but so many of the things we love about it and that are helping to make it such a big deal right now.
Deadpool, like many other characters, has a very specific pedigree when it comes to naming his co-creators. There are only two. But as a character, Deadpool and many others in the realm of work for hire and collaborative mediums have many, many fathers and mothers. Those other creative individuals are owed their nods as well.
Oh, and Liefield was coming off as a complete **** in his interviews on the topic. Someone needs to hook him up with a better PR consultant ASAP.
Jerry Chandler writes. Sometimes that works better than other times.