No more Spirit or pulp heroes at DC

first wave dc comics
It seems that DC has stopped its program of licensing old pulp heroes, based on a post on Dan DiDio’s Facebook page, as reported by Graeme McMillan:

On his Facebook page, Dan Didio was asked “Are the Spirit, Doc Savage and the Avenger still at DC? Will we see them again?” only to respond with, “Sorry to say but none of these characters are still at DC but here’s hoping that another publisher gets them back in print soon.”


You’ll recall that The Spirit, Doc Savage, Rima and The Blackhawks were all part of the “First Wave” line of reconfigured pulp heroes that DC canceled quite suddenly a few years ago, supposedly because of a rights issue. Since then, we’ve heard that at WB it was pointed out that DC paying good money to license old characters didn’t make much sense when they had their own catalog of little-used characters to exploit. Plus…people who know who Doc Savage is aren’t likely to be in the prime of their comics buying life…although they may be.
The ending of the Spirit/DC relationship could leave the beautiful color Spirit Archives series orphaned. This 27-volume hardcover series was a model of representing classic material in a lasting, durable format, but we’re not sure they ever really reprint archives, so the question might be moot anyway. A quick Amazon check shows most of them are OOP.

Comments

  1. During the past couple of years several of the Spirit Archives volumes have been remaindered, it was possible to get them at really good prices. They’ll probably move to another publisher now (just like the other Will Eisner books that moved from DC to W.W. Norton).

    Regarding the “First Wave” line: that was part of a strange period in DC’s recent history, when they were announcing lots of comics based on licensed characters: Milestone, the Impact/MLJ heroes, the THUNDER agents, these pulp characters. None of these comics set sales charts on fire, and DC seems to have got the message. They have apparently concluded that instead of developing somebody else’s properties, it makes more sense for them to publish WATCHMEN spinoffs and the like.

  2. Johnny Memeonic says:

    Times like this I must once again state my position that creative IPs need to become public domain with no exceptions 50 years after first publication.

    But this was entirely predicatable based on a few factors:

    1) These characters have niche appeal and generally don’t sell well.
    2) DC already has derivatives of these characters that they don’t have to pay a licensing fee for. Give John Carter a ray gun and a jetpack and he becomes Adam Strange.
    3) The comics side doesn’t make a lot of money so it’s become an IP farm devoted to stuff the larger company already owns. This means less Vertigo, more work for hire.

  3. To Johnny Memeonic-While I also wish these IPs had more activity, you can’t just demand that they go into public domain after 50 years. Copyright laws aren’t a new idea.

    My position is blueberry pies should rain from the sky, but I’m not turning my umbrella upside down waiting for that to happen either.

    I think creators like Warren Ellis in Planetary, Francesco Francavillia with Black Beetle, etc have shown that they can start with the template of various pulp heroes and create original heroes to tell new stories.

  4. The FIRST WAVE focus was way too narrow -
    Doc Savage met Batman, but not Green Arrow!

  5. >> While I also wish these IPs had more activity, you can’t just demand that they go into public domain after 50 years. Copyright laws aren’t a new idea.>>

    No, they’re not, but the idea that nothing since the 1920s gets to go into the public domain is a fairly new idea. Encouraging people to create things they can profit from, in order that those things will later go into the public domain and enrich our culture as a whole is the purpose of copyright law — it’s just been badly distorted in the last 40 years or so.

    I think 50 years is probably too short (I like “life of the creator plus 20″), but regardless, copyright lasts too long at present, and badly needs to be reformed. It won’t be, since Disney and friends have enormous influence and want it extended ever further. But it should be.

  6. Johnny Memeonic says:

    To Johnny Memeonic-While I also wish these IPs had more activity, you can’t just demand that they go into public domain after 50 years. Copyright laws aren’t a new idea.

    “Copyright laws aren’t a new idea” in no way explains why things can’t go into public domain after 50 years. You need to clarify.

    Also, I don’t believe in tying copyright to a creator’s lifespan because they may be threatened or killed to free up their property sooner.

    50 years is the majority of a person’s lifespan. Anyone who can’t figure out how to make money on whatever they had published within 50 years of the publishing was never going to make money off their own idea. Not when they could take it anywhere and still not get it to work.

