THE LEGAL VIEW: Super-style and the DCU Relaunch

20110610 090853 THE LEGAL VIEW: Super style and the DCU Relaunch
By Jeff Trexler

Judging from the images released so far, it would appear that the relaunched versions of Superman and Superboy will be different from previous versions. Superman will no longer be wearing red shorts over his blue tights, and his belt, boots and S-symbol have also undergone notable alterations. Somewhat more dramatically, Superboy is sporting a black shirt and pants, a black-and-white S-shield mini-cape attached to his back, and a stylized red S-shield tattoo. It also appears that both characters will have significant changes in their continuity, most notably Superman’s age and his relationship with Lois Lane.

This changes in the Superman costume are in themselves not likely to provide a solid foundation for erasing the Siegel heirs’ ownership interest. However, the costume changes and other shifts in continuity are consistent with DC’s arguments for limiting what the Siegels now own.  

As we saw in the case review, the Siegels argue that they should be 50% co-owners of the current Superman material, inasmuch as it all substantially derives from Siegel and Shuster original. However, DC counters this by arguing that Superman is a dynamic, not a static character. DC claims that the 1938 Superman is “stylistically dated”–if the company had stuck with the Siegel and Shuster original, the character would now be worthless.

Instead, DC has told the court, the company’s distinct creative contributions are what has kept the character economically viable. Rather than drawing from the outdated material sold by Siegel and Shuster in 1938, the company continues to present “an ever-evolving portrayal of Superman” featuring additional new material and changes in Superman’s appearance. This extends both to the Superman copyright and to the iconic S-shield, which the Siegels claim to co-own as a work derived from the S-shield worn by the character in Action #1.

Judging by what DC has released, the changes made in the Superman relaunch would seem to reflect DC’s strategic emphasis on creative change.  Costume alterations may not establish that the character is wholly new, but they do arguably provide evidence of how the company is creating stylistic elements distinct from the character’s original form. Changes in continuity are also consistent with DC’s argument, inasmuch as they underscore the company’s ongoing creative input and quite possibly take the disputed material further away from the key elements present in the co-owned Siegel content.

The changes to Superboy are a bit more radical, which could be a reflection of the special circumstances in the Superboy case.  On the one hand, the character’s new look reinforces the organic differences between this version and the character that is at issue in the Siegel Superboy case. In contrast to the Siegel version of the character, the Superboy in the DCU since the mid-1990s is not a young Clark Kent, nor has he been wearing the traditional supersuit. That said, Superboy will presumably continue to have powers that are arguably derived from the Superman material co-owned by the Siegels, so the difference is not absolute.

Which is why Superboy’s new color scheme is particularly noteworthy. As you may recall from my previous post, the Siegels’ victory in 2008 was not entirely clearcut–Judge Larson had to find a way to deal with DC’s copyright interest in the black-and-white version of the Action #1 cover in these ads. His solution was to make DC the owner of a superhero wearing a black-and-white costume–a property that DC is free to exploit without any competing claim from the Siegels. Thus, the most important characteristic about the new Superboy may not be his differences from Superman, but rather, his similarity to the black-and-white costumed strongman from the promotional ads for Action #1.

That this Superboy also sports a couple of different S-shields is itself consistent with DC’s arguments in the Superman case. The Siegels argue that because the S-shield derives from the S-shield on the original Superman that they co-own, they should also be co-owners of the S-shield trademark. DC, however, not only argues that it owns the S-shield free and clear due to its appearance in the promotional ads, but it also claims that the company continues to make substantial changes to the S-shield beyond the version that appeared in Action #1.  Perhaps not coincidentally, a close look at the relaunch Superboy reveals a black-and-version with a rounded S similar in style to the Action #1 version reproduced in the ads, as well as more cutting-edge S-shield tattoo.

Even without the specter of termination rights, a company maintaining an IP farm such as the DCU has a significant incentive to make periodic additions and changes–every new creative element provides more material to exploit.  The Superboy and Superman lawsuits would appear to be channeling this impulse in intriguing ways, from alterations to the iconic S-shield trademark to evolving superhero couture.

Next:  Retconning Neil Gaiman

[Jeff Trexler is a lawyer and consultant and a comics fan who writes frequently about how legal matters pertain to comics.]

Comments

  1. I think it would be easy for Toberoff to show that every time DC has changed Superman (Mullet, Blue/Red, etc..) he turns back into the more classic Superman.

    And I can’t help but think the multiple variations of Superboy, from jacket wearing 90s version to Kon-El shows DC is trying and failing at re-creating a Superboy with the popularity of the original. The last really successful time they used him was the more classic looking version, who was a villain.

  2. scotty v says:

    First, Conner (current Superboy) has been sportin jeans and a black t for YEARS now. Second, I too think it’s clearly obvious that this reboot and new look has much to do with the case and the idea that DC is trying to change the character early, in an attempt to gain new readers that will accept a changing Superman, as well as hoping to entice the current/loyal readership to accept the changes. I think they are doing this so that, down the line, if the court deals them an unfavorable decision, DC will have other avenues to take the character.

    I also have absolutely no doubt, that if one of these more drastic changes were to stick, because the public liked it, that DC would be more than happy to have an electric Superman. In fact, learning more and more about how the issue has come up multiple times over the years and how DC has instituted changes until an aggreable arrangement could be reached only to then revert back, I now believe many of the changes were all imstigated by the desire of DC to be able to COMPLETELY own some version of Superman.

    Oh, and incidentally, if one’s hair is generally long all around, it isn’t a mullet. Hence, billy rae cyrus looooong hair in the back with a crew up top = mullet. Superman’s after returning from the dead because his hair had continued to grow unkempt while he was rejuvinating and was therefore long all over = not a mullet.

    I sincerely hope this is the last time I have to explain hair style.

  3. The fact that for 70+ years they’ve been changing the character but they always go back to the original proves that it is the original that is worth everything and DC’s additions that are worth nothing.

  4. The_iluso says:

    @Shannon Smith: that is IF Supes was a hit from the get go. I really don’t know if it was a hit back then and what constituted a hit back then.

    Anyway, there’s nothing worthless in the additional material from DC. It’s like saying the Iphone is lame and the only one worth was the one from Graham Bell!

    (look at me, coming in defense of a multinational evil corporation!)

  5. Phil Uebbing says:

    Since Jeff has been emphasizing the importance of DC owning a Black and White costumed strongman, there are a few alternate B/W Supes costumes to point out:

    – Coming back from the dead, Superman was in a black costume with silver S-shield

    – Superman wears a B/W costume in the Batman Beyond universe

    – Superman also wore B/W in the Elseworlds story Son of Superman

    any other Black and White Supes costumes people can think of?

  6. Charles says:

    After reading about the split rights in Variety which suggested that two versions of Superman may exist come 2013 it did occur to me as a fan and not a lawyer, that the current relaunch – don’t call it a reboot, is partly about this suit.

    As I understand Siegel/Shuster estate own Lois Lane IP in action, which establishes the love interest / love triangle.

    DC owns the Lois Lane Trademark, feisty girl reporter is a trope & IIRC S/S borrowed this from Torchy Blaze.

    SO in Flashpooint she is Lois Lane freedom fighter, and not connected romantically to Superman.
    The web gossip is this is one change that stays.

    Isn’t that different enough from S/S IP?

