Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Superman Custody Feud

The story surrounding the Superman legal custody battle is fairly complicated stuff, and there are actual legal minds out there in the blogosphere and in my own readership who can tackle the topic with better accuracy and understanding.

In case you don't know:  Two young men in 1938 signed away the rights to Superman to National Comics for under $200.  The idea was that they'd then work on this strip in this relatively new medium of comics.  Then it became a smash success, eventually bitter feelings grew between Siegel & Shuster and National Comics.  Since the 1950's, its been something of an ongoing legal feud, and its been in litigation again since, oh, I'd say 2005.  By this point Siegel & Shuster have died, only Siegel leaving any heirs.  National Comics became part of Time Warner in the 70's and its a big ol' mess.

The Siegel's likely now own "dude freaking out in left-hand corner"

It seems that Warner Bros., who owns my cable and phone line, Bugs Bunny, Time Magazine, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, The Wizard of Oz and small sections of our brains, presumably, has basically asked the courts to step up and resolve the issue of legal ownership of the Superman character once and for all.  I would guess that at some point the company looks at the ledgers and needs to ensure they don't spend more on lawyers' fees than they stand to make by owning the character.  I also don't blame them, nor would I blame the Seigels for wanting to get this settled.

That said, the matter seems to need to be resettled every few years, depending on which attorney the Siegels are speaking to.  That's not a dig, but this is at least the third go-round on the same topic and its why we have civil courts here in the US, rather than back alley knife fights.

As someone watching Superman closer than the average bear, I'm exhausted.  I cannot imagine how the Siegels and DC Comics feel about the topic.  Certainly its impacted how DC and WB have managed Superman, how DC is now portraying the character (heck, Lois Lane isn't even a reporter anymore in the comics thanks to the fact that the Siegels may now own "Lois Lane, girl reporter".  She's now a sort of multimedia/ television news producer.  Which just feels wrong.).  It has also meant that, at minimum, Superman will not have red underwear in the new movie coming in...  summer 2013 at some point.

I guess I'd feel better about this if I thought it might mean this will actually get resolved, but I'm not sure.  If Time Warner wins, I think we'll just see another round of suits from the Siegels.  If Time Warner loses...  frankly, I don't know.  But its going to greatly dilute anything that folks in western culture tend to think of as Superman as the two entities controlling the trademarks will be scrapping.

From a karmic standpoint, DC is paying a debt for problems it could have avoided if a few folks had been a bit kinder back in the 1950's-1970's, Superman's popular heyday.  TW's own legal wrangling is now being challenged by well-versed attorneys who stand to make a profit themselves.

I do wonder if it won't be good to see Superman split, the original vision of the character finding a home, perhaps at Dynamite among the other vintage and pulp characters like The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, John Carter and others, while DC tries to provide a vision of Superman cut for younger generations.  We'll have to see.

In the meantime, its almost painful watching DC flail around with the leftover bits, and the clear sign that the only person with a name left in the industry willing to touch Superman as a comic is Morrison.

Special thanks to Nathan and JimD for the link.

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