    This also frees the property up for authors young enough to appreciate the creation to get some use out of it when it goes public before they too shuffle off this mortal coil. John Byrne’s Man of Steel should have been the first big indie Superman book give or take a year. Instead, I’ll probably be a senior citizen or in the ground myself before Superman becomes public.

  7. Kevin says:

    Hopefully they end up at Dynamite. Seems like the right home for them.

  8. Genius Jones says:

    I very much hope IDW picks them up and gives them the same treatment they have been giving The Rocketeer lately: letting talented creators who really understand and love the property have some fun with it.

  9. >> I don’t believe in tying copyright to a creator’s lifespan because they may be threatened or killed to free up their property sooner.>>

    I think the idea of committing murder in order to benefit the general public 20 years later is a shaky concept to begin with, particularly when people could be threatened right now to get them to transfer rights, but that’s not taken as a reason not to allow rights transfers.

    And I’ll admit, I do kind of like the idea of, say, DC’s ownership of Superman lasting longer if they made sure Siegel and Shuster stayed in good health.

    As it is, though, corporate-owned copyrights aren’t tied to the author’s age, while individually-owned ones are, so even if you adjusted the ranges, Superman wouldn’t go PD based on anyone’s age. There’d be some flat number picked. I just doubt it’d be 50 years — it was 56 as far back as 1909.

    >> Anyone who can’t figure out how to make money on whatever they had published within 50 years of the publishing was never going to make money off their own idea. >>

    I don’t think that’s necessarily true, or the only reasonable measure, but I don’t think you and me hashing it out here will accomplish anything.

    >> This also frees the property up for authors young enough to appreciate the creation to get some use out of it when it goes public before they too shuffle off this mortal coil. John Byrne’s Man of Steel should have been the first big indie Superman book give or take a year. Instead, I’ll probably be a senior citizen or in the ground myself before Superman becomes public.>>

    If ever. But if (just for the fun of the example) Superman were to go PD in 2016, 20 years after Siegel’s death, the world would still be full of authors young enough to appreciate the property and get some use out of it before they shuffle off this mortal coil. And making copyright last 50 years would preclude other authors — all those CATCH-22 fans who were long dead by 2011, for instance — from getting a crack at hat they loved. Setting the length of copyright based on youth-focused properties, or by assuming that there’s some sweet spot of fan ages that must be served, doesn’t seem terribly practical.

  10. Michael P says:

    ” Anyone who can’t figure out how to make money on whatever they had published within 50 years of the publishing was never going to make money off their own idea.”

    What about the ones who do, and rely on that income, and then find it disappearing after fifty years? Should they die in the poorhouse?

  11. bad wolf says:

    Michael P–much like you or I, a person is allowed to save their income for old age. Copyright used to end after 20 years so that an author still quite young could see their works lost. Today we have the internet “freeing” everything while simultaneously rights are being fought over by the grandchildren of the creators.

    thx to Busiek, Mnemonic and the rest for an interesting discussion!

  12. Yes Dynamite should pick them up perfect home. Better than Azzarello’s First Wave….. Thank god there wasn’t a second wave.

  13. As it is, though, corporate-owned copyrights aren’t tied to the author’s age, while individually-owned ones are, so even if you adjusted the ranges, Superman wouldn’t go PD based on anyone’s age.

    Actually, it may very well. With a lot of the lawsuits currently running around on whether or not Superman is Work For Hire or not, Superman’s copyright may very well end based on the death dates of Siegel and Shuster. (As I understand the current status, it’s been determined that Siegel and Shuster created Superman (at least, the story in Action #1) and licensed it to DC.)

  14. Torsten Adair says:

    Getting back on track… Will anyone collect the Spirit Black and White backup stories?
    Denny O’Neil, Bill Siekiewicz, Harlan Ellison, Kyle Baker, Michael Uslan, Justiniano, Marv Wolfman, Phil Winslade, David Lapham, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Jan Strnad, Richard Corben, Walter Simonson, Jordi Benet, Paul Dini, Mike Ploog… nah… it would never sell.

  15. Shawn Kane says:

    First Wave was actually cool as a concept to me. The pulp heroes existing in a Batman the Animated Series type world? I was on board but then the issues came out and it wasn’t at all what I envisioned (add to the fact that delays helped kill my interest) and I gave up on it. Still a cool concept though….

