Was Marvel Comics plagarizing when they put Barack Obama in The Amazing Spider-Man? The creator behind Savage Dragon thinks so, and has sparked off a war of words with the publisher. Whatever happened to "hope"?
The idea that Obama's (very successful) appearance in this week's issue of Amazing Spider-Man was less a shameless publicity stunt on behalf of Marvel than it was an attempt to ride on the coattails of the originality of Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon jumped from online fanboy slapfight when Larsen himself joined the conversation:
I can't help but feel very betrayed. They duplicated the incentive cover—and preempted my upcoming one—and even used the "terrorist fist jab." Clearly those in the "house of ideas" looked at what I did and found inspiration.
I hear that they're even doing a story similar to the one I did four years back, where an image-altering villain disguises himself as the President (in my story the Impostor replaced President Bush and took his place for a speech—in theirs the Chameleon, the shape-shifting villain, is going to spoil a speech being given by President-Elect Obama). The whole mess just feels really underhanded. I feel betrayed and, frankly, ripped off and in the real world—the one outside our funnybook bubble—Marvel will spin themselves as these great innovators who came up with this terrific publicity stunt—instead of the thieves they are.
And I know what they're saying when they're called on it—"Presidents have appeared in comics before" and "Erik didn't create Barack Obama" and blah, blah, blah.
The thing that Marvel is attempting to do is to frame the argument. To say "we've featured presidents in the past—this is what we do—it's part of a pattern." But that's a false argument. The "stunt" was an alternate cover featuring Obama— which was something no publisher had done with any president in the past and one that received a lot of press when I did it. If Marvel had done alternate covers with Bush and Clinton or any of the others— they could legitimately claim that they were following a pattern and doing what they've done in the past— but that wasn't the case. And theirs is not simply the appearance of a president in a comic book but one on an alternate cover— and one concocted to try and get some of the same attention that got. I did not create Obama— I did, however, have a character endorse him, long before he was elected while Marvel played footsie with Stephen Colbert— a joke candidate.
"House of ideas" my ass.
Larsen's obvious ire drew out a response from Spider-Man editor, Steve Wacker:
Marvel DOES regularly show politicians and we have for years. That’s the whole point. In fact, Marvel has spent the past year putting a fake presidential candidate in most of our books. The idea that we’d follow that up by putting a Spidey-fan-made-good on our cover can’t really come as a huge surprise to anyone smart enough to be a publisher... And Eric’s notion we stole the idea of the fist bump from him is also absurd. We actually stole it from reality. Like he did. Duh!
...The idea that this was off-limits because the President-Elect had appeared on another comic cover (or that we wouldn’t have had this idea without Erik Larsen) is beyond preposterous. I suspect this is more of an overall “Marvel would be better if I were in charge!” bone to pick that Erik seems to carry around — which, if you get me on the right day, I completely share. But that bone doesn’t mean that anyone at Marvel’s “betraying” him as Erik dramatically puts it.
I’m a company stooge, so I don’t expect Erik’s going to care too much about what I think, but at the very least the writers and artists who are busy not stealing from him don’t deserve his mewling accusations.
Putting aside the facts that, well, real-life Presidents have appeared in comic books for decades, as have villains that take the place of upstanding members of society (Hell, not always villains; a Teen Titans story had JFK replaced by a well-meaning alien so that the real JFK could go and broker peace in outer space), the comic fan community wasn't convinced by Wacker's defense, with comments ranging from "This is ridiculous. Where did Obama bump fist with the star of a comic book in reality? This argument is missing the point so far I can’t even belive Wacker really means it" to "ttaboy, Wacker! You’re sure to get promoted after that response. Why, it practically read as if Brevoort wrote it. Same avoidance of the subject, same sarcastic tone, same disregard for anything non-Marvel. The parallels between the 2 stories are just too many to be chance. Larsen should sue."
We here at io9 approve of that last suggestion; please, let this argument go to court. That way, not only will Larsen have the (ridiculous) day in the sun that he so clearly wants, but also, maybe it'll stop so many comics using Obama for a cheap PR stunt.