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Welcome to the four hundred and forty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and forty-seven. This week, was the hit film Man of Steel the result of a legal obligation on DC’s part? Plus, in honor of Fred Van Lente Day, two legends suggested by Fred himself! Was Marvel responsible for Conan being known as Conan the Barbarian? Did Barry Windsor-Smith re-use his Archer and Armstrong characters in his Storyteller series?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: DC had to make Man of Steel to fulfill a legal obligation.
STATUS: Basically True
Reader Luis A. wrote in about this one a while back.
You see, one of the interesting side effects to the various court cases that DC has had with the estate of Jerry Siegel is that when it comes to the Siegel’s rights to the Superman character, there was an additional argument that went beyond the argument that the Siegels were part owners of the character. This additional argument was over HOW much money DC owed them due to their disputed part-ownership of the character.
One of these major areas of debate was over how much money DC was getting paid from their parent company, Warner Brothers, to adapt Superman comics into films. The Siegel estate argued that DC was effectively selling the character at below cost to Warner Brothers and that the Siegels should be able to go after Warner Brothers directly for more money. The courts ultimately ruled that the Warner Brothers/DC Comics arrangement was a fair market deal and that the Siegels could not go after Warner Brothers.
However, one area where the courts did more or less side with the Siegels was over the concept of whether DC Comics was optimizing the Superman property. The charge by the Siegels was that DC owed them a right to make as much money off of the character as they possibly could, and that DC was screwing things up by not making Superman movies (just one movie was made since the late 1980s).
The court basically sided with the Siegels on this issue and ruled that if DC did not begin work on a Superman movie by 2011, then the Siegels would be able to sue over misuse of the character and be theoretically eligible to get some money from DC Comics for not making the best use of the character.
All they “won” was the right to sue if that did not happen, but DC, of course, did not want to let it even go that far, so they were under a particular time crunch to get a movie into production by that deadline (they wanted to make a new Superman movie ANYways, of course, but they specifically HAD to get one into production to avoid the lawsuit), and that was a major factor in the exact timeline on what eventually turned into the 2013 blockbuster The Man of Steel…
Here‘s a Variety article on the 2009 ruling.
Of course, earlier this year, a Court of Appeals ruled that the Siegels didn’t actually own any rights to Superman anymore (ruling that the Siegels had sold their rights in 2001 to DC for a large financial settlement), which makes the whole thing a non-issue going forward.
Thanks to Luis for the suggestion!
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
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On the next page, the first Fred Van Lente suggestion – was Conan not a Barbarian before his Marvel series?
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