The schism between DC and Marvel, long a fact of life for comic book fans, still impinges on the habitats of superhero zealots-ranging widely as they do from sandboxes to underground lairs-mostly to elicit every reader's own personal fantasy of the ultimate inter-faith smackdown or team-up.
To me it always was a blessing that we had a choice between what seemed to be different styles and approaches to what it meant to be a superhero. Some days you felt like a DC, some days a Marvel, and in both cases the heroes and the milieu they operated in evolved, more ludicrously or less so, with the generations. And if you felt like something else, even beyond the edgier imprints and reboots by new up-and-comers, DC and Marvel didn't have so great a monopoly that you couldn't look to outside houses like Dark Horse for a less industrial graphic production.
The Creators and the Corporation
But there's no escaping the fact that our superheroes and comic book characters, which seem to us, in their teeming thousands with a favorite for every reader, like our collective cultural heritage and property, are the tools of world-dominating corporations of such power and ruthlessness that it's easy to imagine Superman dedicating himself to their destruction rather than placidly making them obscene amounts of money every day.
Superman, in fact, is a good case in point. Created by underdogs Siegel and Shuster, who struggled at making a living writing and drawing before, during, and after creating the Man of Steel before dying poor and largely unheralded, Superman is now one of the most lucrative properties owned by the monolithic global corporation Time Warner. The simple and obvious idea, already supported by at least one federal judge, that Siegel and Shuster (during their lifetimes) or their heirs (now that they're dead) should have a share of the success they made possible has been bitterly fought tooth and nail by corporate misers and platoons of lawyers to an extent that barely differs from the antics of a mwaa-haa-haa villain on Lois & Clark.
Making it Personal
Two years ago, demonstrating a willingness to fight dirty to hold onto their lucre rather than realize the massive goodwill that would self-evidently result from appeasing the Superman franchise's uncounted devoted fans, Warners dug in deeper by going after the heirs' lawyer, Marc Toberoff, attempting to skew the case by accusing Toberoff of a conflict of interest. Now the corporation has gone further down the same road, claiming Toberoff has "systematically suppressed relevant evidence" and filing a motion against him and the estates of the superhero's co-creators.
In response, Laura Siegel Larson, daughter of co-creator Jerry Siegel and Joanne Siegel, the original model for Lois Lane, has taken her case directly to the fans. Larson vows never to give up her fight to regain for her family the rights that Warner Bros. has hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars fighting to hold onto. (You can read her letter here.)
Ownership Challenge at Marvel, Too
And DC heroes are not immune to massive, corporate machinations. No less a personage than Stan Lee, who these days looms over fans like the all-potent anthropomorphic manifestation of the genius of Marvel Comics' greatest characters, is invoked in a new fight against Marvel owner Disney--though in the form of a company that bears his name but claims to hold rights to Spider-Man et al. instead of Lee and Disney. That company is looking to wrest away from Disney the unheard-of profits from the Disney-owned Marvel films.
Or perhaps not "Disney-owned." Stan Lee Media, Inc. contends that Disney's claim to ownership of Marvel characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, most of The Avengers, The X-Men and more, presumable acquired in the $4 billion Disney acquisition of Marvel that began in 2009, is simply false.
What Did Stan Lee Do?
Stan Lee Media claims that Lee himself signed over his rights relating to the famous characters to it, or, rather, its corporate predecessor, in October 1998, thirteen years before the Disney sale, and that Lee was paid for the rights in shares in the company that became Stan Lee Media. If true, this would mean that when Disney bought Marvel, they didn't actually buy Spider-Man, Iron Man, and several of their buddies. That would be a bit of a face-palm.
Stan Lee Media also charges that Lee, a month after signing the rights to the characters over to them, signed them over again to Marvel.
It might mean more if Lee himself were fighting for these rights, but that's not what's going on here. This is one (small) corporation looking to dicker over extremely lucrative rights with another (massive) corporation. But there's no doubt that Disney will fight just as ruthlessly to retain the insanely profitable multimedia franchises they've absorbed both legally and figuratively (Marvel recently began the process of moving house so that they could attach themselves to the back of Disney's Glendale campus).
With movies like The Avengers making a billion and a half dollars, and with more Marvel and DC blockbusters on the imminent horizon, times have never been better for superhero-loving fans-or further from the days when an afternoon with Superman meant heading down to the five-and-dime and picking up an adventure you could hold in your hands and make your own.