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Comics A.M. | Stan Lee Media, Spider-Man & ‘litigation finance’

Spider-Man

Spider-Man

Legal | Those wondering how Stan Lee Media can possibly afford its long, and so far entirely unsuccessful, legal battle with Marvel and Disney may want to read this brief Wall Street Journal article about “litigation finance” — which it characterizes as the growing practice of investing in lawsuits. However, pointing to the fight over the rights to Spider-Man and other characters, writer Rob Copeland points out there are high risks: namely, that investors could never see financial return. As we’ve noted before, Stan Lee Media’s efforts are backed by a group of investors that includes the $21 billion hedge fund Elliott Management, which helps to explain why the lawsuits keep coming. [MoneyBeat]

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Disney’s next D23 Expo scheduled for Aug. 14-16, 2015

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 9.09.29 AM

Disney announced this week the dates for their next company-focused convention. The D23 Expo will return to Anaheim, Calif. the weekend of Aug. 14-16, 2015.

Settling into an apparent “every other year” pattern, D23 focuses on “what’s new and what’s on the horizon from theme parks, television, music, games and films, including Pixar, the Muppets, Star Wars and Marvel.” At past D23 Expos, Disney has brought out everyone from Johnny Depp, dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow to announce the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, to the almost-complete cast of Avengers. Last year saw Tom Hiddleston singing “Bare Necessities,” while Disney and Marvel teased their “Seekers of the Weird” comic project.

Advance tickets for D23 Expo 2015 will go on sale at D23Expo.com beginning Aug. 14, 2014.

Does Disney’s ‘Frozen’ pay homage to ‘Watchmen’?

watchmen-let it go

While Adele Dazeem’s Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let It Go” from Frozen is inescapable (and downright catchy), I’d somehow missed widespread speculation that the big scene from Disney’s latest animated blockbuster is an elaborate homage to the Mars sequence from Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It’s already inspired some mashups, but now Slate’s Forrest Wickman draws our attention to one that may just erase any doubts, ending the debate once and for all (or, y’know, not): Alex Wolinetz‘s combination of the song’s lyrics with Gibbons’ panels depicting a self-exiled Doctor Manhattan. (You can see the rest of the mashup at Slate.com.)

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Stan Lee Media fires back at Disney in fight over Spider-Man

spider-manFighting an effort to end its persistent claims to Spider-Man, the tenacious Stan Lee Media Inc. insists it’s up to Disney to prove ownership of the Marvel superhero.

In documents filed Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia, the failed dot-com again argued that none of the previous cases over the past decade — and there have been many — has directly addressed the merits of its ownership claims. “No judge has decided that Disney actually owns the Spider‐Man copyrights or, for that matter, that SLMI does not own the copyrights,” the papers state. “[...] That issue has never been decided, and Disney has now placed it directly before the court in this case.”

“This case” is a copyright- and trademark-infringement involving the use of elements from Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in a musical revue staged by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre. What Disney’s lawyers thought would be “a simple case” took an unexpected turn in November when the theater responded that it had licensed Spider-Man, from Stan Lee Media, which was named in a third-party counterclaim (the license was obtained after Disney filed suit). That opened the door for the company, which no longer has a connection to Stan Lee, to sue Disney, seeking a jury trial regarding ownership of Spider-Man, and, presumably, the other Marvel characters it’s sought since emerging from bankruptcy in 2006.

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Disney Interactive cuts 700 jobs, scales back output

disney interactiveDisney Interactive slashed about 700 jobs on Thursday, more than one-quarter of its entire staff, as part of entertainment giant’s continuing battle to make its video game and Internet division profitable. Although the cuts had been anticipated for some time, few expected them to run that deep.

The Playdom group, which produces social-media games, is believed to be hit hardest. Disney purchased that company in 2010 for $563 million, an investment that clearly didn’t pay off.

Disney also plans to dramatically scale back in-house development of games, relying instead on outside licensing, which The New York Times characterizes as “a major shift in strategy.” The newspaper reports the company, which last year released about two dozen games, will reduce its output by 50 percent, and merge Playdom with the more successful mobile games unit.

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Don Rosa creates cover for ‘Scrooge McDuck’ concept album

holopainen3

Renowned Disney cartoonist Don Rosa, who left comics in 2012, has returned to the character for which he’s best remembered — with the cover art for a concept album based on his Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Yes, read that last part again.

