Superhero movie end credits are still a mystery to comics creators
They’re a common sight for those who sit through the seemingly endless stream of credits at the end of superhero movies, waiting to find out if there’s a short scene at the end of it all setting up the next installment in the series: credits offering “Special Thanks” to a number of names, the majority of which are recognizable only to long term comic fans.
DC’s recent Suicide SquadFor example, a list of 47 names is provided by. Marvel’s Black WidowThank you to some 21 people. Over the last decade, Special Thanks sections in credits have become just as popular in superhero films as they are in post credit scenes teasing the next adventure in the universe.
While the practice of Special Thanks in movie credits stretches back decades — traditionally ensuring that those who helped a movie’s creation in some unspecified manner get public recognition for their efforts — the first incarnation of Superhero Movie Special Thanks as we recognize them today dates back only as far as 2011’s Iron Man 2
This wasn’t the first time comic creators had been thanked in movie credits — Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were thanked in the credits for 2000’s X-Men, and Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were mentioned by name in 2005’s Batman Begins — but Iron Man 2 was the first time creators had received their own, unique, Special Thanks section in a movie’s credits, setting an unfortunate precedent for years to follow.
Much has been written about the way that Marvel and DC have treated comic book writers and artists when it comes to translating their comic book creations onto the screen, especially when the creators themselves have spoken out on the subject — something that happens with depressing regularity. Former Captain America writer Ed Brubaker wrote in a March edition of his newsletter, “For the most part all Steve Epting and I have gotten for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a ‘thanks’ here or there, and over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with,” prompting a number of articles in response.
It’s not that the big comic book publishers NeverYou can offer any type of financial bonus. Marvel gives an alleged $5,000 one-time bonus to some creators. DC however has a Special Character Contract which guarantees royalties for creators based on media and merchandise adaptations. Such arrangements are, however, viewed as “shut-up money” even by the creators who receive payments — and, it should be remembered, not all creators get the chance even to be OfferShut-up your money
For many, Special Thanks sections mark the only recognition that their work is part of building a massive blockbuster movie enjoyed by millions of fans around the world — a movie that they, themselves, have likely had to pay money to see. To put it in the best possible light, it is an imperfect system.
“I appreciate the gesture, but it exists in a void,” Devin Grayson told Polygon via email. Grayson was thanked in the credits for Marvel’s Black WidowYelena Belovova is the star of the movie “Yelena,” which she created with J.G. Jones for 1999’s Black Widow miniseries. “To this day, aside from that one piece of copy in the film and the answer to an email I sent asking about contractually guaranteed remuneration — which I have yet to receive — I haven’t had direct communication from Marvel or Disney about any of it. This is disappointing because I would feel part of the team if I had even the slightest heads-up. That, in turn, would have allowed me to be so much more excited about the movie than I was able to be while wondering if anyone even knew about my contribution and trying to figure out where I could scrape together the thirty bucks to see it.”
Marvel isn’t the only company failing to give creators advance notice of being thanked, according to Karl Kesel, who co-created King Shark with artist Tom Grummett. “DC never officially contacted me to say I was being thanked in Suicide Squad movie, and certainly never told me why I was being thanked,” he said. “I don’t think I knew for certain my name was mentioned until someone saw an advanced screening/cut of the movie and let me know I was thanked in it.”
Both creators were clear in their understanding of the reality of the freelancer/corporation relationship. “Look: I did that stuff as work-for-hire, and I knew the rules going in,” Kesel pointed out. “The Thank-You credit is certainly nice, and certainly the least DC can do for their creators. I do expect to see some money from the movie, and King Shark’s other appearances in other media — have seen some already. Naturally, I will be happy if I am presented with a $10,000 DC check. [and] Warners is probably pocketing ten times that…”
Grayson wondered about the circumstances surrounding Marvel’s lack of contact, writing, “I do feel emotionally excluded and unclear about the reasoning behind that — does a corporation the size of Disney really not have anyone who could send out a friendly email? Do they fear that we would have legal precedent for renegotiating our contracts if there was more acknowledgment? Or does everyone assume someone else took care of it?”