  7. Xenos says:

    Meanwhile, what may not be so happy to DC’s army of lawyers, Grant Morrison talks about making his early years take on Supes in Action Comics more like Golden Age Superman. He’s been talking about having lesser power and making him go after corruption as a ‘liberal activist’ ala the original Siegel and Schuster vision.

  8. Mark Engblom says:

    “Oh, and incidentally, if one’s hair is generally long all around, it isn’t a mullet. Hence, billy rae cyrus looooong hair in the back with a crew up top = mullet. Superman’s after returning from the dead because his hair had continued to grow unkempt while he was rejuvinating and was therefore long all over = not a mullet.:

    Thanks for the lesson, but several artists at the time clearly drew the hair closer to your definition of a mullet than the free-flowing “Fabio Hair” Supes was sporting after his Return. Like here.

    Plus, I think the term “Mullet Superman”, even if it’s not technically correct in many cases, accurately characterizes that whole early-to-mid 90’s era of clueless, bad-azz desperation to look cool and cutting edge…even though it made the Superman of this particular era a laughing stock.

  9. X-fan says:

    I am absolutely sure this is an instance where corporate interests all converged happily. Whether this change comes from DC itself or was was instigated from Burbank, it is the best idea either of the big two has instigated since the birth of the DSM. My only issue is a concern about the amount of titles they will be publishing. Marvel and DC publish too many titles. Their desire to be not only themselves but Image, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, Boom and IDW got them into trouble. They spread themselves out to far. Hopefully this will be the start of their regrouping and focusing on priorities, like a healthy marketplace.

    Comics should always be open to new and younger readers. If you want something more complex, long form or adult, that is where Image, IDW and Fantagraphics come in.

  10. Steven Taylor says:

    HA!!!! Puny litigants! Dance all you wish. Superman belongs to us!

  11. The Iluso -Superman was tremendous hit! Action Comics sold more in the the first 50 issues than any comic does now. He had a radio show and animated shorts because he was popular! Superman was the first thing that lead to comic books with original material eclipsing comic books that reprinted comic strips.

  12. this article is also confused about a new costume for SB/Kon-El/Connor Kent Superboy. I don’t think that’s a mini cape in the solicit picture, it supposed to be like a “kick me” sign that Kid Flash put on him.

  13. The Beat says:

    Iluso — just to back up Matthew Jeske, Supermanin Action Comics was an immediate sensation, and within a year was licensed out the wazoo. Siegel and Shuster’s deal was foolish from the start.

  14. Synsidar says:

    I’m put off by the focus on costume styling. Finding great significance in differences between costumes has much more to do with toy designs and merchandising — if a Cabbage Patch doll and a Lettuce Leaf doll look too much alike, a shopper will be confused — than it does with storytelling. Were Superman a prose character, his costume would be a non-issue.

    I’m afraid that nothing could make me a Superman enthusiast, but deliberately weakening Superman to make him a better fit for a storyline seems to be a bad approach, even if Morrison is the writer. If he wants to write about a moderately powered advocate for social justice, why not create a new character? Name recognition shouldn’t be the most important factor, especially given Morrison’s status.

    I’ve seen the words “back to basics” far too many times. If a writer and editor are going back to basics with someone because the character’s reached a creative dead end, then it’s time to retire him. The Superman movie reboot isn’t a justification. If producers figure that the turnover time for the audience for a Superman film is three years, then they could just retell Superman’s origin every three years and not worry about doing anything else with him.

    SRS

  15. I don’t think Grant Morrison or George Perez would take part in a deliberate attempt to rework Superman into something that could be used to strip rights away from Siegel and Shuster. I don’t think they’d do it at all. And I think it’d be very, very hard to get them to do it unknowingly.

    For that matter, I don’t think Jim Lee would do it, either.

    Then again, I don’t think any of these changes would have that effect. One of them looks like an exploration of Superman’s roots, not a rejection of them. The other looks like minor modernizations that don’t seem to change much that would be fought over — changing the S-shield from the classic one doesn’t make any difference, because neither are precisely the S-shield seen in ACTION #1 but both are based on it. And Superboy just looks like a kewled-up version of the Superboy they’ve been using for years

    Plus, if they’re rolling back the Super-marriage, as has been hinted, I expect that’ll make the status quo more like ACTION #1 (Lois is attracted to Superman but doesn’t know he’s right in front of her as meek Clark), not less. Superman might date Wonder Woman, but I find it hard to imagine that’d remove Lois and the classic triangle from the stage.

    I don’t think any of this is any more lawsuit-driven than the updates to Wonder Woman’s appearance, and I think it’s kind of a slur on the people involved on the creative end to suggest it is. Not to mention that the concept assumes DC has tight control over Grant Morrison, which seems like lunacy all by itself.

  16. Kurt’s logic seems to be sound.

  17. Jeff Trexler says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. Future posts will be addressing a number of issues discussed here and in the other comment threads, including but not limited to the new Action #1.

    For now, a few points of clarification:

    First, as for Connor’s costume, I am aware of the black t-shirt as well as Superman’s black costume in the latter’s return from the dead long before the 2008 ruling. That said, it’s noteworthy that in Connor’s most recent series, he is wearing blue jeans, but the September relaunch appears to change them to black. In light of the court ruling on the black-and-white Action #1 ad, it’s an interesting choice.

    As for the black-and-white S shield on Connor’s back in one of the released images, I am only noting an evident visible link based on what we can now see. Even if it turns out to be a joke in the story, it’s a joke that has a fun double meaning given the 2008 ruling.

    More generally, please note that I’m not saying that the lawsuit is definitely DC’s motivation in making certain stylistic changes. Rather, the stylistic changes are consistent with arguments that DC has made to the court. Make of that what you will, though I will say that if Time Warner attorneys are taking a hands-off approach to flagship properties that have been the subject of multiple lawsuits, the board of directors might consider rebooting the company’s lawyers.

    As for the motivations of writers and artists working on DC properties, I don’t know anyone’s personal intent, nor do I care to speculate. What is relevant to the lawsuits is the potential impact of what is said, written or drawn. To identify possible effects is not a slur or a personal attack, nor is it to assert that the effects were intended.

    The same general point about motivation and effect also applies to my own analysis in these posts. My aim here, as previously, is to provide an unbiased legal analysis. Some points will favor the Siegels. Others will favor DC. To draw conclusions about my personal preference from either outcome would be a mistake.

  18. >> I will say that if Time Warner attorneys are taking a hands-off approach to flagship properties that have been the subject of multiple lawsuits, the board of directors might consider rebooting the company’s lawyers. >>

    As someone who’s written SUPERMAN on an ongoing basis during the lawsuit, I’d say they were very close to hands-off — or at the very least played the traditional role of reacting to and advising on what had been done, not driving content, as would seem to be required to make any of this stuff intentional changes spurred by lawsuit concerns.

    Whether the company should reboot the legal department into a force that would shape content, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure glad they don’t seem to have done so and hope they never will.

    kdb

  19. Jeff Trexler says:

    >>the traditional role of reacting to and advising on what had been done, not driving content

    One can envision a scenario in which editorial decides to pursue a relaunch and legal, in review, encourages or suggests alterations consistent with its arguments to the court. I don’t think that anything I’ve said so far is inconsistent with that or requires anything more.

    It’s also possible that editorial or certain creators, familiar with the certain details of the case, consciously or subconsciously decided to incorporate them–not as a challenge to the Siegels but as an interesting or playful creative choice. I’m ruling nothing out.

