When we last left our discussion of the dispute over the copyrights to Superman and Superboy, the judge had ordered the Siegels, DC and Time Warner to engage in settlement negotiations. Originally the mediation was to last 60 days, but scheduling conflicts pushed the deadline for the parties’ joint progress report back to the end of June.
As Newsarama readers have noted, DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio made an offhand comment this weekend at Wizard World Chicago that has led some to wonder whether the Superboy lawsuit has been settled. Here’s the scoop from the “DCU Crisis” panel:
DiDio also paused to point out the special nature of Legion of Three Worlds. “We’ve got Geoff, we’ve got George, we’ve got SuperBOY Prime (yes, we can say that again).”
This could reasonably be taken as a sign that the Superboy lawsuit is over — after all, it was the Siegel family’s initially successful (but later vacated) attempt to reclaim the character that apparently led DC to take the name off the market.
However, DiDio’s reference to Superboy is not the only piece of evidence to emerge this weekend. On Friday, the Siegels and Time Warner filed their joint progress report in the Superboy and Superman lawsuits. This report states that the parties have not reached a settlement, despite four mediation sessions attended by their lawyers and DC President and Publisher Paul Levitz.
But that does not mean that the situation is hopeless. The progress report concludes by noting that after the mediator returns from vacation, “he would be contacting the parties … to potentially continue settlement discussions.”
In light of this report, DiDio’s reference to Superboy becomes even more interesting. It could be a sign that the parties, despite not reaching a complete settlement in time for the required report, have at least reached a shared decision regarding Superboy and are optimistic that the resolution of the remaining issues is in sight, if not already accomplished.
Still, for one party to reveal an agreement in principle before the settlement is finalized is not standard practice, particularly given the confidentiality agreement that parties often sign before a mediation begins. DiDio’s statement could be a slip — but it also could be a sign of something else.
Although I have not been reporting it here — sometimes details can be more confusing than helpful — the parties have not been silent over the past three months. There have been multiple filings and responses, with each side asserting that the other has no case. By reclaiming Superboy, DC might be sending a message that it does not think the Siegels’ claim to the character is viable, especially in regard to a super-powered villain.
There is also a potential explanation that is less overtly tactical. Based on Judge Larson’s ruling in the Superboy case, DC might have concluded that the worst they’ll end up with is 50 percent of the character as a joint work. Since the main issue is profit allocation, they might have figured that it’s better to share money from successful characters than to kill them off or end their adolescence prematurely. Moreover, in light of the court’s recent decision to give the Siegels half of the Superman material in Action Comics #1, changing Superboy to Superman arguably does not accomplish all that much — either way DC faces the prospect of having to pay the Siegels something for the work.
Of course, as is often the case in the black box of settlement negotiations, these aren’t the only possibilities. There could be a reason that only someone privy to inside information is likely to know. What we can say based on the latest court filing is that this crisis isn’t final — yet.