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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #152

This is the one-hundred and fifty-second 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 one-hundred and fifty-one. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel asked a court to rule that the X-Men were not human.

STATUS: True

One of the biggest messages of the X-Men comic, particularly since Chris Claremont began writing it in the 1970s (okay, REALLY particularly since the 1980s, when Claremont began really stressing it) was that mutants should not be persecuted, they are just as human as anyone else, they just look different (and have powers). That’s the whole message of God Loves, Man Kills (as an aside, I’d love to post the famous Brent Anderson drawing of Nightcrawler from that issue – anyone have a scan? Joseph West helped me out with the following scan – click to enlarge. Thanks, Joseph!!)!!

So it comes as quite a shock that a few years back, Marvel Comics was in court trying to argue that the X-Men are specifically NOT human!!

In came about in the 2003 case, Toy Biz v. United States, and it ties in to an early case from the 1980s, where Hasbro tried to claim the same distinction about GI Joe.

Really, it’s all a bit of a joke, as the real issue here is simply tariffs. The tariffs on dolls are higher than they are on toys, most likely because the last time tariffs on these things were overhauled, it was probably in a year that began with a 1, a 9 and probably a 2. In any event, toys have lower tariffs than dolls, so during the 1980s, Hasbro tried to argue that GI Joe figures were “action figures” and NOT dolls, and should be classified under toys, not dolls. The U.S. Court of International Trade disagreed.

However, in 2003, when Toy Biz (Marvel) brought their claim, the U.S. Court of International Trade agreed with their claim that the X-Men were significantly different enough from humans (which is the basic foundation of what a “doll” is – note that most GI Joe figures appear like humans) that they can
be classified as “non-human,” and therefore, qualify as toys, not dolls.

As a result, Toy Biz recouped the tariffs it had paid in the past when X-Men toys were classified as dolls.

So yes, it is all about saving money, but at the same time, it’s pretty bizarre to see Marvel argue that the X-Men are non-human, right? Here is a quote from Marvel at the time – “our heroes are living, breathing human beings- but humans who have extraordinary abilities … A decision that the X-Men figures indeed do have ‘nonhuman’ characteristics further proves our characters have special, out-of-this world powers.”

Love that spin (do note that ALL of Marvel’s superhero toys were ruled non-human)!!

Thanks to my pal, Loren, for filling me in on this one!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Patricia Highsmith was a comic book writer.

STATUS: True

Patricia Highsmith, the celebrated author of the classic novel Strangers on a Train, as well as the five-book Mr. Ripley series of novels (began with The Talented Mr. Ripley) was a comic book writer during the 1940s!!

Ms. Highsmith worked primarily for Better and Fawcett Comics, after she graduated from Barnard in 1942 up until 1948.

Her work appeared most likely in Black Terror for Better…

and Golden Arrow (among others) for Fawcett…

Amusingly enough, when she began working as a novelist, she had one of Tom Ripley’s (her amoral con artist character) first victims be none other than a comic book artist!! “Tom had a hunch about Reddington. He was a comic-book artist. He probably didn’t know whether he was coming or going.”

I wish someone out there could find out which issues she worked on of each comic! Has someone already found out and I did not know? If so, let me know!

Thanks to the prolific John McDonagh for tipping me off about this one (and thanks to Highsmith’s Wikipedia page for the quote from Ripley).

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel was FORCED not to do a Wizard of Oz follow-up, Ozma of Oz.

STATUS: False

I’ve already written about the Marvel/DC collaboration on the Wizard of Oz comic book.

And I think a lot of folks are familiar with the follow-up that Roy Thomas and Alfredo Alcala did for Marvel…

But a lot of those same folks recall the ending of that issue, which talked about the follow-up, Ozma of Oz, which never occured.

Most people presume that it was some sort of legal snafu that kept Marvel from publishing it, and they’re BASICALLY correct, except that in this case, it was Marvel’s own decision to not put it out.

You see, while Marvel had the license to use the MGM characters, they would have needed a separate license from the Baum Trust to use Ozma from Oz, which Marvel originally felt was in the public domain when they began working on it, and when they learned they would have to pay extra for it, it just didn’t make financial sense to keep doing it..