    Lacking unfettered access to corporate archives, we may never know the precise role of Time Warner/DC attorneys in shaping content, but there is some intriguing resonance between the company’s legal arguments and what DC is selling.

    >>Whether the company should reboot the legal department into a force that would shape content, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure glad they don’t seem to have done so

    Without more evidence, it’s not clear that legal has never driven content. For instance, Superboy’s disappearance and reappearance at critical points in the Superboy lawsuit may have been pure coincidence, but it’s not irrational to infer that lawyers may have had something to do with it.

    The same is true of Smallville and the decision not to put Clark Kent in the super-suit before starting his career as Superman. Perhaps it’s purely a coincidence that DC legal was asserting at the same time that Smallville had no connection to a young Clark Kent appearing in a super-suit a la the original Superboy, but again, there’s a noteworthy resonance.

    From my own perspective, making this connection isn’t particularly scandalous–law affects content in any number of creative industries, and the result can be quite inspired.

  20. Thunderfist says:

    I doubt that the copyright dispute has little to do with the relaunch. I think DC would me more likely concentrating on defeating the Shuster Estate’s termination bid based on the fact that Joe Shuster had no heirs at the time of his death in accordance to the copyright act at the time of his death.

    If they can win that, then they keep Superman but just have to compensate the Siegels for their share. At that point, the differences and changes over time might come into play but I still suspect that it will be coming pretty close to 50/50.

  21. >> I’m ruling nothing out. >>

    I’m not saying you have to. I’m saying I do.

    I know these people, and I think it would be tantamount to a slur on their character to suggest such a thing. I realize that you don’t know them, and that you’re trying to rule nothing out so you can discuss the work in an apparent vacuum of any consideration but the legal stuff, but I don’t have to join you in that.

  22. wayne beamer says:

    Jeff: Thanks for the objective reporting on this subject. Your questions about all this mirror my own. Keep looking!

  23. I want to apologize then, because I did say in another thread that I couldn’t imagine how Grant Morrison could be a party to this. And no way do I know the guy, so you’re right, that’s not cool.

    For me, the new costumes are important because they are not tights. So if the non-work-for-hire 1938 Superman wore tights, then a new, evolved version should wear something different, like a t-shirt or armor. Does that mean it’s a done deal? No way, but it’s a significant change.

    It’s the Lois stuff that is more shocking. Ending the marriage, of course, but turning her into a revolutionary and making Wonder Woman the love interest, as the Internet gurus claim? That’s just not Superman, in a million different ways. And maybe that’s the point.

    These aren’t the kind of changes they did by making Mr. Majestic the star of the book. This just feels big. And we don’t own the company, but we are, in a way, investors. So the question — is this the original Superman? — is one I think we should be asking publicly. Just about a year ago, DC released their “documentary” in which Siegel and Shuster were hailed as the primary creators of the genre. Now, we have Grant Morrison on a video saying Superman is “our greatest-ever idea as a human species.”There is a difference there. It is nitpicky, but given all this history, it sticks out. I hope it’s nitpicky.

  24. I believe Lois is a revolutionary in FLASHPOINT: LOIS LANE AND THE RESISTANCE. Not in the relaunch.

    Nor would I expect they’d be making Wonder Woman “the” love interest as opposed to one of the possibilities — has Superman been married for so long that people can’t remember or imagine the days when he was single, and explored various possible romances rather than having one single exclusive love interest?

    All this sounds a whole lot like the classic Superman, with a modern-looking spin on the costume.

    http://www.comics.org/issue/35233/cover/4/

    http://www.thefifthbranch.com/images/oldies/wondysupes.jpg

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-0pKXczWrTIo/TcCs–6vwaI/AAAAAAAAAFc/jJBXZ_2UCFM/s1600/adventures440-4.jpg

    http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/6/61810/1158582-15_super.jpg

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_kxF371gMSro/TTJR3ydefNI/AAAAAAAAQk4/61eipBJoLOk/s1600/scan0043.jpg

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-btZZubjKSOk/TfbHASUIUxI/AAAAAAAAAS0/tBtfFDYstT0/s640/ll136.jpg

  25. Synsidar says:

    Now, we have Grant Morrison on a video saying Superman is “our greatest-ever idea as a human species.”

    That’s so hyperbolic that it’s hard to believe Morrison was being serious. Which has endured longer in the human imagination: Superman or the Greek gods and goddesses? The Romans found the Greeks’ mythology so attractive that they adopted it as their own. Superman could be summed up in a short story if someone made the effort. His longevity has nothing to do with his depth.

    That’s not to say that archetypes such as Superman are terrible characters. They’re wonderful in simple stories, but not in complicated ones. Have Superman encounter problems that his powers can’t solve, such as political and social problems, and he becomes much less wondrous. It’s significant that no political party has claimed him as a symbol.

    Comics characters have lasted a long time, but that’s due, I suspect, less to their wonderfulness than to their simplicity. Were they to be retired and replaced, the new characters would generally be viewed as derivative.

    J.K. Rowling’s new book project might be based on Ted Lupin, a character in the Harry Potter universe. If so, she’s making good use of the universe she created. Piers Anthony has done the same with his Xanth characters: they appear in books, age, and fade into the background. Perhaps the best thing about aging is that it forces characters to change, even if writers don’t want them to.

    SRS

  26. Oscar says:

    “It’s significant that no political party has claimed him as a symbol.”

    Yes, too bad Superman doesn’t have the depth and political/social problem-solving skills of donkeys or elephants, otherwise political parties would be falling over themselves to claim him as a symbol.

  27. I’ll say this, if DC does decide to change Superman to make him unidentifiable as Superman because they want to separate the rights – I’ll look forward to reading the adventures of the actual Superman as published by someone else!

  28. Synsider said:

    “That’s not to say that archetypes such as Superman are terrible characters. They’re wonderful in simple stories, but not in complicated ones. Have Superman encounter problems that his powers can’t solve, such as political and social problems, and he becomes much less wondrous. It’s significant that no political party has claimed him as a symbol.”

    But you also say that the ancient Greek gods and other heroes have been more significant to human culture than Superman. For what reason were they significant? Surely not for addressing “political and social problems?”

    My answer is that both myth-heroes and superheroes are complex, but in terms of archetypal symbolism, not modern-day ethical or aesthetic parameters.

  29. I’m gonna break nerd edicate not read all these comments but I just want to respond to what Kurt Busiek said. I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have any part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs. I think they all genuinely want to make the best comics they can. But, like any other assignment, there are mandates from the folks paying the check and you have to play within those foul lines. I think that as a creator, you want to work on these great characters so even if you question those guidelines you step up the challenge and try to make the best comic you can that also satisfies the guy paying the bills. That’s no different than any work-for-hire or freelance gig.

    Still, I do think a mandate has been given from at least one level above Lee and Johns and that mandate is at least 50.999% driven by the legal issues.

    I really want to buy a Grant Morrison written Action Comics. But I kinda also want to send the cover price to the Siegel and Shuster heirs.

  30. John Warren says:

    Shannon–So even though Kurt is in a position to know, you’re going to ignore what he said and go with your gut?

    Sheesh!

  31. >> But, like any other assignment, there are mandates from the folks paying the check and you have to play within those foul lines.>>

    No, you don’t.

    You can turn down assignments where they want you to do things you find repugnant.

    >> I think that as a creator, you want to work on these great characters so even if you question those guidelines you step up the challenge and try to make the best comic you can that also satisfies the guy paying the bills.>>

    Speaking as a creator, no, you “step up to the challenge” when it’s a challenge you think is worth taking on. It’s not as if George or Grant has any lack of great characters they’re free to work on if they don’t take on Superman.

    >> That’s no different than any work-for-hire or freelance gig.>>

    Right. People turn down work-for-hire and freelance gigs lots of times. I’ve done it. So have Grant and George.

    kdb

  32. Synsidar says:

    But you also say that the ancient Greek gods and other heroes have been more significant to human culture than Superman. For what reason were they significant? Surely not for addressing “political and social problems?”

    The gods and goddesses were the basis for a religion, and they also provided the basis for some of the greatest heroic sagas the world has seen. One adventure can be enough for a lifetime.

    Superman is less a character than he is a set of abilities. He doesn’t even have to exist as a character to make the point that he’s a power fantasy. Say that a boy is injured when a tornado destroys his family’s house. He lies in a coma for weeks and dreams — dreams about a bunch of things, including having the ability to stop tornadoes and other disasters from occurring. He’s a super man. When he comes out of the coma, he remembers the dreams as very pleasant, and goes on to become a fantasy writer, because everyone fantasizes from time to time about having the power to solve problems easily.

    Having a power is an appealing idea, but giving a character one doesn’t automatically make him interesting. He has to be written well, and if he is, one defining experience with the power should be enough. If he has the power without a reason for being given it, he becomes an endless, pointless fantasy.

    SRS

  33. Wait. Who are Mr. Warren and Mr. Busiek arguing with? What I wrote was all in agreement with what Kurt said when he wrote, “I don’t think Grant Morrison or George Perez would take part in a deliberate attempt to rework Superman into something that could be used to strip rights away from Siegel and Shuster. I don’t think they’d do it at all. And I think it’d be very, very hard to get them to do it unknowingly.”

    And yeah, they could turn down any gig but, as I and Kurt both said, I/we don’t think any of the participants on the creative level are coming from it with the agenda of sticking it to the Siegel and Shuster heirs.

    I’m not arguing with any of that. I do think that there is a mandate though. Possibly above the DCE executive level. Possible higher up at Warner. And I do think the mandate is that this relaunch puts in some safety measures based on the legal issues. I’ll argue that until we run out of internet.

  34. Shannon – so you agree that they wouldn’t do it knowingly, that it’d be very hard to get them to do it unknowingly — but that they’re doing it anyway, because the boss told them to.

    That’s what John Warren and I are arguing with. That you agree with me at the start and assume they’re doing it anyway because they were told to.

    I don’t think they were told to. I don’t think it even looks like they were told to — I think the material looks like it’s embracing Superman’s roots more than sloughing them off. And I don’t think that if they were told to, they’d do anything but walk.

  35. Yes, I agree. I think they were told the same thing that the customer and direct market were told. That the changes are are to re-invigorate the line, bring in new readers etc. I agree with you 100% on the motivations/intentions/etc. of Lee/Morrison/etc. It’s not the first time these guys have been through re-launches or re-boots. From what I’ve seen so far, the changes are not so radical that any creator would have a reason to walk away and say, “that ain’t Superman, I’m out”.

    However, I am saying that 30 plus years of legal battles and the straight up fact that DC (now DCE) DID use ongoing character changes as part of their legal defense to keep rights away from the creators’ heirs- all makes it pretty clear to me that DCE and/or their Warner Brothers superiors have the ongoing legal issues in mind when they mandate these changes. But don’t take my word for it. Go read these legal themed posts which we happen to be commenting in right now.

    And, I’m mainly talking about Superman here. I’m pretty sure Warner Brothers does not care if they dress up Harley Quinn as an anime hooker.

    And let me just say that I do not think the legal thing is the sole reason. I totally get that issue #1s sell more than issue #327s. I totally get that changes to Superman’s or Batman’s costumes or origins gets you an article in USA Today. And maybe, just maybe, it might get one kid in America to ask their mom if she thinks their town has one of those “comic book shops”. I just think that DCE/Warner Bros is killing multiple birds with one relaunch.

  36. I think you go awry when you assert that DC legal mandated changes, and the creators just went along with it. That’s part of why I said that I think it would be hard to get them to unknowingly do this kind of thing.

    I don’t think anyone in DC’s legal department told Jim Lee to redesign Superman’s costume to look more like Jim’s own design sensibility. I find it far more credible to think Jim ditched the trunks because he thinks it looks old-fashioned than that someone had to mandate that he do something he’d tend toward anyway as part of some crafty legal strategy they would hide from him so he wouldn’t refuse to do it.

    I really, _really_ don’t think anyone presented Grant Morrison with a list of mandates he had to obey in order to get the ACTION gig. If they did, he would have turned it down. Grant Morrison has plenty of other options, and has never been anyone’s idea of a good soldier, doing what the company tells him to. It’s far more likely that Grant came up with a bunch of wild stuff that some at DC are worried about, but they’re willing to go with Grant’s instincts because Grant’s instincts have made them a lot of money over the years.

    >> But don’t take my word for it. Go read these legal themed posts which we happen to be commenting in right now.>>

    Those legal-themed posts are airy speculation that don’t ever take into account the idea that there are real people involved who aren’t just mindless puppets who’ll do whatever a legal strategy dictates, no matter how tenuous. They’re not any sort of insider information; they’re just a different flavor of fan speculation, this time reading the entrails of court arguments to create a hopefully-interesting house of cards instead of reading the entrails of subplots and character interpretations. That sort of analysis is so divorced from the way decisions are actually made that on those rare occasions they pay off, it’s coincidence. They’re entertainment, not investigative journalism.

    Indeed, the reports you think back you up won’t even go as far as you do — you’re convinced that DC Legal mandated to Jim, George and Grant what they had to do, but Jeff specifically notes that he’s not saying any such thing. He’s noting that the changes seem to match up with the legal stuff in interesting ways he’d like to explore, but without making any determination of how they came about or what the motivations are. He’s looking at ways they could connect, not saying that they do.

    From my perspective, it’s an interesting game to play, but since his determination _not_ to consider motivation or intent results in an absurdity — the idea that Grant Morrison (et al) are either deliberately engaged in an effort to disenfranchise Superman’s creators or being gulled into it via creative decisions being forced on them even though they sure look like the kind of stuff they’d do on their own — it’s no more than a game.

    Your assumptions take that game and assume the inherent absurdity in it must be true, which I think shows a large misunderstanding of both the creators and the process.

  37. Again, Kurt, I think you are arguing with someone that is not arguing with you. In my earlier comment I said, “I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have any part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs.” I think that I am clearly in agreement with you there.

    And I don’t think that they are just going along with it. I said “any part”. I think the creators are doing what creators do and that they are probably very excited to be a part of a make-over on these beloved properties. Who wouldn’t be?

    “Those legal-themed posts are airy speculation that don’t ever take into account the idea that there are real people involved who aren’t just mindless puppets who’ll do whatever a legal strategy dictates, no matter how tenuous. They’re not any sort of insider information; they’re just a different flavor of fan speculation, this time reading the entrails of court arguments to create a hopefully-interesting house of cards instead of reading the entrails of subplots and character interpretations. That sort of analysis is so divorced from the way decisions are actually made that on those rare occasions they pay off, it’s coincidence. They’re entertainment, not investigative journalism.” -Now that’s a good argument from someone close enough to the players to have an idea of how things work. Well said.

    And of course my opinion is based partly on speculation but aren’t they all?

    But still. Just taking things at face value…

    In a previous round of the ongoing Superman battle the heirs gained some ground on Superboy.

    Around that time the Superboy in the comics saw changes to his appearance and origin.

    Current copyright status of Superman could change in a couple of years.

    Changes are being made to Superman, Supergirl and Superboy.

    Maybe you are right. Maybe I’m just a cynic. Maybe it’s all coincidence. I doubt it.

  38. >> And I don’t think that they are just going along with it.>>

    That doesn’t square with the idea that DC Legal has mandated the changes and Grant et al are going along with them to pay the bills. Saying they’re going along with mandates to pay the bills and then saying they’re not going along with it is self-contradictory.

    Saying they’re going along with it because they’re excited to be a part of a make-over (where the changes are mandated to them) doesn’t alter that — and believe me, lots of creators wouldn’t be excited to be a part of someone else’s make-over.

    >> Current copyright status of Superman could change in a couple of years. Changes are being made to Superman, Supergirl and Superboy.>>

    Current copyright status of Superman could change in a couple of years. Changes are being made to Batgirl, the Teen Titans and Wonder Woman.

    If you don’t have to invoke legal machinations to explain the other stuff, it’s not necessary to explain the first stuff. It’s sorta like saying that the earthquake must have been out to get those four trees, by ignoring all the other trees that went down.

    I don’t think you have to be a cynic to leap to a conclusion that doesn’t make much sense. I just think you don’t know the people involved, and that (a) they wouldn’t do that, and (b) the mandates you’re imagining them agreeing to have no grounding; what looks to be happening looks like exactly what would happen without “mandates.”

  39. Again, trying to be super clear as I can be. I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have ANY part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs.

    And I could totally see DC making changes without the legal issue as motivation. They have before. They will again. I just look at the precedent with Superboy and I look at the timing and, well, I don’t believe in coincidence.

  40. Thunderfist says:

    Shannon, I would disagree that DC used character changes as a means of fighting the copyright termination. I base this on the court documents that Jeff has provided in the past.

    What DC has argued is that it has evolved the character since 1938 and added value to the intellectual property and that this needs to be considered in any payment to the Siegels. Per the court rulings, the Siegels were successful in terminating the grant of copyright to Action #1 effective 1999. As such, DC will have to compensate the Siegels at some point for monies earned by DC since that time. Is it a 50/50 split? Or should the Siegels get less because of the value added by DC over the years? In addition, DC is also establishing that copyrightable elements of the Superman mythos were created by DC and should not go over to the Heirs.

    That is what I am seeing when I read the legal documents.

  41. >> I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have ANY part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs. >>

    Yeah, but you do think they’re going along with mandates as part of DC’s effort to strip away the equity of Superman’s creators. You’ve suggested that they’re doing it for the money. You’ve suggested that they’re doing it for the excitement of getting to realize someone else’s mandates in a makeover.

    I don’t think your assumptions make sense, for the reasons already given. Repeating that you don’t think they’re “invested” in it doesn’t make the other assumptions suddenly make sense.

  42. Thunderfist- Agreed. “Fight” is the wrong word on my part. That’s me generalizing what you just summed up. It’s more of a preemptive defense than a fight. Preemptively defending the stacks of cash they might have to pay out.

  43. Okay, I was way overgeneralizing when I was talking about creators taking the gig and doing the work. I did talk about artists, writers etc. doing there best on a gig based on the mandates the guys paying the checks handed down but I did not mean it in the way that you are implying. I’m a cynic but not that cynical. Sorry, I was not clear. I meant it more as in you take on any gig, you play within the foul lines (meaning that as a baseball reference not as in foul as in bad). I’m just using generalizations there. As in if you take on a Spider-Man comic right now at this moment, Spidey does not have Spider-sense. So, you go with it. Me, I’d rather write/draw Spidey with Spider-Sense but it’s still Spider-Man. Superman with boots is still Superman.

    Here’s the Cliffs Notes of my opinion on this thing. I agree with Kurt that the creators are not in on any pernicious plot to take away copyrights from anyone. But I also think there are certainly enough precedents here to suspect Warner Bros. has the legal issues in mind when they make changes to the Superman family of characters, supporting cast and worlds whether it be in DCE comics or on TV, films, lunchboxes t-shirts etc.

    And Kurt is right, that is speculation on my part and we will have to wait to see how it plays out.

  44. >> I agree with Kurt that the creators are not in on any pernicious plot to take away copyrights from anyone.>>

    Where we disagree, it seems, is that I don’t think they’re dumb enough to do it unwittingly, nor do I think the changes being made were “mandated” to them and not their own ideas. I don’t think they’d go along with that.

  45. Synsidar says:

    Remember that it’s possible DC will have the rights to a “modern” version of Superman:

    In a recent article published in the Columbia Journal of the Law & the Arts, Anthony Cheng writes that 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner’s decision in Neil Gaiman’s suit against Todd McFarlane “could provide the rationale for both parties to continue legally exploiting” Superman. Posner determined that Gaiman’s “Medieval Spawn” was “sufficiently distinct” to justify a separate character copyright from the original Spawn.

    Along this line of reasoning, one way to settle the Superman dispute would be to “split the character in two — a 1938 Superman and a Modern Superman — and allow both sides to create new works based on their versions,” Cheng writes.

    Moreover, because both sides would independently be exploiting their respective versions of the Man of Steel, they wouldn’t have to go through the tricky work of accounting for each others’ profits. They’d own what they own. One downside, though, Cheng writes, is that DC would have the more valuable version of the character, given the length of time it has been transforming Man of Steel projects into popular culture.

    Here is Cheng’s article.

    SRS

  46. Kurt- Yeah, I don’t think anyone at Warner Bros. said “give Superman boots”. I don’t think that there is/was a mandate on how the changes should be rolled out. I think Warners trusts Lee and Johns to handle that. But I do think that the legal issues play a part in why the decision was made for there to be changes. I think the precedent is there with how Superboy has been handled in the past decade. My speculation is based more on that precedent than off any specific changes included in this most recent re-launch.

  47. Or to simplify, I don’t think there is a mandate to “make these changes” but I do think that there is a mandate to “make changes”. I certainly think that there was one in the case of the Superboy changes of the past decade so, yeah, it’s just speculation but, again, I don’t believe in coincidence.

  48. I think the assumption that DC Legal mandated specific creative changes to Superboy is just as much castles in the air as the rest of it.

    If there was some consistent pattern, where changes to Superboy happened only when lawsuits were being contested, and were unlike changes made to other characters around the same time, then there might be something to build on, but not believing in coincidence doesn’t require not believing in other still-non-coincidental events. Particularly when many of the the changes involve things that made the character more like the classic Superboy, including changing his powerset, moving him to Smallville, having him raised by the Kents, etc.

    Then again, I do believe in coincidence. I think lots of things are coincidental. But I don’t think coincidence is required to explain why Superman gets an altered costume without invoking a lawsuit, at a time lots of DC characters are getting altered costumes without a lawsuit.

  49. Synsidar said:

    “The gods and goddesses were the basis for a religion, and they also provided the basis for some of the greatest heroic sagas the world has seen. One adventure can be enough for a lifetime.”

    I’m trying to see if you apply a different yardstick of quality for archaic epics than the one you apply to modern works. It seems to me that you do, but it’s not clear how you measure greatness for the former category.

  50. I get your argument Kurt. But I still think my assumptions are founded in logic. DC/Warner DID use Superboy’s changes over the years as part of their defense of that copyright. I think it’s a totally rational assumption that they will use these upcoming changes as part of he defense of Superman’s copyright. I don’t think it is the only part of the reasoning behind the re-launch but I do think that it is part of it. And your right, it is speculation but I think given the precedent, that it is a reasonable speculation.

  51. I think your assumptions are founded in a misunderstanding of the people involved and the processes under which they work, Shannon. If the stuff that undercuts those assumptions is ignored, there’s a logical construction to it, but that’s how castles in the air and houses of cards are built.

    If you don’t know that Grant Morrison isn’t going to dutifully follow someone else’s mandates for the money, then building a logical construction that assumes he’s been handed mandates from the legal department can be done. But it’ll be one that rests on fictional supports.

    But your current point — that DC will (or at least may) use the changes as part of a copyright argument — is a long way from the earlier claim that DC’s lawyers handed down a set of mandates and the creators dutifully colored within the lines.

  52. I don’t think mandates were handed directly to creators. I never said that did I? When I was talking about creators/gigs etc. I was playing too loose with what I was trying to say there. I was trying to agree with you at that point in that part of the comments thread. I was trying to say that I did not think that creators were involved in anything pernicious. I guess I totally failed in that.

    Here is what I said…
    “I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have any part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs. I think they all genuinely want to make the best comics they can. But, like any other assignment, there are mandates from the folks paying the check and you have to play within those foul lines. I think that as a creator, you want to work on these great characters so even if you question those guidelines you step up the challenge and try to make the best comic you can that also satisfies the guy paying the bills. That’s no different than any work-for-hire or freelance gig.
    Still, I do think a mandate has been given from at least one level above Lee and Johns and that mandate is at least 50.999% driven by the legal issues.”

    If I had just said…
    “I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have any part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs. I think they all genuinely want to make the best comics they can. Still, I do think a mandate has been given from at least one level above Lee and Johns and that mandate is at least 50.999% driven by the legal issues.” -then this comment thread would probably be about 10 posts shorter. Sorry about that.

    I do think the mandate came down from Warner Bros/ DCE and by that I mean, probably someone at Diane Nelson’s level or higher that they need some changes. This is a big deal Kurt. A line wide change with lots of PR. It’s not just some idea that Jim Lee and Geoff Johns came up with. And yeah, this is totally speculation on my part but I think a mandate came down to make changes and I think at least part of the inspiration behind that mandate was to prepare a similar defense for Superman’s copyright to what they used for Superboy’s. Superman is a huge deal. Warner Bros./DCE would be crazy not to be preparing for that battle.

    And again, I don’t think that anyone on the creator level has any part of themselves invested in that battle. I don’t know how many times I have to say that. I think your argument is that there is no mandate because if there were the creators would not stand for it. And that’s a good argument. But they have been a part of plenty of re-births re-launches and re-boots before so why would this look any different to them taking it at face value?

    And I certainly don’t think Warner/DCE would send a memo saying, “hey gang, we need to stick it to the Siegels and the Shusters, here’s the game plan”.

    I’m not arguing with you about the creators. I have no reason to doubt their character. You win that argument all day long.

    My argument is simply that if they would use Superboy’s changes as part of their defense then they will certainly use these and I totally think Warner is smart enough to be taking preemptive measures to bolster that defense. I think that this is part of that.

    I wish/hope I were wrong and maybe I am. I guess we will know in 2013. I also wish/hope that Warner/DCE would just man up and give a fair and equal deal to the creators’ heirs. That last letter from Joanne Siegel left me doubtful.

  53. >> If I had just said…
    “I do not think that Grant Morrison, Jim Lee or any of the creators have any part of themselves invested in the legal matter between DC and Superman’s creator’s heirs. I think they all genuinely want to make the best comics they can. Still, I do think a mandate has been given from at least one level above Lee and Johns and that mandate is at least 50.999% driven by the legal issues.” -then this comment thread would probably be about 10 posts shorter.>>

    Maybe not, since I don’t really agree with that, either.

    >> I do think the mandate came down from Warner Bros/ DCE and by that I mean, probably someone at Diane Nelson’s level or higher that they need some changes.>>

    I don’t.

    >> This is a big deal Kurt. A line wide change with lots of PR. It’s not just some idea that Jim Lee and Geoff Johns came up with.>>

    I expect Geoff, Jim, Dan and Bob Harras came up with it. It’s their job to do that sort of thing.

    >> And again, I don’t think that anyone on the creator level has any part of themselves invested in that battle. I don’t know how many times I have to say that.>>

    You’ve never had to say it, because no one’s ever argued with that idea. You keep saying it as if it’s a response to me disagreeing with the idea that they were given a mandate and obeyed it, but it’s not.

    >> But they have been a part of plenty of re-births re-launches and re-boots before so why would this look any different to them taking it at face value? >>

    Because (a) they’re not stupid, and (b) you seem to think that the fact that they’ve been involved in other revamps means they got told what to do. That’s not how these guys work. What attracts them to this sort of thing is getting to think the stuff up themselves.

    >> And I certainly don’t think Warner/DCE would send a memo saying, “hey gang, we need to stick it to the Siegels and the Shusters, here’s the game plan”.>>

    For that to be even necessary, they’d have to be pretty stupid. Remember, Jim Lee’s co-publisher. If the legal department was driving the revamp, he’d know it would be for legal reasons. The legal department doesn’t keep this sort of thing secret from their bosses. But more importantly, if stuff is being mandated by legal, then everyone would know it would be a legal strategy. Legal doesn’t drive non-legal concerns.

    >> My argument is simply that if they would use Superboy’s changes as part of their defense then they will certainly use these >>

    If that’s your argument now, I might quibble with your certainty, but not much more. But that wasn’t your argument when we started and it’s not even your argument earlier in this very post, since the idea that a mandate came down from Diane Nelson is outside that claim.

  54. Okay, clearly, I did a piss poor job of stating my case from the start. And I’m going to have to fall back on intronet nerd argument standards and practices sub-article 397-B which states that I can change my argument mid-stream when it is pointed out by someone else that I’m full of crap. (And the idea that it came down from Diane Nelson or above was there from the start in what I said. From the start I said it came from “at least one level” above Lee and Johns. That would be Nelson or above right? Sorry, I don’t have the Warner family tree of executive power in front of me.)

    And here is yet another way of looking at it…

    Here is the mandate Kurt, since 2007 or so when Warner got back part of Superboy based in part on the defense that the character is dynamic and changing at that moment the mandate is in place. At that moment, if you are Warner and you just won back part of a character based on the fact that the character is dynamic and always changing then from that moment forward all of your properties are dynamic and always changing. Unless you want to lose their copyright. From that moment the mandate is in place that these characters are always going to change including visual changes and occasionally origin changes. And that is probably going to mean regular re-launches. Look at Warner’s other properties. Scooby-Doo (cartoon version) and his supporting cast had had their appearance altered twice since 2006, characters have been added and origins have been changed. I think the mandate is clear and I think the mandate is the new status quo. I really don’t see how you can read the legal findings and not see that it is Warner’s policy that these characters have to stay dynamic and have to continually move away from (in Superman’s case the 1938) their origins in order to maintain copyright.

  55. And for the record, I do think that what the judge is saying in that case is total horsecrap. I don’t think changing the character should keep even 50% of the copyright. You can put Bart Simpson in Riverdale but that don’t make him Archie Andrews.

  56. Synsidar says:

    Shannon, perhaps one of the worst things about superhero comics is the tendency of creators to make short-term changes in characters or introduce characters from alternate timelines who are slightly different, because they know that readers are getting bored seeing heroes go through their paces repeatedly.

    Remember Superman Red and Superman Blue?

    Superman R-B

    Or John Byrne’s ballyhooed revamp of Superman in 1986?

    MAN OF STEEL #1

    It would be almost funny if all the versions of heroes which have popped up through the years are considered legally distinct from each other, with separate copyrights. If you care about the art of storytelling, the only changes which matter are permanent ones which improve the character and build on others’ work.

    SRS

  57. I’m aware of 70+ years of changes. I bought those Man of Steel books. (Dang, Clark sure did wear some tight slacks.) The changes certainly would/have/did/will come and go with or without legal ramifications. It’s no big deal. But, it becomes a big deal, in my opinion when those changes are used in court as an excuse to withhold monies and rights due to the property’s creators. We’ll see how it all plays out in the next couple of years.

  58. It’s a very interesting point, but all of those electric/tight slacks changes were work-for-hire. The 1938 Superman was not (though there is a very slight argument against that as well). So if there are “elements” of the ’38 Superman in today’s version, then the families will, according to the court, share some of that ownership.

    -Not a lawyer

  59. >> The changes certainly would/have/did/will come and go with or without legal ramifications.>>

    Then assuming a mandate based on a legal case referring to them has no real foundation. They’d come and go whether there was one or not, and thus be there to be referred to in legal cases. No assumption of mandate necessary.

    The idea that new publishers were tapped to take on the job and that _someone_else_ had to tell them to shake things up is kinda screwy. Particularly since both new co-publishers had a history of shaking things up before they got the job.

    This goes with the idea that deciding there’s a mandate to change Superman specifically at a time when almost everything’s being changed anyway (so a mandate isn’t needed), or that Grant Morrison making changes is evidence that someone must have instructed him to (when he’s already known for it), fails Occam’s Razor.

    If you can remove the idea of a mandate from the equation and all the same stuff is likely to happen anyway, due to the other factors you already know were there, then it’s not a logical deduction.

  60. >> And the idea that it came down from Diane Nelson or above was there from the start in what I said.>>

    So when you say your argument is “simply that if they would use Superboy’s changes as part of their defense then they will certainly use these,” you’re misdescribing your argument, since you’re arguing more than that.

  61. Yeah, I’m arguing more than that but it’s the that legal issue (the main legal issue around which these legal view posts we are commenting on are based btw) that is the foundation of my argument. And, my argument is not a collection of proofs or facts. It’s an accusation Kurt. And part prediction. And yeah, it’s based in generalizations. And yeah, you have totally blown some holes in my theory. But that’s how discussion works. Smart folks like you point out the holes and flaws, stubborn folks like me look a bit harder, think a bit harder and hopefully learn something. But the harder I look at it the more glaring the pattern is. You see coincidence. I see a policy, a strategy a mandate. Warner maintains part of the copyright based on on a legal defense including the idea that the properties are dynamic. Therefore they have to stay dynamic. Therefore costume changes, origin changes, relaunches etc. etc. again and again.

    And then back to my original comment in this blog post: The fact that for 70+ years they’ve been changing the character but they always go back to the original proves that it is the original that is worth everything and DC’s additions that are worth nothing.

  62. >> I see a policy, a strategy a mandate. >>

    One that predates its own cause, apparently, given how long they’ve been revising and updating comics characters.

  63. I’d say it was s repeated creative strategy used to generate sales (and have some fun for both creators and readers) prior to the court rulings of the last decade. But since then, I’d say it’s policy. Just speculation on my part. Just an opinion/prediction. We’ll see how it plays out in the next couple of years.

    On the very first day this stuff was announced I had two initial thoughts. One cynical and one hopeful. The first was that it’s just a part of Warner’s legal strategy to maintain copyright. The 2nd was that the thing is a huge success and that Warner makes a ton of money and that the Siegel and Shuster heirs get a ton of that money.

  64. The Beat says:

    Attn: Shannon and Kurt: this has now turned into the “Countdown/Infinite Crisis” of comment battles! Perhaps it is time to declare a truce until the next episode of Jeff’s column!

  65. Oh man, if it’s a “Countdown/Infinite Crisis” does that mean we have to do it all over again next summer?

  66. Jeff Trexler says:

    >>Oh man, if it’s a “Countdown/Infinite Crisis” does that mean we have to do it all over again next summer?

    No, it just means I have to do a new post after 52 comments. Or 52 posts after 1 comment, with each post reaching a different conclusion!

  67. Thunderfist says:

    Shannon, the July 27, 2007 decision that gave back Superboy was based on an argument by DC Comics that Superboy was wholly derivative of Superman and did not contain any original copyrightable elements.

    I can’t find anything in the document that suggest DC was arguing that Superboy was dynamic and changing as part of their defense.

    James

  68. Not to keep this going- Just responding to Thunderfist.

    It might have been the 2008 stuff. I read them as they rolled out on various comics sites but don’t remember them word for word. Jeff Trexler would know better- “A more gruesome commentary on the Superman case followed the Siegels’ landmark 2008 victory in reclaiming Jerry Siegel’s half of the copyright to the Superman material in Action Comics #1. One year later the Earth-2 Superman and Lois Lane returned as undead Black Lantern zombies out to take the living Kents back to their dead Pa.” (From the previous installment.)

    That Variety article explains how the heirs could own it but DC still be able to use it with changes, or at least without an appearance that is the same as the original. Along this line of reasoning, one way to settle the Superman dispute would be to “split the character in two — a 1938 Superman and a Modern Superman — and allow both sides to create new works based on their versions,” Which… seems to be what is going on minus allowing the heirs to use 1938 Supes. But I’m paraphrasing and I’m totally not a lawyer. The article is here. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118037679 And that too is speculation but, legal speculation by folks much smarter than I and I would assume Warner would be smart enough to have all those cards on the table.

  69. One of the most refreshing moments of honesty I’ve ever seen at a con was in the mid-2000s when a fan asked DC’s VP of Sales Bob Wayne why we were suddenly seeing obscure characters like Captain Comet in prominent reboots, and he said, without hesitation, “copyright renewals.” I loved Starlin’s Comet books, and so many of the other comics about obscure and intriguing rarities, so I was happy with the creativity and welcomed the candor. Paul Cornell, my current favorite comic writer, has said that the lineup and premise of books like Demon Knights were Editorial’s idea, and that’s what Editorial does — they may not proofread, or notice bizarre story inconsistencies like the original Human Torch being traumatized by the memory of a concentration-camp visit in 1945 when he’s been plucked out of time in 1943, or Black Canary suddenly wearing Wonder Woman’s tiara, but they come up with fascinating plot points and sometimes whole characters, and the writers run with it; that’s an entertainment corporation, and I haven’t stopped buying any of what they make. Dwayne McDuffie’s quarrels over content based on the corporate plan were legendary and not disputed, and everyone remembers the differences between some of Morrison’s expressed plans for Final Crisis and what came out, though both Dwayne’s JLA and Final Crisis were still pretty damn good. And I think without a trace of facetiousness that Grant is one of the greatest idea-havers in the human species, but unless I’m mistaken he’s still exclusive to DC. Protecting property has never not been uppermost in DC’s mind, though interestingly their battles in the Golden Age, like the one against Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, hinged on the apparent theory that there was *no* amount of variation on the Superman archetype that constitutes a separate property.

