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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #9!

This is the ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous eight.

Let’s begin!


COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel and DC own the trademark of the word “Super Hero.”

STATUS: True

Reader Jason asked a question about a Captain America T-Shirt that he had that had a DC copyright on it.

It is likely that Jason’s T-Shirt was, in fact, an error.

However, it did remind me of something that DC and Marvel DO share, and that is a trademark on the word “Super Hero.”

Here is a copy of the accepted US federal trademark…

Word Mark SUPER HEROES
Goods and Services IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: PUBLICATIONS, PARTICULARLY COMIC BOOKS AND MAGAZINES AND STORIES IN ILLUSTRATED FORM [(( ; CARDBOARD STAND-UP FIGURES; PLAYING CARDS; PAPER IRON-ON TRANSFER; ERASERS; PENCIL SHARPENERS; PENCILS; GLUE FOR OFFICE AND HOME USE, SUCH AS IS SOLD AS STATIONERY SUPPLY;] NOTEBOOKS AND STAMP ALBUMS )). FIRST USE: 19661000. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19661000
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 73222079
Filing Date July 3, 1979
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition June 9, 1981
Registration Number 1179067
Registration Date November 24, 1981
Owner (REGISTRANT) Cadence Industries Corporation a.k.a. Marvel Comics Group and DC Comics Inc. CORPORATION DELAWARE 575 Madison Ave. New York NEW YORK 10022
(LAST LISTED OWNER) DC COMICS PARTNERSHIP BY ASSIGNMENT NEW YORK 1700 BROADWAY NEW YORK NEW YORK 10019

(LAST LISTED OWNER) MARVEL CHARACTERS, INC. CORPORATION BY ASSIGNMENT DELAWARE 10474 SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD SUITE 206 LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA 90025

Assignment Recorded ASSIGNMENT RECORDED
Attorney of Record JONATHAN D. REICHMAN
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Affidavit Text SECT 15. SECT 8 (6-YR). SECTION 8(10-YR) 20020819.
Renewal 1ST RENEWAL 20020819
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

DC and Marvel have, since 1981, owned a trademark of the phrase “Super Hero,” in regards to publications, toys, costumes and the like.

Todd VerBeek had an interesting column on the topic a year or so ago here.

I thought about this when I was wondering whether Jason’s T-Shirt mentioned the phrase “Super Hero,” in which case it could have had a trademark on it mentioning both Marvel and DC.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DG Chichester left Daredevil with #332.

STATUS: False

Writer DG Chichester followed Ann Nocenti on Daredevil, and had an interesting run.

He brought the character back to his New York City roots, and his Last Rites storyline with artist Lee Weeks was pretty good.

Later on, working with artist Scott McDaniel, Chichester made the controversial move of both A. Bringing Elektra back from the dead and B. “Killing off” Matt Murdock and giving Daredevil a new armored costume and a new secret identity, Jack Batlin.

With issue #332, Chichester took a break from the book, and writer Gregory Wright did a fill-in arc for the next five issues. Chichester was to return after the arc.

However, the name DG Chichester would not appear in the credits of Daredevil again until the very last issue of Daredevil Volume 1 (#380).

What happened?

Well, during the fill-in arc (late 1994), Marvel had an in-company shake-up. Tom DeFalco was removed as Editor-in-Chief, and instead of naming a successor, Marvel named five separate “Editor-in-Chiefs,” each of whom was given a certain amount of titles to be in charge of.

Bob Harras kept the X-Men book, Mark Gruenwald got Marvel Heroes, Bob Budiansky got Spider-Man, Carl Potts got the Licensed Books and Alternaverse books (books that fell in the cracks), and Bobbie Chase got “Marvel Edge.”

“Marvel Edge” was basically throwing together all of Marvel’s “edgier” titles, like Hulk, Punisher, Ghost Rider, and yes, Daredevil.

Not much of a theme between the bunch, but that was what Marvel said must be.

Well, Bobbie Chase did not want DG Chichester to write Daredevil (for whatever reason), so she went out and got a new writer.

The thing is, Chichester was already working on his upcoming issues, and Chase did not want him to know that after those issues were done, a new writer would be taking over.

Someone secretly let Chichester in on this, and as a protest, he insisted that his name be taken off these remaining issues.

