Sunday, April 20, 2008

Inappropriate Appropriating

Quick thought #1:

Go check out Newsarama and a few other places about the recent legal decision that says that the estate of Jerry Siegel now (re-)owns half the copyright to the Superman character, and you're bound to come across upset fanboys aghast that someone besides DC can possibly control the destiny of the character. They fear it being misused, they fear Superman somehow being taken entirely out of the continuity of the DC Universe, and if you're very good and pure of heart and sit very still and watch, you may even see the fanboy who calls the estate evil and/or greedy for wanting to reclaim control over a creation that was taken from its creators for blankets and glass beads back in the day. Don't move, you'll spook him!

Aside from spraining my optic nerves from all the eyerolling at the extraordinary entitlement being displayed, I had to think of my recent discussions regarding Wonder Woman, and the appropriation of the character by one faction or another. Aaaaaaand, I'm not sure I see much difference. Both characters are seen as heroic icons, and the beef seems to be about that heroic uplifting nature being sullied in some way by "bad appropriation".

So I guess claiming ownership of something you don't really own isn't limited to feminists. Fans of both genders do it! I guess that's a step towards some sort of backwards equality.

Derived Quick Thought #2:

What the hell was Gloria Steinem thinking, anyway? I'll grant that maybe she was looking for an empowered heroic female to use as an icon, a symbol, and maybe among DC's stable of heroines, Wonder Woman was the more suitable choice among the most recognizable heroines. She wasn't derived from a male hero, it's true. And her earliest adventures were, if loaded with fetishes, also loaded with female empowerment messages.

But, while I imagine DC didn't mind the pro-feminist endorsement, I question the wisdom of selecting as an icon for your movement a character that is owned outright by some other corporate identity. It's like, what if the gay movements decided to use Mickey Mouse as their symbol? It could only really last as long as Disney didn't mind, unless you did it deliberately to spite them (in which case, get set for the brisk taste of lawyers). And then what if they revamp Mickey and his perceived nature differs from what he was appropriated for?

So what was Wonder Woman doing in the '70s When Ms. put her on the cover? After her original creator died, she was doing a lot of the same sappy things the other heroines were doing (see: the Robert Kanigher-written run), until she got depowered for a little while! This is what Wikipedia says made Ms. Steinem angry and prompted the cover, but it's kinda like, well, what if Slave Leia pissed you off so you made the Princess in her white robe and Cinnabon hairdo your symbol.

Just sayin', doesn't sound like the wisest decision to me, in retrospect.


Brett said...

I gotta say, there are a lot of other ways to settle a dispute over licensing than to give half the property over to another party. I mean, it seems like there are two fundamental fairness claims here. One is obviously by the JS estate, as he did co-create the character back in the day. The other is the fact that the majority of the Superman mythos was created by people working for DC without input from JS.

It seems to me that if creative control really wasnt the goal, then the estate could simply be paid indefinite licensing fees/royalties instead of actually having control of the copyright reverted to them. Its all going to end up being settled by money anyway, so why not skip the middle step if its really not about either actually having some creative input, or using that prospect as blackmail for a higher residual.

Anon, A Mouse said...

You may be misunderstanding the nature of what's going on. I may be too, its a complicated setup.

But it is my understanding that the half that DC currently still holds is the half co-created by Joe Shuster; it is conceivable that HIS heirs could make a claim on that half and then Superman would revert completely to the estates of his creators.

The reason this is possible is due to provisions in the law that extended copyrights beyond what they were when the original Superman deal (and countless other transactions) happened; the idea being that such people couldn't have known in advance how long those rights would be held.

But that aside, you say "the estate could be paid royalties" as if that's something they could be persuaded to do just because.

Before the '70s, Siegel and Schuster got paid only flat fees for creating their comics stories. No royalties, no cut of the merchandising, no nothing. DC only started paying them some money when the Chris Reeves Superman movie came out, due to a publicity campaign that showed the creators living in near poverty while their creation made millions 30 years later. Even after that, what they got paid was only a bare fraction of what Superman was making (and had made previously) for the company.

You may be right that this will all get settled by money, but you would be mistaken that DC would give up one thin dime more without the possibility of that axe hanging over their corporate heads. There is no "skipping the middle step"; without that step, there's no way to get to any step beyond.

John Foley said...

You haven't hung around the Disney headquarters lately.