Action Comics #1
Despite a series of seemingly definitive decisions in DC Comics’ favor, the nearly decade-long legal fight over the rights to Superman continues, with the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster asking an appeals court just three weeks ago to overturn a ruling barring the family from reclaiming the artist’s stake in the Man of Steel. At the center of the battle is tenacious and controversial attorney Marc Toberoff, the longtime nemesis of Warner Bros. who represents the heirs of Shuster and his collaborator Jerry Siegel.
He’s the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he pledges he’ll take the Superman dispute to the Supreme Court, if necessary. “This case is by no means over,” he tells the magazine. “My clients and I are prepared to go the distance.” It’s an interesting article that’s part history lesson and part personality profile, with several tidbits (of varying importance) that I can’t recall seeing previously:
Contractor David Gonzalez and his wife Deanna purchased the fixer-upper in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, for $10,100, and while demolishing a wall David found the rare comic amid newspapers used for insulation.
Although the comic might’ve received a CGC grade of 3.0 in the condition it was discovered, that dropped to 1.5 when the back cover was ripped in an exchange between Gonzalez and his wife’s aunt. “That was a $75,000 tear,” Stephen Fishler, co-owner of the New York City auction house ComicConnect, told the Star-Tribune last month.
Still … $175,000. That’s what a CGC-graded 2.0 copy fetched at a December 2012 auction held by Comic Connect.
About 100 copies of Action Comics #1 are thought to exist, but relative few are in decent condition. A near-mint copy owned by Nicolas Cage sold at auction in 2011 for a record $2.16 million.
According to ComicConnect, Gonzalez plans to continue the renovation of the house, but vows he’ll never sell it.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that while demolishing a wall, David Gonzalez struck gold amid newspapers from the 1930s that had been used for insulation: a copy of 1938′s Action Comics #1, featuring the debut of Superman.
He says he knew immediately the comic was valuable, but he had no idea how much it was actually worth. He’ll know for sure in another 20 days, when an online auction ends for the CGC-graded 1.5 copy. The top bid is a $113,111; Gonzalez will receive about half of the final sale price.
Unfortunately for the father of four, that figure would be significantly higher if not for the actions of one of his in-laws. It seems his wife’s over-eager aunt snatched the comic, and when Gonzalez went to grab it, the back cover was ripped, resulting in what ComicConnect’s Stephen Fishler calls “a $75,000 tear.” Without the rip, the comic would have been graded 3.0.
Frustrated by the glacial pace of a bill to create a Superman license plate, an Ohio representative pinned the legislation to the state budget, which passed the House on Thursday — coincidentally, the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel.
“This is an important moment for Ohioans,” State Rep. Bill Patmon, who represents Cleveland, told The Plain Dealer. “This license plate is all about recognizing the American dream and the heroes that make it possible.”
The legislation now moves to the Senate, and then on to Gov. John Kasich for final approval. If all goes as planned, the plates will be available for purchase by Ohioans next summer.
Celebrating the creation of Man of Steel in 1932 by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the plates originally were intended to bear the phrase, “Birthplace of Superman,” but Warner Bros. and DC Comics objected to the slogan, insisting the superhero was born on Krypton. So instead they’ll now say “Truth, Justice & the American Way,” and sport the iconic “S” emblem.
The Siegel and Shuster Society began the push for the plate in 2011. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the specialty plates will go to the group to fund Superman projects.
Following a series of devastating legal blows to the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, their lawyer has finally received some good news: A federal judge denied a bid by DC Comics to force Marc Toberoff to pay $500,000 in attorneys fees.
According to Variety, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright on Thursday rejected the publisher’s 2010 claims that Toberoff illegally interfered with its copyright claims to the Man of Steel when he convinced the Siegel and Shuster heirs to walk away from “mutually beneficial” agreements and seek to recapture the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1. They argued that the attorney stood to gain a controlling interest in the property.
But Wright sided with Toberoff and the Siegel and Shuster heirs, saying that DC had waited too long to make its claims of tortious interference. “The point here is that DC had more than enough knowledge by November 2006 to have tickled a suspicion that its business relationship with the Shusters was being tampered with,” the judge wrote. “It was then—and not when DC gathered the smoking-gun evidence supporting each element of its cause of action—that it should have filed suit.”
Handing a major victory to DC Comics, a California federal judge has ruled the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster surrendered the ability to reclaim their 50-percent interest in the property in a 1992 agreement with the publisher.
