SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
If you thought the nearly decade-long legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel had come to an end last month, think again: On Thursday, the attorney for the Joe Shuster estate asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an October ruling that the family was prevented from reclaiming the artist’s stake in Superman by a 20-year-old agreement with DC Comics.
At issue is a 1992 deal in which the estate relinquished all claims to the property 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 and brother Frank Shuster with a $25,000 annual pension. On Oct. 17, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright found that the agreement invalidated a copyright-termination notice filed in 2003 by Shuster’s nephew Mark Peary. Less than three months later, the 9th Circuit overturned a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Jerry Siegel the writer’s 50-percent share of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1, effectively granting DC full ownership of the character.
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.
Even as Cleveland’s mayor proclaimed April 18 “Superman Day” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the release of Action Comics #1, a federal judge effectively brought to an end the lengthy legal battle for the rights to the Man of Steel.
Deadline reports that on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright granted summary judgment to DC Comics, declaring that a 2001 agreement with the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel included the rights to Superboy and advertisements for Action Comics #1. Those two issues had been left unresolved in a January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a 2008 ruling that the family had successfully reclaimed a portion of Siegel’s copyright to the first Superman story under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act.
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.
Someone, somewhere determined that on April 18, 1938 — it was a Monday, if you’re interested — Action Comics #1 arrived on newsstands, delivering riveting tales of Tex Thompson, Zatara the Master Magician and Scooby the Five-Star Reporter, and oh, yeah, introducing the world to Superman, Lois Lane and Krypton. It’s an issue that essentially gave birth to the superhero genre, and set the course of the fledgling comic-book industry.
Although DC Comics doesn’t appear to be marking the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel, the city where teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character is, beginning in about an hour. At 1 p.m. ET, Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson will present the Siegel and Shuster Society with a proclamation on the steps of City Hall declaring today “Superman Day.”
To commemorate the event, a Superman flag will be raised, and the lights on City Hall and the Terminal Tower (familiar to anyone how watched The Avengers) will be turned blue, red and yellow. In addition, Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport will have cupcakes for travelers, and a birthday card for the Last Son of Krypton at its recently installed Superman Welcoming Center.
Following the video on Friday, The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of Superman kicked into high gear Sunday with seven more stories, including a front-page feature.
Superman was, of course, created in 1933 by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who lived in the city’s Glenville neighborhood (spotlighted in that Friday video), and then sold in 1938 to Detective Comics. The newspaper’s anniversary coverage includes:
• A timeline (of sorts, although it’s more like a game board) of Superman’s 75-year history, from his arrival on Earth to his first encounter with Beppo to his relaunch in DC Comics’ New 52
• An interview with Brad Ricca, author of the upcoming Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — the Creators of Superman
In addition to all of that, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has proclaimed Thursday “Superman Day.”
Kicking off its celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel, The Plain Dealer has released a video that traces Superman’s Cleveland roots, from the character’s creation by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the city’s Glenville neighborhood to the studio they later established that employed local artists like John Sikela, Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka and Hi Mankin.
Over the next few days, the newspaper will roll out more Superman content, including a 90-second video about kryptonite, the full story of the character’s creation, and an illustrated timeline.
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.”
A federal judge confirmed Wednesday that the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel relinquished any claims to the character in a 2001 agreement with DC Comics. However, that seems unlikely to end the nearly decade-long legal battle over the Man of Steel.
The order by U.S. District Judge Otis Wright III follows the January decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Siegel heirs had accepted a 2001 offer from DC that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions — and therefore were barred from reclaiming a portion of the writer’s copyright to Action Comics #1.
Unwilling to give up, Siegel attorney Marc Toberoff introduced a new strategy earlier this month, arguing not only that the Ninth Circuit didn’t settle all of the outstanding issues but that if there was a contract, then DC failed to perform: “DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”
Legal | A federal judge on Friday denied DC Comics’ bid for sanctions against the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, finding that Marc Toberoff made “no deliberate attempt to mislead” during the discovery process and, perhaps more importantly, did not interfere with the publisher’s rights to the Man of Steel when he allegedly inserted himself into settlement talks in 2001. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Stan Lee will be deposed this week by lawyers representing Stan Lee Media in its multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against Disney involving the rights to the characters the legendary writer co-created for Marvel. Stan Lee Media, which no longer has ties to its namesake, claims Disney as infringed on the copyrights Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men and other heroes since 2009, when it purchased Marvel. The long, tortured dispute dates back to a sequence of events that occurred between August 1998, when Marvel used its bankruptcy proceedings to terminate Lee’s lifetime contract, and November 1998, when Lee entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas and signed over his likeness, and any claims to the characters. Stan Lee Media has long claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company the rights to his creations and his likeness. SLM asserts in the latest lawsuit that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, has ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Seeking to end nearly a decade of litigation, DC Comics has asked for summary judgment in lawsuits brought by the heirs of Jerry Siegel regarding the copyrights to Superman and Superboy.