That is why Daredevil #338-342 are credited not to DG Chichester, but to Alan Smithee (the infamous pseudonym that directors use when they want to distance themselves from a project that they did not like…Chichester went to film school, dontcha know).

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Christopher Priest killed off a character in a comic because of ownership rights.

STATUS: True

In the pages of Justice League Task Force, writer Christopher Priest introduced a new hero, an asian teenager who disguised herself as a male hero named Mystek. Awhile after joining the team, while on a mission in space, Mystek was tragically lost out of the spaceship and died.

That was the last that anyone spoke of Mystek.

Why such an ignominous fate?

Well, as it turns out, Priest had created Mystek, and was in the process of selling Mystek to DC as a creator-owned character to star in her own mini-series. He was told to put her in Justice League Task Force to get people interested in her.

Well, the deal fell through.

At that point, DC did not own the character, but they were (in a way) making money off the character.

You can understand how this would not be a good thing for Priest, so off she went.

It was too bad, too, because she was a good character.

Read here for Priest’s take on it.

Well, that’s it for me this week!

Feel free to tell me some urban legends you have heard, and I will try to confirm or deny them!

13 Comments

Didn’t Mystek first appear in the Priest written book The Ray before showing up in JLTF?

Good point. What the deal was was that, for a time, Priest was writing the books basically like the Superman books with the triangles, in that stories from the Ray would mix and match with Justice League Task Force regularly, so yeah, Mystek probably DID make her first appearance in The Ray, but it was always with the intent on her becoming a member of JLTF.

But good call about where her first appearance was!

It was such an awful demise for the world’s first crossdressing Asian-American supervillian-turned-hero.

As a writer and as a personality, Priest is one of a kind.

It’s been suggested that Alan Moore’s use of the term “Science Hero” in his ABC books is due to Marvel/DC’s apparent legal lock on the “Superhero” term.

But that lock is actually less secure than one might think; legally one cannot trademark a generic term. For example, you can trademark the word “Kleenex”, but not the term “Facial tissue”, the word “Band-aid” but not the term “adhesive bandage” — and the phrase “Super Hero/Superhero” had a long history of use by multiple publishers long before the trademark was established. In fact, Dell Comics had a comic simply entitled “Super Heroes” in the 1960′s. (It starred the infamous “Fab Four”, and lasted less than a handful of issues–but it existed!)

It’s been suggested that the term “Super Hero” was trademarked by the late, great Mego toy company back in the 1970′s, and that that trademark was later sold to Marvel/DC for $1.00, which gives them the rights to it. The trouble is, if Mego ever actually had legal claim to the term, they had it only so far as it appied to toys/action figures, not for general usage.

From a technical point of view, Marvel has the trademark on the phrase “Marvel Super Hero/es”, and DC on the phrase “DC Super Hero/es”, and the two have agreed to a collusion to claim the generic term between them based on this. And since both have large banks of well-paid attorneys on their side, no one has challenged them on it so far.

But if someone with a sufficient war chest came along to fight them on this, I think it likely we’d find that the emperor had no spandex long underwear…

I think, rather than generic, the term you’re thinking of is “descriptive trademark.” Facial tissue is not a generic term, it’s a descriptive one. And normally, descriptive trademarks are, as you suggest, not open to trademark. There IS an exception, though, and one I think Marvel and DC have met. Here is a link to a FAQ on the topic!

I also own a Captain America T-Shirt with copyright DC Comics. I thought mine was special.. I guess not.. >.

Fortunately, Mystek has apparently returned from the dead and joined the Avengers. Ronin, eh?

Seeing as how Marvel and DC own the rights to the phrase “super hero”, did the creative staff of the show “Heroes” have to get permission from them to use it in their show when Ando said he was a “super hero”?

AIR Ando sarcastically said Hiro was “Super Hiro.”

I much prefer Nocenti’s beautiful run on Daredevil. It’s one of my favorite runs as a Marvel reader.

never liked Nocenti’s run on DD. loved the art tho’ [JRJR don'tcha kno]
DFTBA

I’ve been told there was a comic book called Super Heroes, that DC and Marvel didn’t publish (nor did DC or Marvel attack it). So if anyone wanted to challenge their copy right to the word, they could probably win.

I don’t see any record of such a comic at any of the various comic book databases – just books by DC and/or Marvel.

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