  16. Much of The Spirit Archives has been out of print for some time now — a few years, at least. That probably has less to do with licensing than the normal trajectory of sales (which flatten out significantly over the long term, in most cases) and the difficulty of keeping multiple volumes of a series of books in print.

  17. DocSaguaro says:

    Personally I’d like to see Doc Savage wind up at Dark Horse again. Although the tenure was brief, DH published two of the closest attempts to emulate Lester Dent’s style, CURSE OF THE FIRE GOD and THE SCREAMING SKELETONS (the latter well-written AND well-drawn with the Shadow guest-starring). Not to mention the company’s properties like LOBSTER JOHNSON and BLACK BEETLE are already carving a small neo-pulp market.

    At IDW I could see the company either doing a Doc mini (a la the recent Waid Rocketeer series) or anthology. However the company’s approach to Steven’s character IMHO has ranged from true respect (Waid) to bastardization (several of the stories in the first mini). Doc could easily be written yet again by someone with the wrong approach, even with good intention. Think JONNY QUEST back in the Comico days — well-written, well-drawn stories but definitely NOT in the true spirit of the original TV show.

    [Though the original Spirit stories at IDW would seem a good fit -- look what they've done for Dick Tracy reprints already. Not to mention the Artist Edition. Dark Horse may also be good for the Spirit archives given their own volume in roughly the same design.]

    Dynamite has possibilities but I look at their Shadow output. It’s not Gibson despite any visual trappings. At best it reads like watered down Tinsley. Though honestly I think it is derived solely from Chaykin’s singular interpretation. Not to mention if the material is not overwhelmingly popular, the publisher might leave the property just hanging (think BUCK ROGERS and KIRBYVERSE — did they ever even finish DRAGONSBANE?)

    Regarding other publishers . . . Moonstone is probably salivating at the thought considering their Avenger prose anthologies and Doc Savage radio scripts. Unfortunately the company’s coffers tend to yield poor art on some of their licensed properties and sometimes badly delayed publishing (HONEY WEST anyone?).

    BOOM! might also be a possibility. THE AVENGERS is currently well-written but poorly drawn IMO. THE PLANET OF THE APES monthly was terrible IMO, but I confesss I’ve really REALLY enjoyed both the scripts and the art on the three recent mini-series.

    Still I wouldn’t immediately write off Doc or the Avenger wherever they might pop up — love the characters too much no to sample. Although given the dreck that DC published, I will try to research any writers (and particularly artists) attached to the properties prior to online subscribing. God, that Howard Porter artwork was painful to see!

    DS

  18. Conde Nast’s keeping The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Avenger off the market for decades due to ridiculously-high licensing fees doomed the characters’ revivals.
    Though they finally became more reasonable, enabling Sanctum Producations to release new reprint series and Altus Press to do new Doc Savage novels, the lack of product from the late 1980s to 2007 (or so) seriously-impared creating or keeping an audience.
    When THE SHADOW feature film came out in the mid-1990s, there was only a novelization, junior novelization, and comic adaptation. (Dark Horse, then still considered just another “indie” publisher, had Doc and Shadow books, but they were poor sellers.) There was no “making-of-the-movie” book, no line of pulp or comic reprints. Even the existing radio show cassettes/cds were VERY hard to find! The Shadow was a non-entity to the mass-market (and most fans under 40).

  19. >> With a lot of the lawsuits currently running around on whether or not Superman is Work For Hire or not, Superman’s copyright may very well end based on the death dates of Siegel and Shuster.>>

    I doubt it. Work-for-hire isn’t what makes a corporate-owned copyright terminate on a different schedule; corporate ownership is. And Siegel & Shuster haven’t been found to have licensed Superman, they sold it. Current law includes provisions for reversion of the copyright transfer; that doesn’t make the original sale a license, though. And in the event that the legal proceeding eventually result in a clear and uncontested reversion, Superman was created before 1978, so the length of copyright still wouldn’t be tied to the lifetime of the creators.

    Under current law, Superman will go into the public domain in 2033, regardless of who is found to own him. I would bet that by 2033, copyright will have once again been extended, though, due to corporate lobbying of Congress.

Speak Your Mind

*