Monday, November 7, 2011

The Superman Lawsuit, and me playing with kids' toys

On Sunday I stumbled across this new Superman toy from Fischer-Price.  While Fischer-Price has done an admirable job with Batman and DC toys of late, this is slightly different and bigger and shows up as part of their "Rescue Heroes"/ "Hero World" line.

Yes, I buy kids' Superman toys.  Especially when they come with Krypto.

Krypto does not screw around

I was carrying the item around Target when I gave the toy a second look and realized...  he hasn't got the trunks.  And he's got the chunky boots, and...  they gave him the scaling detail of the Jim Lee re-design (sort of).

Superman wouldn't want to appear un-detailed

And I started thinking: wow, the New 52 is really going to change things.

Somehow I'd figured that DC wasn't going to really change the kid's toys yet, that they might play it safe and try to keep the look that 70 years' worth of people around the world have come to know.   After all, getting toys made is kind of hard, a lot harder than just printing a new comic next month that puts Superman back in pants.  But...  it sure looks like the corporation-wide adoption of Nu-Superman is happening, even if the belt doesn't really match the new look, and you can see that at one point they thought they were painting red trunks on the toy as you can see the trunks-line in the mold.

Now, I think we can say with relative certainty that the reason DC is changing their second most iconic character, and the one whose look is far less flexible than Batman's ever-changing armor, tights, briefs, what-have-you (all you need is ears and the scalloped cape) because of the not-yet-concluded lawsuit by the Siegels.

DC is going to have to find a way to differentiate their Superman from the Siegel's or from when the character could potentially fall out of copyright.  Sure, I'm certain Jim Lee and others have dreamed of updating/ changing Superman's pre-World War II-era look and were pretty certain they had a way to make the character more relevant by putting him in a onesie with a belt, but it seems unlikely that the move would have been made without legal counsel suggesting DC get out ahead of this thing.

In the end, this is why I've been rolling my eyes about the Siegel/ DC lawsuit and the inability to resolve differences.  Neither owns the character in its entirety.  There's so much that did appear in Action Comics #1 (what Siegel and Shuster's heirs can claim), and then there's 70-odd years that followed, that the Siegels won't be able to claim or use.  When the rights revert in just over a year, I've no doubt someone will rush to the presses with the Siegel's version, just as he appeared in 1938, in the original badge-like chest insignia, wrestler's tights and trunks.

But now that DC and Morrison are covering that territory again, it will be curious to see what they have to say about the character.

In the end, its not just DC and the Siegels who stand to lose.  Its the picking apart an icon for pieces, taking just enough to leave the character odd and slightly off, marginally confusing and overly complicated.  We'll see.

There are multiple tellings and retellings of myths, as I mentioned in my discussion of Action Comics #3 (Volume 2).  And this is one more iteration.

But this is also an audience that expects brands not to change much, so if I had to guess, this is going to go poorly.  John and Jane Q. Public barely know anything about Superman that they didn't see in a newspaper comic gag or from a sticker on someone's truck.  They don't really care much about who owns what, and will have expected adults to come to reasonable compromise.  Two competing Supermans trying to get TV shows going, movies flying, etc...  is not going to win anyone over.

I'll watch, because I'm curious to see what does happen.  I trust everyone involved understands that whatever version of Superman they put out there will have to be more engaging than the story of the lawsuit. Because that isn't going to put stickers on cars, movies in theaters or comics on the stand.  And I don't see box stores looking to carry two conflicting lines of Superman toys, either.

No comments: