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According to a recent Radiolab Podcast, in order to get a 5.2-percent tax cut on Marvel’s imported action figures, the company’s lawyers successfully argued the toys represent “animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters)” as defined by the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, a tome that determines tariff classifications for all goods imported into the United States.
Confused? There’s a lot of legalese involved, so here’s the way it breaks down: There’s a distinction between two categories of products imported into the U.S. “Dolls” are toys representing humans, whereas “toys” represent non-humans. While dolls are taxed at 12.8 percent, toys are taxed at just 6.8 percent. Two shrewd trade attorneys noticed the distinction and successfully argued to U.S. Customs officials that Marvel’s licensed products don’t represent human beings.
“We actually went down there. We had a meeting and brought samples of all the figures,” trade lawyer Sherry Singer told Radiolab. “We had 60 or 80 figures. We tried to convince them that these figures [did not represent human beings].”
The court cases, which began in 1993, went on for 10 years. Apparently a large part of the legal argument had to do with the X-Men not being, strictly by tariff classification, human. Oddly, the fictional governments of the Marvel Universe are usually the ones to claim mutants aren’t human — but in the real world, the government was the one defending the humanity of mutants while Marvel was opposed to the idea.
Even X-Men director Bryan Singer weighed in on the mutants versus humans issue during the podcast. “In the X-Men universe, humans are very often out to get the mutants, dismissive of mutants, fearful of the mutants, liquidating them, experimenting on them,” he said.
The judge’s ruling actually stated that all Marvel heroes were actually classified as non-human, not just the X-Men. I guess that means Super-Soldiers, gamma-irradiated scientists, billionaire philanthropists/playboys and thunder gods will all get a tax break when the bulk of The Avengers merchandise hits the U.S.