While the decision likely will be appealed, for now it means DC and parent company Warner Bros. can use the Man of Steel any way they wish beyond Oct. 26, 2013, when the Shuster estate would have recaptured its copyright to the first Superman story in 1938′s Action Comics #1. However, the companies must account for any profits earned from the property with the family of co-creator Jerry Siegel, which reclaimed its share in 2008 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of that decision is on appeal). Had the Shuster estate succeeded, DC and Warner Bros. eventually would have been unable to use many of the character’s defining aspects, including his secret identity, his origin, certain elements of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed), and Lois Lane — barring a new agreement with the families of the two creators, naturally.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright granted DC’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the Shuster estate’s 2003 copyright-termination notice was invalidated by a 20-year-old agreement with the late artist’s sister Jean Peavy. The publisher had argued the family relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” including payment of Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for Peavy.
The lawyer for the estate of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster asked a federal judge on Wednesday to reject DC Comics’ assertion that the artist’s relatives signed away all claims to the Man of Steel 20 years, saying the company would not have staked the ownership of “a billion-dollar property” on a one-page deal.
The hearing follows a tentative ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright granting DC’s motion for partial summary judgment asking the court to enforce a 1992 agreement in which the estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in exchange for “more than $600,000 and other benefits,” which included paying Shuster’s debts following his death earlier that year and providing his sister Jean Peavy with a $25,000 annual pension. The publisher argued that deal voids a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Warren Peary to reclaim the artist’s portion of the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1.
However, Law 360 reports that Marc Toberoff, the attorney representing the Shuster estate and the family of Jerry Siegel, insisted during Wednesday’s arguments that DC didn’t intend for the “ambiguous” 1992 document to transfer ownership of the copyright. “I submit that it’s impossible for this document to be the basis for Warner Bros. and DC’s chain of title to a billion-dollar property,” he said. “When they want someone to assign a copyright, they have an agreement this thick, and that agreement is filed with the Copyright Office to give the world constructive notice.”
Comics | Auction prices for comics and original comics art have soared over the past few years, ever since a copy of Action Comics #1 broke the $1-million mark in 2010. Barry Sandoval of Heritage Auctions (admittedly, not a disinterested party) and Michael Zapcic of the comics shop Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash discuss why that happened—and why prices are likely to stay high. [Underwire]
Creators | Brian Michael Bendis looks back on his eight-year run on Marvel’s Avengers franchise. [Marvel.com]
When Ohio finally releases a specialty license plate honoring the Man of Steel, it won’t include the slogan “Birthplace of Superman.”
The phrase is a nod, of course, to Cleveland, where in 1932 teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character that would become a culture icon. However, the Plain Dealer reports Warner Bros. and DC Comics took issue with the term “birthplace,” insisting Superman was born on Krypton.
“DC and Warner Communications have been cooperative,” Michael Olszewski, president of the nonprofit Siegel & Shuster Society, told the newspaper. “When we talked to Warner Communications, there was some discomfort over saying ‘birthplace,’ so we said we could fix that easily.” He and Siegel & Shuster Society founder Irving Fine, a cousin to Siegel, have come up with 10 alternative slogans.
In a bid to retain full ownership of the Man of Steel, Warner Bros. filed a brief on Friday asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a 2008 decision that granted the heirs of Jerry Siegel half the rights to the original Superman story, and to enforce a deal abandoned by the writer’s family seven years earlier. If the 9th Circuit chooses not to rule, the studio wants the case to be remanded to a district court for trial.
In its 117-page brief, Warner Bros. seeks to overturn the earlier ruling that terminated the transfer of copyright to the Superman story in 1938′s Action Comics #1 under the 1976 Copyright Act. The 2008 decision allowed the Siegel family to reclaim many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his costume, Lois Lane, his origin and secret identity — paving the way for the estate of artist Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013 — while leaving Warner Bros. and DC Comics with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen. As Hollywood, Esq. reports, the Siegel heirs appealed in December 2011, arguing they should have been permitted to recapture the rights in later Superman comics, which they contend Siegel and Shuster created “on spec,” and then sold to DC for $10 a page.
The bulk of the comic collection amassed by a young Billy Wright in the late 1930s and early 1940s sold at auction Wednesday for a staggering $3.5 million, The Associated Press reports, far surpassing initial estimates.