Titled Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge, likely in hopes of avoiding the all-seeing eye of Disney, it’s a solo album by Finnish keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopainen, founder of the symphonic metal band Nightwish, and a major Rosa fan.

“This is my longtime dream come true, 14 years in the making,” Holopainen says on his website. “And a homage to one of the best storytellers of our time.”

Holopainen spent most of last year writing and producing the album, which contains 10 tracks, including “Glasgow 1877,” “Cold Heart of the Klondike,” and the first single “A Lifetime Adventure,” which arrives with a video. The full album will be available April 15.

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Disney & Marvel assemble Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon

avengers half marathon-logo

Fresh from Sunday’s Disney Princess event, runDisney has announced the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend. It marks the first such collaboration since Disney acquired Marvel in 2009.

Planned for Nov. 14-16 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the event includes a kids race, a 5K and half marathon — it’s a new 13.1-mile route through the theme park –  a pre-race pasta party featuring the Marvel characters and a merchandise expo. Registration opens March 25.

“RunDisney races are a natural fit because our comic book Super Heroes embody many of the same brand attributes as runDisney, such as heroism and intensity with a heavy dose of fun,” Dan Buckley, Marvel’s president of TV, publishing and brand management, said in a statement. “This race weekend will have a very distinct atmosphere that will appeal to comic book fans and runDisney fans.”

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Disney seeks to end Stan Lee Media’s pursuit of Marvel heroes

disney-marvel-logoAfter being pursued in court over the past seven years by Stan Lee Media, Marvel and its corporate parent Disney have had enough: On Valentine’s Day, the companies asked a federal judge to put a stop to the failed dot-com’s dogged claims of ownership of Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and other lucrative characters.

Filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, and first reported by Hollywood, Esq., the motion to dismiss comes as part of what began in September as a seemingly straightforward copyright- and trademark-infringement lawsuit involving the use of elements from Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in a musical revue staged by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre.

However, as Disney states in its filing, that “simple case” was “transmogrified” with the surprising assertion in November from the theater that it had licensed Spider-Man … from Stan Lee Media, which was named in a third-party counterclaim (it should be noted the license was obtained after Disney filed suit). That conveniently opened the door for the company, which no longer has a connection to its co-founder and namesake, to sue Disney on Feb. 7, seeking a jury trial regarding ownership of Spider-Man, and, presumably, other characters co-created by Stan Lee.

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Stan Lee Media steps into licensing dispute, sues Disney

marvel superheroes

Continuing its long, and so far wholly unsuccessful, fight for ownership of many of Marvel’s best-known characters, the tenacious Stan Lee Media has sued a Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, seeking to join a dispute about licensing Spider-Man for the stage.

In September, Disney Enterprises, Marvel and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. sued Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based American Music Theatre, saying it violated copyrights and trademarks by using elements of Spider-Man, Mary Poppins and The Lion King in its musical revue Broadway: Now and Forever (Disney and Mackintosh jointly hold the copyright to the Mary Poppins stage production). The theater responded in November with the surprising claim that Disney doesn’t own Spider-Man. Instead, the counterclaim stated, the character belongs to Stan Lee Media, which licensed the rights to the American Music Theatre.

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Nintendo + Dark Horse = replacement for ‘Star Wars’ license

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Ever since Disney announced the purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, virtually everyone in the comics industry knew there was a ticking clock on Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics; it’s only natural, after all, that the entertainment giant would move the profitable Star Wars license in-house, similar to how it shuffled the Disney and Pixar titles from BOOM! Studios to Marvel in 2011. Following the announcement last month that Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics line will end its 20-plus year run at the end of the year, the next obvious question concerns what will take its place.

It’s difficult to overstate how big of an impact the Star Wars comics have had on Dark Horse. In the early days 0f 2014, the publisher has two ongoing series and two miniseries — one of which, The Star Wars, was the highest-selling Dark Horse and licensed title in 2013. The company has already announced plans for a broader Aliens/Predator/Prometheus line that could fill some of the holes left by Star Wars come January 2015, but recent news in the video game world gives me another idea …

Nintendo.

