Thursday, June 30, 2011

Of man, and Superman, and lawsuits.

Previously I touched on the Siegel family lawsuit to regain rights to the Superman copyright. This got me thinking about how I feel about the whole subject.
In 1932 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the character of Superman. In 1938 they sold the character to what would become DC comics for $130 and a contract to create material for the publisher. By 1947 they decided that they were tired of getting paid a fraction of the income their creation was bringing in and sued DC to regain ownership. The courts favored DC, and in response DC fired the creators.
Siegel and Shuster made another attempt to regain the rights in 1974. Again the courts sided with DC. However a year later DC's parent company Warner Bros opted to give both men a yearly pension of $20,000 and health benefits. In addition it was decided that any comic book, novel, film, or TV series featuring Superman would include a credit to Siegel and Shuster as his creators.
In 1998 a new copyright law was passed that opened the door for the estates of both creators, who had by then passed away, to attempt to reclaim ownership. This has led to suits by both Estates. I have found little information on the Shuster suit other than one has been filed.
Of course the Siegel suit is the headline getter as they have had success, having recaptured their half of the original copyright. Their lawyer Marc Toberoff has vowed that they will have the entire copyright by 2013.
The whole situation leaves me feeling torn. On one hand I would like to see the family win as the creators were basically screwed by the original deal. But on the other hand as a fan I want to keep reading about the Superman I grew up with, and with as bitter as this suit has grown anything short of a complete victory by Warner Bros will not allow that.
The Superman intellectual property earns Warner Bros over a billion dollars in profit every year. Even a small percentage of that would equal millions of dollars. No corporation wants to give up any of that if they don’t have to, hence the fight on WB’s side. They have already shown a willingness to alter the story to reflect legal status.
On the heirs side there has been no indication of them caring about the copyright on any level other than financial. Superman’s status as cultural icon and his rich history have not come up in any statements I could find. This makes me question how they will treat the character if they gain complete control.
Here are some scenarios that I can foresee.
Scenario one: Warner Bros prevails.
Result: The status quo is maintained and the estates continue to battle for the rights

Scenario two: The estates gain 50% rights to the entire IP.
Results: WB has to suck it up and pay the estates their half of the profits. The heirs would have a say in how the character is handled.

Scenario three: The estates gain complete rights to part of the IP
Result: Several possibilities here. WB could come to an agreement with the estates to continue using their part of the IP for a huge chunk of change. I don’t see this as likely. More likely is that WB phases out the parts of the IP they don’t own and published an altered form of the character. We may be seeing shades of that now with the DC relaunch. This could also lead the heirs to shop around for a new home for their version of Superman which would be a watered down version of the one we all know and love.

Scenario four: The estates gain complete control of the IP
Result: Well it is possible that WB could come to an agreement to keep using Superman. However with how contentious this suit has been I could easily see the heirs shopping the character around, or even setting up their own publishing house. This would mean the end of Superman as the icon of the DC universe.

It seems crazy to consider a lot of these, but keep this in mind. The courts are not concerned with the artistic integrity of the character. All they care about is the legality of ownership, which means these scenarios or others I have thought of or bothered with could come to pass.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DC Comics Relaunch Part 4

