The Fanboy Crusade

Why a San Francisco comic-shop owner is trying to sue the pants off of Spider-Man's owners -- to the tune of $18 million

Marvel, through a spokesperson, declined to comment, citing its policy of not speaking about ongoing litigation. However, shortly after the complaint was filed, Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada released a statement that, with more than a little condescension, griped about the timing of Hibbs' announcement. "Right after one of the comic industry's most glorious weekends ... Brian Hibbs decides to file his lawsuit! ... Way to rain on everybody's parade, buddy!"

"I think that their attitude is, 'We're Marvel Comics, we do whatever we like, so shut up, fanboy,'" says Hibbs.

Despite the enormous success of the film Spider-Man-- which has earned over $400 million at the box office -- Marvel Enterprises Inc. is a company still struggling to find its footing. After going public at $18 a share in 1995, Marvel stock now hovers around $5. Though it has enjoyed the benefits of licensing its characters to Hollywood (Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man, with the Hulk and Daredevil in the production pipeline), the company is still recovering from a massive debt load and a messy bankruptcy in the late '90s. So Hibbs and other retailers believe they have valid reason to think Marvel is trying to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the retail market -- a world reputed to be full of unquestioning, demure, and unlitigious folks.

"Brian Hibbs took a courageous stand on this," says Lee Hester, owner of Lee's Comics in Mountain View. "Comic retailers are in agreement that these policies are bad. Ninety percent of them would agree with Hibbs." And the other 10 percent? "They're trying not to rock the boat."

Indeed, one local retailer would only comment anonymously, for fear that the "negativity" of the situation might hurt his business. But his main comment was simple enough: "Go Brian Hibbs. Some people are saying he's crazy to be doing this. And Brian Hibbs is crazy, but in a good way."

Hibbs doesn't present himself as a crusader, just a guy who believes in fair play in a business he loves. The irony is that he truly likes Marvel Comics. After a long period of creative mediocrity, he says, "editorially, Marvel is probably the best of the companies today."

And, he stresses, it's not about him. "I easily have another hundred stores that said they will participate without question," he says. "This is a very cut-and-dried moral issue. When you promise you're going to do something, then you need to do it."

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