Warner Brothers Wins Court Case Against Shuster Estate

If you’re a Superman fan of any sort, you might have been keeping up with the various lawsuits surrounding the character.

For a very long time now, both the Siegel heirs and Shuster Estates have been fighting hard to regain their rights of the character, and in doing so terminate their agreement with DC Comics/Warner Brothers for use of the character. The Shuster Estate took a blow to the chin this week when a judge decided that to revoke that right. This is a big difference to what happened just four years ago when the Siegels won back several key bits of the Superman mythos, including all that was presented in the original Action Comics #1.

Judge Otis Wright ruled

…that the 1992 Agreement, which represented the Shuster heirs’ opportunity to renegotiate the prior grants of Joe Shuster’s copyrights, superseded and replaced all prior grants of the Superman copyrights. The 1992 Agreement thus represents the parties’ operative agreement and, as a post-1978 grant, it is not subject to termination.

For the full ruling, here’s the link courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter.

This case has been messy to begin with, and it’s far from over. WB/DC has plans to appeal the Siegel win, as I’m sure the Shuster Estate plan to appeal their loss. All anyone can say is stay tuned to see what goes comes down the river on this. If the two estates manage to actually get their rights back, then this could potentially open the flood gates for further creators/heirs to come out of the woodwork and claim ownership on their works. As straightforward as this has all looked on the surface, this has been turned into convoluted mess.

When Siegel and Shuster decided to retool their original Superman idea from a mental-powered villain into a superhero in a circus strongman outfit, they had a great deal of troubles selling the idea. They formatted the work for newspaper, but no takers wanted to chance on this strange concept. Detective Comics decided they would take that chance, given that they sold the character and all rights to the property to them. Siegel and Shuster reformatted the artwork to fit a magazine and the rest is history. They sold the character for far less than his eventual worth, which by a moral standing sucks. However, nobody ever claimed that business was moral. It didn’t end there, as the two creators fought hard to get cut back into the profits that Superman was making the company. Having said that, it didn’t stop them from actually working with the company further. Superboy would eventually appear in the comics, and even before that was the Spectre. These characters aren’t forgotten even to this day. Well, Superboy isn’t. I don’t know whatever happened to the Spectre since the reboot of the DCU has taken place.

As an artist, I feel a certain sympathy for the creators who lose their creations. However, there is a certain amount of responsibility that you have to take for yourself when doing business with bigger conglomerations. Contracts to read over, and make sure you understand the full legalese of the situation. As it appears, even in the ’30s that was a problem. It’s business, it’s been that way for as long as anyone can put forth that concept. Someone knows they can market an idea and make it popular. I also think that as much as I love Superman, there’s a part of me that thinks they could have done this with other characters had they been presented first. Superman showed up on the scene and they knew what they could do. If it were Green Lantern, Hawkman, or the Flash then this might have been swept under the rug as a non-issue. However, it obviously is a problem.

The only other question I have is this; what do the Siegels and Shusters want with the property? I don’t trust WB/DC with the property either, given what I’ve seen and read recently. That doesn’t mean that in the hands of the families and caretakers of the estate that this property will soar as it hasn’t in many years. I don’t know that we’ll ever get to find out, but it begs asking. That’s what I want to know, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Stay tuned for further court room battles over Superman, this still has a long way to go.