Thanks to a fairly recent issue of Alter Ego and Eric Shanower for the information!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!

While you’re here, check out the Top 100 Comic Book Runs countdown (you can follow it here)!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

See you next week!

30 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 25, 2008 at 3:22 am

Regarding the X-men toys, man, is that BEAST the ugliest toy ever made?!?

Beast has total methmouth. Where are his teeth?!

“The Tintinnabulatin’ Tin-Man?”

They should have called this “Stan Lee’s Wizard of Oz”, true believer!

I remember an article about the Oz comics in the International Oz Club’s newsletter. One thing they pointed out about the Ozma adaptation is that mixing the MGM designs with the book illustrations was going to cause them some consistency problems. As the cover of Land of Oz shows, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are based on the movie versions (which aren’t all that different from the book versions, just more realistic), while Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Gump are all based on John Neill’s original art.

The problem in “Ozma” is that the Cowardly Lion (who isn’t in “Land”) reappears, and the Hungry Tiger is introduced. This left the artist with the dilemma of whether the Tiger should look like a human, to match the Lion, or like an actual tiger, which would match the original art (and make more sense) but would make the Lion look out of place. I think they eventually decided to go with a humanoid Tiger, but it became moot anyway. (They would probably have been all right with dumping the Bert Lahr likeness for the Lion at this point, but Dorothy reappears in this book, and those familiar with the MGM movie would have been confused if she reappeared as a short-haired blonde, as Neill drew her.)

I noticed the tidbit about Patricia Highsmith last week, when it popped up in The Ten-Cent Plague. Which also noted that Abe Vigoda’s brother was a comics editor back in those days …

Gotta love that Black Terror cover. I’d suggest to that Japanese bomber that he might want to fly a little higher than 6 feet off the ground if he’s dropping bombs.

I remember thinking the Black Terror had the coolest costume in the world when I caught a glimpse at an old cover back in the 60′s. When I bought the issue of Amazing Spider-Man that introduced The Punisher, I remember thinking all he needed was a domino mask and a yellow cape and the Terror was reborn. I was disappointed after reading the issue that this new character was nothing more than an assasin. It would take a few years for Frank Castle to be portrayed as the sympathetic anti-hero in the same vein as the early Mack Bolan, The Executioner novels.

I’ve made it a point NOT to be a pirate, but I was quick to download the scans of the complete Black Terror archive a year or so ago, as it was labeled by the scanner as public domain. Does anyone know if the public domain label is factual for this hero? Is it still public doamin now that Dynamite features the Better heroes in a series?

I just love that the promo photo of Highsmith shows her smoking. Different times, indeed …

I would assume, since Black Terror was used in the Terra Obscura alternate reality in Tom Strong, that he and the other characters must be in the public domain.

Does that mean the Punsiher is a doll since he doesn’t have any super powers?

I enjoyed both Oz books. A problem these days is that every wants to make the land of Oz a much darker place with Dorothy as an adult. I was intrigued by Oz Squad from Patchwork Press at first, but when it changed companies and direction, I lost all interest. Perhaps its due to my age but I prefer my Oz stories to stick fairly close to the ones Baum, Thompson and others wrote, keeping it in the vein of a children’s story that appeals to all ages with just some minor tweaking as needed.

Black Terror and the other Nedor characters are indeed in the public domain.

Doesn’t it seem like the Oz stories would be the easiest setting in which to have functional inconsistency?

Second to Wonderland, maybe.

Brian, I’ll send you an e-mail with a scan of what I *think* you’re referring to.

The Black Terror is so very much in Public Domain.

How many times have they used this character in the modern era? I counted at least four off the top of my head. The Eclipse/Dixon verson, the AC Comics version, Alan Moore’s ABC version, and the Project Superpowers one Dynamite and Alex Ross are doing now.

Of course I would not doubt he may have turned up in the Invaders (when Roy Thomas was using some PD characters in the series) or even a Spawn book (I am pretty sure Todd may have some rights to the Eclipse Black Terror character) but not being a fan of either of those books puts me in the dark on that.