  70. Steve Schneider says:

    As an enthusiastic Grant Morrison reader, I’d love to believe Mr. Busiek that said writer’s innate integrity proves there’s no anti-Siegel agenda behind the DC relaunch. Unfortunately, Mr. Busiek’s arguments fly in the face of both far-ranging historical precedent and simple logic.

    Anyone who has ever worked in periodical/newspaper publishing knows that corporate exerts a constant influence on the finished product — in ways that range from overt dicta to the subtle crafting of a company culture in which the worker knows what’s expected of him, and can thus be counted on to comply without it even being spelled out. I find it extremely hard to believe that, in a matter as fraught with industrywide implications as the ownership of Superman, the full range of such tactics wouldn’t have been brought to bear.

    Certainly, Mr. Morrison may be “free” to turn down such an assignment as personally and professionally odious — but no matter how respected and/or profitable a contributor he might be, he has to know that doing so would jeopardize his future assignments and standing as a “team player.” I doubt that anyone in the upper echelons of DC would ever be heard to remark, “Well, that Morrison sure didn’t do bubkes for us when we needed him to help us hold onto our most contested property. But you’ve gotta love those zany metaphysics he brought to The All-New Sugar and Spike instead.”

    As for Mr. Busiek’s argument that superheroes get new costumes all the time, and therefore this change can’t be legally motivated — well, one doesn’t even have to cite copious past evidence to refute that line of thought. It’s specious enough in terms of simple logic to collapse on its own.

  71. >> Certainly, Mr. Morrison may be “free” to turn down such an assignment as personally and professionally odious — but no matter how respected and/or profitable a contributor he might be, he has to know that doing so would jeopardize his future assignments and standing as a “team player.”>>

    I’m laughing so hard I’m weeping.

    Yeah, Grant Morrison’s worried about being perceived as a team player and having future assignment jeopardized. Pull the other one.

  72. I just wanna shift the tone and affirm that if Meta-Absolute Sugar & Spike comes out it will definitely have at least one loyal buyer. And I’ll tell two friends. As to whether Grant is a team player, that may depend on whether under the DCnU the Doctor 13 “Architecture and Morality” mini is retconned out or in :-).

  73. Synsidar says:

    Another simple way to reinterpret Superman:

    Make him an avatar of Rao, the Kryptonian deity, who wants to extend his influence to Earth. That would justify any set of powers a writer cared to give the hero, along with Supe’s usual emphasis on moral and ethical behavior. While the avatar might be attracted to an Earth woman, he’d be reluctant to become involved with her unless she became a believer in Rao’s divinity.

    If a writer wanted to do Superman as a cosmic being, he could make him a manifestation of the quantum matrix, the latest in a line of manifestations going back to the beginning of the universe. That origin would also allow the hero to have any set of powers the writer wished.

    Playing with archetypes can be fun.

    SRS

  74. Steve Schneider says:

    <>

    Happy to provide the levity. (Or is it the “Levitz-y?”)

    It’s only fair, given how much I’ve enjoyed The One About The Mighty Comics Writers Who Tell Jeff Bewkes Where To Get Off.

    (We now return you to your regularly scheduled tone.)

  75. Steve Schneider says:

    Hmmm … my Busiek quote seems to have disappeared from that last post. Looks like DC’s control of its intellectual property is even tighter than I thought! ;)

  76. Thunderfist says:

    Hi Shannon, I don’t recall it being used as a defense in the way you are describing. Yes, DC has pointed out that over the years they have added unique copyrightable elements to the Superman mythos but these tend to be specific and established. These are things like being able to fly or vision powers. Stuff that Superman has had for decades. The argument isn’t really about Superman and Superboy being dynamic.

    I have read the variety article. It is speculation and there is no evidence that either side are pursuing that particular angle. I am not a lawyer either but I don’t think the court will be going in that direction. That would be a dramatic loss for the heirs and a great benefit for DC.

    We can speculate all we want but wouldn’t it make more sense to speculate based on what is actually happening in the court now rather. What is in the agreements between Toberoff and the Siegels? Can Peary terminate his uncle’s portion of the copyright based on a copyright act that came into affect years after Joe died?

    The split copyright seems pretty far off in the future when we may have some real sizzle much closer.

  77. “We can speculate all we want but wouldn’t it make more sense to speculate based on what is actually happening in the court now rather.”

    Yeah, but it’s a lot of fun. And, it’s my nerd right.

  78. Clay Christopher says:

    CRISIS OF INFINITE COMMENTS ;-)
    Here’s the real question: do any of you consider the modern Superman the same character as the S&S original? His outrageous powerset alone makes him a different entity, I think. Plus that first iconic image of Supes is owned by DC. I also agree with the assertion that no version of Superman has every truly been fleshed out as a fully-realized character when compared to, say, Batman. What have we actually learned about him in 70+ years? He’s a Boy Scout that can punch/crush/melt stuff. They keep rebooting him & he keeps being boring. Pay the family a few ducats to keep using the guy or just make him a cosmic/godlike figure traversing the Multiverse (avatar of Rao’s a great idea). Too many Superman Family titles anyway.. Supergirl is an even bigger mess… I only care what happens because I dig the Superboy character and Clark is a huge piece of HIS mythos.

  79. GeorgeC says:

    Clay,

    I’ll give you my honest opinion as someone who has followed Superman since watching reruns of The Adventures of Superman in the 1970s…

    He IS very interesting when he’s in motion flying around and breaking things.

    There are relatively few times, though, that I’ve found his conversations with Lois while he’s sitting down that interesting.k

    I loved the character in the original two Reeve movies, the Fleischer animated shorts, and the 1990s Superman animated series and Justice League animated series.

    I am NOT a huge fan of the original Golden Age Superman comics… I literally fall asleep trying to read those BUT I do love the radio show, the newspaper strip, and the Fleischer shorts (again!). And I am a huge fan of Golden Age comics. Love the original Spectre. Plastic Man and the original Captain Marvel are favorites. The Spirit is my favorite, and I love Golden Age Batman comics, too. BUT, I do not have a huge collection of Golden Age Superman comics because they’re far from the best-crafted Superman. Siegel and Shuster did better on the other Golden Age Superman projects IMHO… those hold up for me.

    As much as I appreciate Superman as a moral character — a real-life Batman would scare the hell out of me more than a real-life Superman –, the most interesting stories to me are still the ones with the physical conflict and challenge. The Fleischers did that well. Perhaps their challenge was easier because at that point in time they only had 3-5 years worth of comics to use as source material.

    There are very few stories that balance both the physical and emotional sides of Superman well. Kingdom Come managed that as well as All-Star Superman.

    That said, I really don’t need to see Superman’s early days re-explored again or see yet another silly, pointless costume revamp that doesn’t improve/negate the original. I also find it ironic that the “Man of Steel” is now wearing armor!

    Then again, not much DC is doing now appeals to me or makes sense in the long run…

Speak Your Mind

*