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Marvel settles lawsuit with Spider-Man co-creator's estate

Steve Ditko also co-created Doctor Strange, among other iconic characters.

Marvel has reached a legal settlement with another of their most important artists, according to court documents viewed by EW. Steve Ditko, who co-created iconic characters like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange alongside writer Stan Lee, died in 2018, but his heirs have been trying to get better compensation for his contributions to the superhero canon.

As executor of his father’s estate, Patrick Ditko moved in 2021 to terminate and reclaim the highly lucrative copyrights to those iconic characters, using the Copyright Act as legal justification. The Ditko estate wasn’t alone in this, but made this move alongside the estates for artists Don Heck (co-creator of Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, among others), Gene Colan (co-creator of Blade, the Falcon, and Carol Danvers), and Don Rico (who also co-created Black Widow).

<p>Everett Collection</p> Spider-Man: No Way Home

Everett Collection

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Marvel fought back, suing them all and arguing that since Ditko, Heck, and the other artists made comics under “work for hire” contracts with Marvel, the Copyright Act did not apply to their creations. Marvel settled with the estates of Heck, Colan, and Rico (as well as Lee’s brother Larry Lieber) back in June, but the battle with Ditko took a little longer.

Attorneys for Ditko and Marvel made a joint filing in Manhattan federal court this week, announcing that the two parties “have amicably resolved their dispute.” When reached for comment by EW, Ditko’s lawyer Marc Toberoff said that “the parties reached an amicable resolution of this interesting case.” Representatives for Marvel did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.

Marvel’s last such legal battle was with the estate of Jack Kirby, who co-created even more iconic characters: Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and the X-Men, as well as many related supporting characters and supervillains. The back-and-forth lawsuits lasted from 2009 until 2014, when (just before the case was possibly going to be taken up by the Supreme Court) Marvel and the Kirby estate announced a settlement. Although financial terms were not disclosed, Marvel films and TV shows released since then featuring Kirby’s characters have prominently credited him.

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