[...] weiß gar nicht, wie man unter kulturtheoretischen Vorzeichen den Umstand beschreiben könnte, dass per Gerichtsbeschluss alle Marvel-Helden – nun ja, zumindest deren aus Plastik und hoffentlich unverschluckbaren [...]

Black Terror is in the public domain as a character to be used in additional media.

This does NOT mean, however, that the original comics are necessarily in the public domain.

I’ll let someone else answer the question but there is a distinction (as I believe a prior urban legends brought up the distinction to me).

With regards to the X-Men as nonhuman characters to save money on tariffs, there was a similar issue for Kenner’s original Star Wars line. To save money, Kenner tried to establish that Darth Vader was a nonhuman character. Lucasfilm, of course, disagreed, but would not reveal why until The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980.

Interestingly, Thomas never used the Black Terror in THE INVADERS (shame), but he did use the costume as a template for Mr. Bones in INFINITY, INC.

Adding to the mix: the first “true” revival (no alterations to the name or costume) of the Black Terror I know of is the Dark Adventures version published back in 1987 (two years before the Eclipse version) when the character had NOT been ruled as public domain.

“Does that mean the Punisher is a doll since he doesn’t have any super powers?”

Imagine how impoverished DC and Kenner would be if they had to shell out millions to cover all those retroactive Batman “doll” tariffs…

“Doesn’t it seem like the Oz stories would be the easiest setting in which to have functional inconsistency?

Second to Wonderland, maybe.”

It could be (in that it wouldn’t irreparably damage the story or anything), but Baum was always pretty consistent that animals in Oz, although they could talk, were animals, not furry humanoids. (The only exception I can think of offhand is a village of rabbits that appeared in one chapter of one book.) More to the point, it makes a difference in the way the character is portrayed; the Hungry Tiger is supposed to come off as kind of threatening until it’s made clear that he’s all talk, and a twelve-foot-long bundle of muscle, teeth and claws presents itself differently than a guy in a fur suit, and mixing the two highlights the point that the humanoid Lion is a screen convention that’s unnecessary in comics.

Wonderland, now, is supposed to be full of dream-like inconsistency, where normal if talking animals exist alongside frogs and fish dressed as footmen and rabbits with waistcoats, so pretty much anything goes there.

‘You were required to smoke back then.’

The guy has a point, Nightcrawler looks like a freak, but so do a lot of stars with plastic surgery these days. Nightcrawler still has a soul, though.

How come the Golden Arrow and the Black Terror are white guys? It’s discrimination against gold people… who are not human. :)

Sinbad can’t even play the Black Terror to comedic affect as he did on SNL back when Superman died. “Black Lightning!’

I can’t quite swallow this explanation, even if it does originate with Roy Thomas. It doesn’t quite make sense. All the artwork for Marvel’s Ozma of Oz adaptation was completed. It was ready to print, with the post-Wizard of Oz characters based on Neill and the Wizard characters based on the MGM movie adaptation. Roy Thomas is perfectly aware of this. I don’t see how the character depictions were a problem, although it made the Lion and Tiger pulling Ozma’s chariot quite odd-looking since Alfredo Alcala drew the Hungry Tiger to match the MGM Lion walking on his hind legs.

The explanation for the Ozma adaptation’s cancellation that I first heard back in the mid-1980s is that Marvel thought the book Ozma of Oz was in public domain in 1976, but it wasn’t. I was told that Marvel knew there were three Oz titles in PD at the time and that they assumed the third was Ozma of Oz, but it was actually The New Wizard of Oz (which was merely The Wizard of Oz retitled when it returned to print due to the huge popularity of the 1903 Broadway stage adaptation). Once Marvel realized that Ozma of Oz was still under copyright, they cancelled the comics adaptation of Ozma of Oz.