In a motion filed Thursday in federal court, and first reported by Law360, the publisher’s attorneys assert the Jan. 10 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that effectively affirmed DC’s ownership of the Man of Steel bars Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson from moving forward with any claims.
That decision overturned a 2008 ruling that permitted Siegel’s family to recapture his portion of the copyright to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1 under a provision of the 1976 Copyright Act, which seemingly cleared a path for the estate of his collaborator Joe Shuster to do the same this year. That would have given the family of ownership of many of the Man of Steel’s defining elements, including his origin, his secret identity, Lois Lane and certain aspects of his costume and powers (super-strength and super-speed), while leaving DC with such later additions as Lex Luthor, kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen — not to mention the all-important trademarks.
Legal | In the aftermath of last month’s ruling that DC Comics retains full rights to Superman, the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are urging federal judge to dismiss claims that their lawyer interfered with the publisher’s copyright to the character. DC sued attorney Marc Toberoff in May 2010, accusing him impeding a 1992 copyright agreement with the heirs by striking overriding deals with them in 2001 and 2003. The families insist the publisher filed its claims two years too late, as the statute of limitations expired in 2008. [Law360]
Webcomics | Malicious hackers hit the Blind Ferret servers last week, and they didn’t just wipe out the websites that host Least I Could Do, Girls with Slingshots and other high-profile webcomics — they also wiped out the backups. Gary Tyrell has the story and advises creators to have multiple backups in multiple locations. [Fleen]
Legal | A federal judge this week made final his Oct. 17 decision that 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 DC Comics, triggering an almost-immediate appeal to the 9th Circuit by Shuster estate lawyer Marc Toberoff. Jeff Trexler delves into the legal strategy behind the attorney’s motion for final judgment. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Todd McFarlane has settled his lawsuit against former employee Al Simmons, who earlier this year released a book in which he claimed to be the inspiration for Spawn. McFarlane had accused Simmons of violating the terms of his employment pact and breaching his duty of loyalty. Settlement terms weren’t disclosed. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Comics | Ohio drivers moved a little closer to getting their Superman specialty license plate Wednesday as the proposal was outlined for a state Senate committee. The bill, which already passed the state House, is on track to go to the full Senate for a vote before the end of the year. The Siegel & Shuster Society launched the campaign for the plates in July 2011 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel in 2013; the character, which debuted in 1938, was created six years earlier in Cleveland by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The original plan for the plates to include the slogan “Birthplace of Superman,” that met with objections from Warner Bros., which insisted he was born on Krypton. The legend will now read, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” [Plain Dealer]
Manga | Tony Yao summarizes a recent article from The Nikkei Shimbun that analyzes the readership of Shonen Jump, which is 50 percent female despite the magazine being targeted to boys (“shonen” means “boy” in Japanese). They break down the popularity of series by gender and discuss how the female audience affects editorial decisions. [Manga Therapy]
The 9th Circuit heard two appeals Tuesday that could decide the bitter 15-year-old legal battle for control of the Man of Steel.
An attorney for DC Comics asked the three-judge panel to reverse a 2008 decision granting the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel his portion of the copyright to Action Comics #1, arguing the family is reneging on a 2001 agreement that would have ensured the company’s ownership of the billion-dollar property.
DC has long argued that Siegel’s daughter Laura Siegel Larson walked away from a settlement deal that would’ve allowed the company to retain all rights to Superman in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions. The publisher claims the heirs only withdrew from the settlement after attorney Marc Toberoff entered the picture, falsely asserting he had a $15 million offer for the rights from a billionaire investor (alleged to be Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). However, a federal judge determined in 2008 that, without a formalized contract, there was no agreement.