Ok, so for the last 3 posts I have gone on about why I think the relaunch is happening. Today I want to wrap this up by going the other direction and discuss what I think about what will be happening.
My biggest issue right now is the derailing of characters that have seen a lot of growth over that last few years. The relaunch appears to be sweeping a lot of it aside.
First, the one everyone is talking about: Batgirl. Since the 60’s Barbara Gordon was Batgirl. She was the plucky girl who wanted to be a crime fighter like Batman and Robin. She was often the third wheel of the Batman characters.
Then the Joker shot her.
And he didn’t even shoot her as Batgirl. He went after Barbara Gordon as part of a plan to destroy her father. The result was she was left paralyzed from the waist down.
This resulted in her going from a third wheel bat character to a major force in the DC universe.
Rather than wallow in self-pity, Barbara used her intellect, drive and cunning to re-forge herself as Oracle, information broker for the superhero community. She trained to be a bad-ass fighter even from a wheel chair and formed a team of heroes to work directly for her called the Birds of Prey. In the process she became a role model for people dealing with disability that the public embraced.
And now that’s over.
Come September Barbara will somehow be healed and become Batgirl again. DC has said that they are not rewriting her history. The old stories I have mentioned are still be her back story. But instead of being a strong woman rising above the adversity of being confined to a wheel chair coordinating heroic efforts across the globe, she will be leaping the rooftops of Gotham City fighting one crime at a time.
I note that no one has said anything about Stephanie Brown, the daughter of minor Batman villain the Clue Master that Barbara took under her wing and trained to be the new Batgirl.  I guess she will either be ignored, killed, or go back to her previous identity of the Spoiler.
Another point is that several other characters are getting completely rewritten, so that unlike Barbara, the previous backstory is just gone.
So if you had been following any of the Teen Titans almost all of them are getting completely new backstories. Wonder Girl, the mortal daughter of Zeus, taken under Wonder Woman’s wing and trained to be a hero. She has gone from Heroic leader of the Teen Titan’s to a thief being recruited by the team to help on a mission so they can keep an eye on her. 
Why this complete change? We have no idea.
Finally we have Zatanna, one of the premier magic heroes. She has been headlining her own book, which has been very well written and is in the middle of a story that from where I sit doesn’t seem like it will be wrapped up in a satisfying manner in a couple of months. Well that book is over in August and Zatanna will now be part of Justice League Dark, the new magic based team. Maybe her storyline will continue there, but I doubt it and she has to share the stage with the other magic heroes.
I notice I have focused on female characters. They are not the only ones this is happening to. Superboy, Kid Flash and Red Robin are getting complete overhauls as well. And theirs all all just as annoying as Wonder girls.
However I could be wrong. This does not have to be gloom and doom. Batgirl is being written by Gail Simone, one of DC’s best writers. If anyone can take this and turn it into a compelling story it is Gail. Too bad they had to cancel her excellent Secret Six to do it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DC Comics Relaunch Part 3

So far we have looked at how book sales and legal issues could be playing a part in the DC Comics’ relaunch. Now let’s look at another factor.
Intellectual Property.
In 2009 DC Comics’ parent company Warner Bros announced a corporate reorganization. They formed DC Entertainment Inc. The purpose was to have a division that had oversight on all the DC comic brand properties throughout the company.  The idea was to allow for better integration of the DC properties through the rest or WB’s divisions and promote them as media franchises.  Warner executive Diane Nelson was made President of DC Entertainment and DC Comics was moved under it as a subsidiary. In 2010 Geoff Johns, one of DC Comics’ top writers was made Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment, which basically meant it is his job to oversee the use of DC characters in other media to maintain their integrity.
On paper this looks great, DC now had a cohesive vision for its characters in other media and the authority to back it up. But all was not well
First you have Smallville, the teen angst version of Superman’s origins, that since 2001 had been steamrolling its way through DC continuity.
On the other end of the quality spectrum in 2005 and 2008 you have Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Batman movies. Wonderful films, but the realism that he injects, while making great cinema, do not lend themselves to integration into a greater superhero universe.
Add to that the pressure being put on by Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios is in the midst of a frankly  brilliant plan. They are creating a shared universe for their characters, giving the build up to the Avengers movie the feel of an all-star cast epic, but with actors they themselves have built up. So far all DC movies have been in their own little continuities.
Oh and their one entry into the Blockbuster sweepstakes this summer, Green Lantern, is met with a lukewarm greeting, While Thor is a smash and Captain America looks to be the movie to beat this season.
So DC Entertainment, despite having some of the most recognized intellectual properties in the world, can’t seem to get them out there in a big way. They need to get people talking about them again.
So how about resetting the universe they come from in the first place.
Not only can you generate press about the reboot, but you can use it to mold the stories into ones that will translate better into other media.
To back this theory up I look to one of the 52 titles launching in September, Resurrection Man. This is a character practically begging to be adapted into another media. Mitch Shelly is a man who wakes up one day in a shallow grave and suffering from partial amnesia. He comes to find that he has superpowers. His main power is resurrection, when he dies he quickly comes back to life, and as a bonus he has a random super power to boot. He is hunted by a shadowy organization that wants to study him. And the best part, he doesn’t wear spandex. His costume is jeans, t-shirt, a duster, and a wide brimmed hat. Seriously, cast Josh Holloway and you have a hit right there.
(To be fair I have always liked this character and plan to pick up the title myself, but I still stand by what I said.)
Next post I wrap up my thoughts on the relaunch and then we can move on to other subjects.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