Maybe that’s not the actual explanation, but to claim that it was based on the conflict between Neill-based imagery and MGM-based imagery doesn’t wash. Marvel had already published a Land adaptation and since it wasn’t an issue there, why would it have been an issue for an Ozma adaptation? To claim that the reason was a reluctance pay MGM seems shaky to me, especially since this Web site claims that Marvel was paying for a license to the Baum books, which seems highly suspicious. That implies that Marvel paid the Baum estate for rights to adapt Wizard and Land. Surely Marvel wasn’t stupid enough to pay to adapt books that were already in public domain. Perhaps this site means that it didn’t make financial sense to pay the Baum Trust for the rights to adapt Ozma, since they were already paying MGM for character-depiction rights. That would make much more sense, and simply means that someone mixed up the two rights-holders in telling this story. It also would fit with the explanation I’m familiar with.

It would be nice if this Ozma adaptation could finally be published. The art by Alfredo Alcala exists. When I was still involved with Hungry Tiger Press in the late 1990s, Roy Thomas contacted Hungry Tiger Press about publishing it, but it was too big a job for us to consider at the time. Unfortunately, the rights to the MGM character depictions would have to be re-negotiated. And the state of the artwork is very poor. Lots of the word balloons, which were pasted on after the artwork was completed, fell off over the years. The photocopies of the art that I’ve seen (two separate, partial sets) have some of the balloons paper-clipped to the art. Other balloons seem to be completely missing. The restoration would take some time and effort.

There is one piece of it that did make it into print. The cover by John Romita was printed on a Baum Bugle back cover in the late 1980s. (With coloring by me.)

Best,
Eric Shanower

Brian Cronin

May 1, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Yeah, that sounds right, Eric, and I’ll edit accordingly.

The main point I wanted to get across was in response to what I have seen written elsewhere (and folks have suggested to me) was that Marvel was legally forbidden to do the project, and that’s the part i wanted to establish that it was not that they could NOT do the project, but rather that they chose not to due to the costs involved, which is consistent with what you’re saying.

Thanks for writing, I’m always glad to have stuff cleared up further!

I furnished a Highsmith story to a scholar who presented it at a conference in Paris (my scans went to Europe and I stayed home). I have about 1/2 dozen stories she wrote while a staff writer for the Sangor Shop (Sangor produced material for Pines and other companies – and was Pine’s father-in-law. se worked for Sangor for about a year, before she moved to (I think) Mexico. The evidence is much less clear on work for Fawcett (believed by some as to be when she returned from Mexico).

Brian Cronin

May 4, 2008 at 6:04 pm

That’s awesome, Steven!

R. J. Sterling

May 6, 2008 at 4:00 pm

That particular beast figure may be poorly painted; the teeth of the example in my possession are more regular in appearance. And I happen to think the figure is bitchin’. It raawks.

[...] Some lawsuits are just plain weird. While catching up on comic book related things, I ran across this bizarre story about how Marvel requested that a court rule that the X-Men weren’t human. [...]

Now that Marvel has done a new ‘Wizard of Oz’ adaptation, that isn’t based on the film, maybe they should go ahead and do ‘The Land of Oz’ again, and finally do ‘Ozma’. (And then the next one would be ‘Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz’. But my memory goes fuzzy after that point. I can name several more books, but I’m not certain of the order.) Is ‘Ozma’ public domain now? I would think it would be by this point. How many others are public domain? I’m guessing Ruth Plumly Tompson books are still under copyright, but I can’t be sure.

Marvel will be publishing a new comics adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz starting fall 2009 by the same creative team as the recent Wonderful Wizard, me on script and Skottie Young on art. We plan to adapt Ozma of Oz afterward, and as long as these adaptations keep selling well, we’ll continue with more Oz books. I’d be happy to do the entire series. All of Baum’s Oz books, seven of the Thompson books, and the two Jack Snow books are in public domain. By the time we get to the Thompson Oz books that are currently under copyright, they’ll be in public domain, too (as long as the US Congress doesn’t keep extending the period of copyright). So, potentially, we could adapt the entire Oz series, although I suspect the final book falls under the grandfathering of the 1976 copyright law, so maybe that one would necessitate Marvel paying for rights–but that’s so pie-in-the-sky at this point that it’s not really worth contemplating. But as long as these Marvel adaptations keep selling, I assume Marvel will keep approving the next book in the series. If sales keep up, who knows how far we’ll get?

Four years later and five Oz books adapted. I would say you have gotten quite far, Eric! Well done.

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