She continued, “I’m a female creator with a social media presence and an established readership. It would be great to have been a cheerleader for this movie. Instead, I spent the lead-up to the film’s release feeling unenlightened and ambivalent. My family and reporters would all ask me questions about J.G. and I were going to receive recognition in the credits, and I had to admit that I didn’t know. That just felt… unnecessarily bleak.”
Neither DC nor Marvel were willing to reveal just how they decided which names ended up on the list for any given project — though Marvel did confirm that both publishing and Marvel Studios is involved in the process. However, a review of the movie credits may provide clues to some questions.
While there’s a common understanding that the Special Thanks are there specifically to credit the creators of the characters in any given movie, that’s not always the case — while it might be true in movies like Suicide Squad, with even the minds behind truly obscure characters like Kaleidoscope (who has only ever appeared in two comic books, both published in 1982) getting mentions, it’s actually far more likely that those receiving the Special Thanks will be a mix of character creators and writers and artists who have worked on particular comic book storylines that have acted as inspirations for the movie itself.
That would explain the inclusion of Julie and Shawna Benson, and Claire Roe, as well as Chuck Dixon and Gary Frank in the Special Thanks for last year’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Empowerment of One Harley Quinn). — the creative team behind the 2016 relaunch of the Birds of PreyThe creators of this comic and their original creations. 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, meanwhile, includes both the creators of Thanos’s minion super team the Black Order (That would be Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opeña) and Don McGregor, Christopher Priest and Ta-Nehisi Coates, three writers with fan-favorite runs on Black PantherThey have worked together for the better part of the last four decades, even though none of it appears in the film.
Some creators add complexity to the mix. SpecialYou can thank Special Thanks for some of the features. Jim Starlin, who created Thanos — and, later, wrote The Infinity GauntletBoth of them were greatly influenced by this. Avengers: Infinity War Avengers: Endgame — gets the credit “the producers would like to thank Jim Starlin for his significant contribution to the film” in both Infinity War EndgameThis is a completely different area than the Special Thanks. Starlin is not involved in Marvel publishing, but this may have been the result of a public conflict.
Additionally some characters’ creators are singled out by name: EndgameFor example, a list of the creators for Captain America, Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon can be found at. Zack Snyder’s Justice League credits creators for the Fourth World, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Justice League of America… Although, curiously, only Gardner Fox receives credit for the JLA, with artist Mike Sekowsky mysteriously absent.
So, who’s responsible for choosing which names appear, and where? No-one’s really willing to give specifics — but the answer is likely the legal departments of the companies, working off pre-existing contractual obligations and agreements worked out with specific creators, based on input from filmmakers about which characters and storylines proved important enough to reference. It’s neither a glamorous solution, nor a perfect one, as Chris Eliopoulos — who designed the logo used in Sony’s Venom movies — pointed out on TwitterRecently.
For an industry veteran like Kesel, the lack of attention — compensation — paid to creators on matters such as this have pushed him further towards creator-owned work, such as Section Zero and Impossible Jones. “I don’t expect to get rich — but I get by,” he explains. “I say I’m following the Iron Man business model: exist in obscurity for 40 years, then become an overnight, world-wide sensation. Maybe my children will be able to reap the benefits of this. Impossible Jones movie…”
Kesel was a part of the above, before current legal struggles between Disney and multiple Marvel characters’ estates came to light. Grayson, meanwhile, is appreciative of the chance to see her creation brought to the screen, even if she’s somewhat less enamored of the method in which it happened.
“I adore Florence Pugh and think she did an utterly fantastic job bringing Yelena to life. Still, it is a little weird to consider the vast disparity between the value placed on the people who invent the characters versus the value placed on the people who play them,” she wrote. “And that’s not even getting into the value of the people who script what the characters say and do in the movies — off the top of your head, do you know who wrote the Black Widow film? It is likely that the majority of viewers don’t. Being a theater major, I can only respect the hard work that actors put in. I just wish executives understood that acknowledgment doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game.”
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