DC Comics Relaunch Part 2

Yesterday I took a look at the possible financial motivations for DC comics’ upcoming massive reboot of their superhero universe. Today I am going to go over the possible legal motivations for at least part of it.
In 1999 the heirs of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel filed a lawsuit to regain at least partial ownership of his creation. In 2008 they won a significant part of that suit. According to the ruling the Siegel estate now owns 50% or all concepts related to Superman introduced in the early comics and newspaper strips. This includes his origin as an alien from a doomed world, his alter ego of Clark Kent, his career as a reporter, his love interest Lois Lane and the Lois/Clark/Superman love triangle. Also his Basic powers of super strength, super speed and being bullet proof.
What they don’t own is his expanded powers including flight, the vision powers or other super senses, or his weakness Kryptonite. They also don’t own Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lana Lang, Supergirl, Krypto, and the Daily Planet.
Add to this that apparently they will gain control of the full copyright in 2013.
Now how does this affect the reboot?
While there has been no official comment one has to wonder.
According to writer Grant Morrison they have changed some of the basics of the story.
Ok, but how?
The one thing we know for sure is that the costume is different. You no longer have the red trunks on the outside of the suit. Another thing is when I look at it I get the impression that it is metal, like maybe armor of some kind.

The biggest buzz however is for plot points that I have not seen confirmed officially anywhere. The big one I touched on yesterday. Lois Lane will no longer be the love interest.  The rumor mill suggests that Superman will now be involved with Wonder Woman.  I also note that not one solicitation, interview or press release that I have seen has used the name Clark Kent. To be fair I have heard nothing saying he won't be Clark Kent, just that with eveything else going on it is something I took notice of.
It doesn’t take a legal genius to see that the reboot appears to be moving away from the Siegel co-owned aspects of the character.  The theory going around is that DC will try to establish that the current Superman is a distinct character from the Siegel co-owned version prior to the 2013 deadline. And what better way to sneak that in then as part of a universe wide reboot.
The inherent problem here is public perception. If you ask any person on the street about Superman’s backstory they will tell you some variation of the one used in the 1978 film. Trying to sell an altered Man of Steel to the public, especially one as picky and the comic fan community, is an uphill battle.

Next post I take a look at the possible role of DC comics’ parent company in the relaunch.

Friday, June 24, 2011

DC Comics Relaunch Part 1

The big news in fanboy circles these days is the September relaunch of DC comics superhero books.  For those not in the know DC will basically be ending all of their current mainstream superhero titles in August.  Then in September they will be launch 52 new series.  Many of these will be relaunches of already existing titles.  So in August you will have Superman #714 which will be the final issue. In September you will have Superman #1 the launch of the new series.
Confused yet?
Not a lot is known about this storyline yet, but we do know there will be changes. For example Superman is no longer married to Lois Lane. No they didn’t split, but are now said to have never even been a couple. Instead reports tell us that Superman is dating Wonder Woman.
So are all the books resetting their stories? No.
Batman and Green Lantern are continuing their storylines even with the new series launches. 
So what is the reason behind this massive change in the status quo?
That is a good question, and the answer is murky at best, and likely due to the fact that there are several factors at play here. Too many for a single post, so I will only tackle one today.
What is the big number one reason for this? Sales suck. This is an industry wide problem. In the nineties you would have comic book titles that would sell millions of copies. Today the most successful books sell around 100,000 copies. On top of that sales are trending down. Last month DC show their sales dip by 11%.
The hope is that this relaunch will boost interest and bring in the elusive new readers.
Along with the relaunch DC will for the first time make their titles available through digital distribution. The digital versions of the comics will be available for $2.99, the same price as the physical books and can be purchased on the same day as release.
While all this is nice I think it ignores a fundamental fact. The reason sales are down is the economy.  Following comic books is great if you have the disposable income, but if money is tight they are generally going to be on the top of the list of things to cut, especially when a single issue is three dollars.
To me this push would make more sense if they were offering digital copies at a cheaper price, but they aren’t, probably because they still need the support of the comic shops and undercutting them would not help that.
 That said digital distribution could make a difference for bringing in readers who for whatever reason have not, or will not, set foot in a comic book shop. But first you have to get their attention and convince them to give it a shot.
Next post I will go over the possible reasons for the relaunch involving the U.S. Legal system.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And in the beginning.

Every blog begins with a single post.

And this one is mine.

The purpose of this blog is to be a place for me to comment on issue related to geek culture (yes another one).

I also plan to use it as a place to post some multimedia projects I am working on.

But why?

The main reason is the need for a creative outlet. I'm facinated by the idea that with the tools available now anyone can create media. If you have the drive and can gather the tools you can make what you want and put it out there. The trick is can you make it good, and that is what I want to explore and work on.

Or maybe it's just an example of of someone going "You know what the internet needs? More Me!"

Only time will tell.