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COMIC LEGEND: Marvel owns a trademark on the use of the word “Marvel” in comic book titles.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Reader DL wrote in in the comments to note:
Brian, even if DC had purchased Marvelman, I wonder how they could have effectively marketed the character, as they (and all publishers) are legally barred from using the word “marvel” on their covers? Would they have called the series “Kimota!?”
DL, I imagine, is confusing this with Captain Marvel, which is a trademark that Marvel DOES own…
and have used to keep DC from naming any book with THEIR Captain Marvel, well, Captain Marvel…
It IS true that Marvel sent a cease and desist letter to Quality when they did their Marvelman Special in the early 1980s…
but what it boiled down to was Marvel arguing for something that they do not necessarily legally have, but making it a situation where a smaller company would rather just change the name instead of fighting the issue. To wit, Marvel sent a similar cease and desist letter to Valiant when they debuted X-O Manowar, under a similar theory that having a book open with X was too similar to their popular X-Men comic books. So yes, if a company tried to call their character Mr. Marvel or Marvel Dude or whatever, I am sure Marvel would send a cease and desist, but unlike with Captain Marvel, they don’t actually own a trademark on the use of the word Marvel on all comic book titles. As a comic book COMPANY, of course, and on stuff like Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, absolutely, but not the word Marvel in general.
That said, had DC purchased Marvelman back in the 1980s, I bet they would have changed the name as well, just to avoid the hassle.
Awesome commenter Jeff Nettleton had just replied to DL when I moderated DL to use this for a future column, so I’ll make it up to Jeff by sharing his comment here, where he basically said the same thing I was going to say in this column (although, to be fair, the great X-O Manowar example was all his – I was going to go a different direction but the X-O Manowar example was perfect)…
That’s not correct by any means. Marvel owns the trademark for Marvel Comics, but that doesn’t mean they own the word “marvel” outright. It’s all about context. DC would probably avoid using the word in a cover title, just to sidestep any legal hassles, even if a judge ruled in their favor. These things can drag on for a long time and cost far more than they are worth, which is exactly what Marvel was hoping when they threatened Dez Skinn over Marvelman. Since Marvelman predated Marvel in the UK, and no connection was ever implied to Marvel or Marvel UK, chances are that Skinn could have probably won in a court fight. However, he couldn’t afford the fight, as Marvel’s pockets were far deeper. This ticked off Alan Moore to no end, and killed any chances of him ever working for them again. Moore was hardly being pissy; he was standing up for his own rights. Marvel attempted to do the same thing to Valiant, several years later, over X-O Manowar. Valiant wasn’t quite so intimidated and pretty much ignored Marvel, all but daring them to, “Bring it on!” Marvel never followed through. Chances are Marvel wouldn’t have filed suit over Marvelman, either. Their objection wasn’t the name, but the title Marvelman Special, which featured reprints of some of the Mick Anglo material. They didn’t mind when Miarvelman was part of Warrior, but did when his name appeared as the title of a book.
If you look at DC’s 70?s Shazam run, you will notice the name of Captain Marvel many times. DC couldn’t call the book Captain Marvel, since Marvel picked up that trademark,; but, they couldn’t stop DC from using the name. DC probably wouldn’t have titled the book Marvelman, but they could have kept calling the character Marvelman, if they so chose. I doubt they would have, going the Miracleman route instead. However, Marvelman was a Captain Marvel clone in its inception and DC had the original, so why would they need a second? Well, apart from the fact that Moore was writing rings around everyone in comics, at that point…
Thanks to DL for the question and thanks again to Jeff for his great comment!
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