In April of 1938, Action Comics #1 hit the news stand. Its pages told a story of an alien child coming to Earth and raised by a couple of all-American farmers, discovering that he had abilities far beyond those of normal men. He had immense strength, was bullet-proof, and couple leap extreme distances. This amazing character, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, became one of the most recognizable characters, bearing the name Superman.
But Siegel and Shuster would not garner the same amount of fame as their character for another almost half century. It had appeared that when National Periodical Publications, which later became DC Comics, agreed to run the story, they would assume the credit for the character. This “agreement” would be the starting point for a number of legal battles throughout the year.
On August 13, 2009, a judge awarded the estate of Jerry Siegel control over many aspects of the Superman character, such as his origins of landing on Earth, his Kryptonian heritage and name, and a few of his abilities. The judgment is basically a legal slap in the face to DC Comics, who had fully control over the character and all of his traits. But now, there are some aspects of Superman that they cannot use without authorization from the Siegel family.
I, for one, am happy that Jerry Siegel’s family now has control over the Superman character. He was a hard working individual who had his creation taken from him, in a time when he, more than likely, had no idea what he was doing. Jerry Siegel was 23 years old when Action Comics ran his story. He wasn’t a skilled negotiator, or a shrewd business man. He was a poor Jewish kid who grew up in Ohio, and was just excited to see his character, who had gone through a few revisions to become what he did, printed in a national magazine. I’m sure he never expected Superman to become as big as it did, otherwise he may have asked for a little more from National Periodical Publications.
But he didn’t. And since 1938, Jerry Siegel didn’t make much money off of Superman. Nineteen Forty six brought about the first of many lawsuits over Superman. First, Siegel and Shuster sued National for the rights to Superman, after nearly 10 years of writing for the magazine. Siegel sued again in 1967, after returning to DC to write Superman again, but was summarily dismissed in his case, and also his job. In 1975, Siegel initiated a protest against Warner Communication and DC Comics, bringing to light the abuse of both him and Shuster over the years. To placate the duo, Warner agreed to pay them $20,000 a year each, for the rest of their lives and to credit them for the creation of Superman.
There have also been other lawsuits, concerning copyright termination as well as the character of Superboy. But despite the agreement in 1975, neither Siegel or Shuster have been awarded as large of a stake in Superman as they have recently. While the most recent ruling only gives the Siegel estate control over some aspects of the character, an article on Variety.com states that Shuster’s estate will receive the same awarding in 2013.
This ruling could be astronomically devastating to Warner Brothers and DC Comics. Not only will it be interesting to see how they handle the character of Superman in the future, since most of his origin is out of their control, but whether or not they will return to court to fight it. I feel that they should bite the bullet and pay the Siegel and Shuster estates for the right to use the information they lost, but I doubt that will happen.
Anyway, I wish the best to Siegel’s family. They have fought long and hard to get what they received yesterday, and they deserve it. For many years, Jerry Siegel struggled financially, so it’s good that wrong has been righted.
But this just proves that Jerry Siegel was a visionary. When he described Superman as fighting for “truth, justice, and the American Way,” he had no idea that the “American Way” of the future would be so sue-happy. Talk about irony.