Seventy-five years ago, on or about April 18, 1938, the company that would become DC Comics published the first issue (cover-dated June 1938) of a new anthology series. Today, Action Comics #1 is remembered mainly (and justifiably so) for introducing Superman.
Naturally, many of the elements and concepts from that first Superman story have changed over time. In Action #1, all we see of Krypton is its final fate. Pa Kent doesn’t have a first name, and Clark works for the Daily Star. There’s no Lex Luthor, no Jimmy Olsen, no Kryptonite, and no Superboy. Even Superman’s powers pale in comparison to what they would become.
However, two characters are already fleshed out pretty well, with motivations and dynamics instantly recognizable to today’s readers. One, of course, is Clark Kent, who creates the Superman identity to “turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind,” and who hides that strength behind a pair of glasses and a meek demeanor.
The other is Lois Lane.
Creators | Artist J.K. Woodward (Fallen Angel, Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who) recounts how he and his wife lost everything but their cat and the clothes they were wearing during Hurricane Sandy — and how what happened afterward changed his perspective: ““When things are going right, you really don’t know what kind of world you’re living in. You tend to be cynical. But there has been such an outpouring of support not just here but from the comics community — we did a podcast interview, for example, and I mentioned how we had to go to the laundromat every day because of our clothing situation. As a result of that, two days later I went to my studio was packed full of care packages with toiletries and other necessities. It showed that what should have been a real tragedy turned into a blessing. It gave me a much more positive outlook.” [The Conway Daily Sun]
The same day that she helped to dedicate an exhibit at Cleveland’s airport recognizing the city as the place of Superman’s creation, Jerry Siegel’s daughter issued a letter to fans recounting her family’s fight to reclaim a portion of the Man of Steel copyright, and criticizing the tactics used by Warner Bros. and DC Comics in the increasingly bitter legal battle.
Characterizing their 15-year crusade as “my family’s David and Goliath struggle against Warner Bros.,” Laura Siegel Larson writes, “My father, Jerry Siegel, co-created Superman as the ‘champion of the oppressed … sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!’ But sadly his dying wish, for his family to regain his rightful share of Superman, has become a cautionary tale for writers and artists everywhere.”
A federal judge ruled in 2008 that the family had succeeded in recapturing that share of the first Superman story in Action Comics #1 through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the scope of the decision is on appeal), paving the way for the estate of Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, effectively stripping DC of some of the defining elements of the Man of Steel, including his secret identity, his origin, his costume and Lois Lane. DC fired back in 2010, suing to force Marc Toberoff to resign as the Siegel attorney, claiming he enticed the heirs to walk away from a $3 million deal that would’ve permitted the company to retain control of Superman and stands to gain controlling interest in the property. DC is also asking a court to block the Shuster estate from reclaiming its stake, arguing the family relinquished all claims to Superman 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 his sister Jean Peavy.
Siegel Larson’s letter, first published by The Hollywood Reporter, arrived on the heels of a DC motion filed Wednesday in the Shuster case accusing Toberoff of, among other things, concealing evidence.
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.
A federal judge on Monday denied an effort by Warner Bros. to gain access to sensitive documents that are alleged to show an agreement between the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not to strike further copyright deals with the studio, Hollywood, Esq. reports.
The documents, which were at the center of Warner Bros.’ May 2010 lawsuit against Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff, also purportedly contain a formula for how the two estates, and Toberoff, would divide the Superman assets once they successfully terminate the studio’s rights to the property.
Although Toberoff had convinced the judge in the first trial that those documents were protected by attorney-client privilege, Warner Bros.’ new outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli argued in the 2010 lawsuit that the consent agreement violates the U.S. Copyright Act and, therefore, can’t be insulated from discovery. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zaresky ruled this week that the studio’s assertion that the documents are illegal doesn’t necessarily make them illegal.
Zaresky’s decision is a setback for Warner Bros., which has been waging an 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. The door will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same. (Last month Toberoff asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 decision.)
Joanne Siegel, widow of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, passed away on Feb. 12 with her family’s prolonged legal battle with Warner Bros. over the Man of Steel still unresolved.