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Marvel and ‘Star Wars’ characters heading to ‘Disney Infinity’?

disney infinity

Coming perhaps as little surprise, if still welcome news to hopeful fans, Disney is rumored to be developing new versions of its expansive Disney Infinity video game that will feature Marvel and Star Wars characters.

The information is included in a Wall Street Journal report about the expected layoffs of “several hundred” more people from Disney Interactive Studios, despite the game’s strong launch in August.

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Captain America to return to Disneyland this spring

Captain America at the D23 Expo

Captain America at the D23 Expo

Captain America, who made his Disneyland debut in August for the D23 Expo, will return to the Anaheim, California, theme park in April as part of the marketing push for Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

No further details accompanied the announcement. Visitors to Disneyland can already experience the Thor: Treasures of Asgard and Iron Man Tech Presented by Star Industries exhibits, both launched in conjunction with the characters’ respective films.

The Sentinel of Liberty has the distinction of being the first Marvel character to appear at a Disney event (D23) since the media giant purchased Marvel in 2009. He can also be seen on Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic as part of the Avengers Academy kids’ area.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens April 4.

Quote of the Day | Marvel comics, movies and editorial direction

captain america25“I’m just jumping on this one because I find it ludicrous. First of all, that’s what we should be doing. In order to help the print business we need to get as many people as possible excited about the content we’re delivering them, and the less confusing it is for them to engage in our product, the more success we’re going to have. That’s one part. We should be communicating with each other. [...] At the same, we allowed Ed Brubaker to kill Captain America and have another guy run around in that costume for over 18 months to two years when we were making a Captain America movie. We stopped making Thor the comic book for over a year and then we re-launched it with JMS and Oliver Coipel telling his story. Does Marvel give editorial direction on what you can and cannot do with our characters? Yes. We did that before we made movies and before we went to Disney. That’s what the editorial group does here for a living.”

– Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, responding to the suggestion that companies like his “with a big media operation” are “controlling the print content to a greater degree in order to make it align more successfully with the other media”

Comics A.M. | Case of Sherlock Holmes rights isn’t over just yet

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #2

Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #2

Legal | As the dust begins to settle on the ruling last month by a federal judge that Arthur Conan Doyle’s first 50 Sherlock Holmes stories have lapsed into the public domain in the United States, out march the analyses pointing out the buts. Chief among them, of course, is the possibility of appeal by the Conan Doyle estate, which contends the characters were effectively incomplete until the author’s final story was published in the United States (the 10 stories published after Jan. 1, 1923, remain under copyright in this country until 2022).

However, Publishers Weekly notes that because U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo didn’t rule directly on that “novel” argument, the estate may be satisfied with the ambiguity of the decision, given that uncertain creators still may seek to license the characters to steer clear of any trouble. Estate lawyer Benjamin Allison also insists that the Sherlock Holmes trademarks remain unaffected, an assertion that puzzles author and scholar Leslie Klinger, who brought the lawsuit. “There is a very good reason why the Estate did not assert trademark protection: The Estate does not own any trademarks,” he told PW. “They have applied for them, and there will be substantial opposition.” There’s more at NPR, The Independent and The Atlantic. [Publishers Weekly]

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Dark Horse editor finds bright spot in loss of ‘Star Wars’ license

star wars omnibusWhile it was certainly inevitable, Friday’s announcement that Dark Horse will lose the Star Wars license after more than two decades to Disney-owned Marvel nonetheless left many longtime readers dismayed, to say the least. To those fans, Dark Horse Vice President of Publishing Randy Stradley points out a silver lining: “[If] Dark Horse must lose the license, this is probably a good time for it.”

“From my perspective, the upcoming films will mean less freedom to do what we at Dark Horse have always done best: expanding the universe,” Stradley, who has served as senior editor of the Star Wars line since 2002, wrote Sunday on his Facebook page. “With a new film scheduled every year, and a new television series, it is likely that there will be a lot of comics pages devoted to adaptations and direct spin-off stories in support of the films and TV shows. That’s not where my interests lie, and it has never been Dark Horse’s strong suit. That would be too much like real work to me. Probably, the coming years will be a great time to be a Star Wars fan (especially a *new* Star Wars fan), and I hope you all enjoy the ride, but I think I’m going to be glad to not be in the mix.”

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