Wright’s childhood purchases — 345 comics, all kept in good condition — boasted 44 of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide’s list of Top 100 comics from the Golden Age, including Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27 and Captain America Comics #2. Wright passed away in 1994 at age 66, leaving the comics forgotten until his great nephew Michael Rorrer discovered them neatly stacked in a basement closet last February while cleaning house his great aunt’s Martinsville, Virginia, home following her death.
“The scope of this collection is, from a historian’s perspective, dizzying,” J.C. Vaughn, associate publisher of Overstreet, told The AP.
The “jaw-dropping” collection had been expected to fetch about $2 million. However, the 227 comics sold Wednesday brought in a whopping $3,466,264, including $523,000 for the CGC-Certified 6.5 copy of Detective Comics #27 and $299,000 for a 3.0 copy of the first appearance of Superman. The remaining, lesser comics will be sold online Friday and Saturday by Heritage Auctions; they’re expected to bring in about $100,000.
According to The Associated Press, 31-year-old Michael Rorrer found the neatly stacked comics in a closet last February while he was cleaning out his great aunt’s home following her death. It turns out that his great uncle Billy Wright, who died in 1994 at age 66, had (unknown to most of the family) held onto his boyhood comics dating back to 1938.
Described as “jaw-dropping” by Lon Allen of Heritage Auctions, the collection boasts 44 of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide’s list of Top 100 comics from the Golden Age, including Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27 and Captain America Comics #2. The CGC-Certified 6.5 copy of Batman’s first appearance is expected to fetch about $475,000, while the 3.0 copy of Superman’s debut could bring as much as $325,000.
A Cleveland group dedicated to celebrating the city as the “Birthplace of Superman” is leading a campaign to get the familiar “S” insignia emblazoned on Ohio specialty license plates.
The Plain Dealer reports that the nonprofit Siegel & Shuster Society, founded in 2008 to commemorate the creation of the Man of Steel in the city’s Glenville neighborhood by a teenage Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, has to collect 500 names on a petition as the first step toward the plate. A state senator has agreed to propose the plate in the Ohio legislature once the signatures are gathered.
The organization hopes to have the plates available by 2013, the 75th anniversary of Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1. Specialty plates, sold by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, typically cost anywhere between $25 and $35 more than standard plates. A portion of sales would go to the Siegel & Shuster Society to fund Superman projects.
A month after thieves stole a historical marker near the Cleveland house where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the Man of Steel, a man drove through the fence surrounding the site of Shuster’s former home on Tuesday night, damaging large metal plates that reprint the first Superman story.
According to The Plain Dealer, the driver is believed to be a neighbor, who’s offering to pay the estimated $2,600 to replace the seven plates he destroyed. The panels, which reprint pages from Action Comics #1, were installed two years ago by the Glenville Development Corporation and the Siegel and Shuster Society.
There is good news, though, at least regarding the historical marker: The newspaper reports that the plaque, stolen in April from the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and East 105th Street, was left at the Glenville neighborhood fire station, presumably because of the intense publicity surrounding the theft. It’s thought that the aluminum sign was taken by scrap-metal thieves who mistook it for bronze because of its coloring.
A ruling by a federal magistrate judge could open the door for Warner Bros. to gain access to confidential documents the studio insists support its claims against the attorney representing the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their fight for the rights to Superman.
Variety reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky ruled Wednesday that the documents, stolen from the office of attorney Marc Toberoff and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros. in December 2008, were not protected by attorney-client privilege. However, he postponed a final ruling until Toberoff and his attorneys can seek a decision from U.S. District Judge Judge Otis Wright.
At the time of the theft, a judge ruled that the documents were privileged, and ordered the studio to turn them over to a court officer within 24 hours. However, an attached seven-page cover letter called the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline” was not privileged, and became the basis for Warner Bros.’ 2010 lawsuit against the attorney. The complaint alleges that Toberoff “orchestrated a web of collusive agreements” with the Siegel and Shuster heirs, leading them to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture the Superman copyright. In addition, the studio claims Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights.
Just last month Zarefsky rejected the studio’s argument that the documents, which purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates and Toberoff would divide the Superman assets, violate the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, cannot be isolated from discovery. But this week he determined that Toberoff actually waived privilege when he turned over the documents last year in response to a grand jury subpoena issued after Toberoff met with the U.S. Attorney’s office to discuss an investigation of the theft.
The decision is only the latest twist in Warner Bros.’ increasingly bitter legal battle to hold onto Superman following a 2008 ruling that Siegel’s widow Joanne Siegel and daughter Laura Siegel Larson had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to the Man of Steel under the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.