Although a judge ruled in 2008 that the Siegels had successfully recaptured half of the original copyright to Superman, paving the way for the estate of co-creator Joe Shuster to do the same in 2013, Warner Bros. has continued its increasingly bitter fight for the property. In May the studio went so far as to sue the attorney representing the two families in an effort to force him to resign.
Noting the recent changes in tone and tactics, Joanne Siegel prepared a letter to Time Warner Chairman Jeffrey L. Bewkes just two months before her death asking for an end to such “mean-spirited tactics” as the lawsuit against attorney Marc Toberoff and multiple depositions of herself and daughter Laura Siegel Larson, both of whom were in poor health.
“My daughter Laura and I, as well as the Shuster estate, have done nothing more than exercise our rights under the Copyright Act,” Siegel wrote in the letter, obtained and published by Deadline. “Yet, your company has chosen to sue us and our long-time attorney for protecting our rights. [...] The solution to saving time, trouble, and expense is a change of viewpoint. Laura and I are legally owed our share of Superman profits since 1999. By paying the owed bill in full, as you pay other business bills, it would be handled as a business matter, instead of a lawsuit going into its 5th year.”
The latest turn in the case came just last week, when it was reported that Toberoff had asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to determine exactly what elements from Superman’s mythology his clients can reclaim as a result of the 2008 court ruling.
Read the full text of the letter after the break.
Passings | Perry Moore, executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia movie franchise and author of Hero, was found dead Thursday in his New York City apartment after an apparent overdose. He was 39. A longtime comics fan, Moore wrote the acclaimed 2007 young-adult novel Hero, about the world’s first gay teen superhero. At one point he and Stan Lee were developing the book as a series for Showtime, but the cable network ultimately passed.
Moore was outspoken about the portrayal of gay characters in mainstream superhero comics, releasing in 2007 a “Women in Refrigerators”-inspired list of ignored, mistreated or retconned LGBT heroes. He also appeared at Comic-Con International in 2008 and 2009 on the gays in comics panels. [New York Daily News]
Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest book chain in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, announcing plans to close about 192 of its 639 Borders, Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders Outlet locations over the next several weeks. It’s unclear how many of the company’s 6,100 full-time and 11,400 part-time employees will be affected by the closings. Borders, which listed $1.29 billion in debt and $1.27 billion in assets, plans to continue to operate through the court process with the help of $505 million in financing from lenders led by G.E. Capital.
The likelihood of bankruptcy has loomed for the past several weeks as the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based bookseller pushed unsuccessfully for publishers and distributors to convert late payments into $125 million in loans. That concession was critical to Borders securing $550 million in refinancing from G.E. Capital. Publishers like Penguin Group, Hatchette, Simon & Schuster, Random House and HarperCollins are now, in Publishers Weekly‘s words, on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Diamond Book Distributors, which stopped shipping to Borders last month, is owed $3.9 million. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]
Passings | As Comic Book Resources reported, Joanne Siegel, wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and the model for Lois Lane, passed away Monday in California. She was 93. Although news of her death first circulated online via Brad Meltzer’s Twitter account, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Michael Sangiacomo had the first official report, only hours after he wrote about the installation of signs bearing the honorary street names “Joe Shuster Lane” and “Lois Lane” in the Cleveland neighborhood where Siegel and Shuster created the Man of Steel. CBR’s Kiel Phegley spoke with Meltzer, who met Joanne Siegel while researching his novel The Book of Lies. Heidi MacDonald, meanwhile, has reaction from Bradley Ricca, who’s working on a documentary about the Siegel family. The Hollywood Reporter and The Superman Super Site also have obituaries. More will certainly appear throughout the day. [Comic Book Resources]
Publishing | Acclaimed cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For) has been named the guest editor of the 2011 edition of The Best American Comics, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [Shelf Life]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson spotlights the “quiet revolution” at Archie Comics that finds the publisher expanding into graphic novels and digital delivery, further diversifying its characters and tackling more topical issues. [Publishers Weekly]