As noted last night, yesterday’s Siegel opinion contains a number of interesting points beyond the outcome. One that deserves its own post: its revelation concerning the state of the Superman movie franchise.
In the court’s discussion of the lack of any reversion clause, the judge observes that for the “plaintiffs to succeed in proving that the Superman film agreement was in fact below fair market value, they must establish that there would have been a film sequel or a reversion of rights by this point if the agreement contained such a reversion clause keyed to film development.” However, the Siegels could not demonstrate this, in part because there is no sequel currently in the works.
As Warner Bros. President & Chief Operating Officer Alan Horn testified,
aside from his “hopes” to develop the Superman character, at present the property is not under development at Warner Bros. (Trial Tr. at 166). No script has been written, filming has not commenced, and the earliest a Superman film could be theatrically released would be in 2012. (Trial Tr. at 155). As Mr. Horn explained, “we had hopes to keep the [Superman] character alive and to once again reinvent Superman. We are — our hope is to develop a Superman property and to try again. What hurt us is that the reviews and so on for the Superman movie . . . did not get the kind of critical acclaim that Batman got, and we have other issues with Superman that concern us.” (Trial Tr. at 153). Thus, in the seven years since the Superman film agreement was executed a single movie has been released and no further development has occurred.
This statement in regards to the Superman movie being stalled is part of Warner Bros.’ broader assertion that the character is, in the words of the defense, “damaged goods.” A key element of the company’s strategy at this point is to talk down Superman’s value, which is why Warner Bros. believes there are problems with the films going forward–the property is “viable . . . but challenged,” as evidenced not only by the latest film but the fact that the character’s circulation numbers put him number 4 in popularity “on a good day,” behind the X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman.
The judge also makes an interesting observation regarding Superman and gender. The context: his discussion of the incomparability between the Superman franchise and the film deals presented by the plaintiffs, such as musicals (e.g., My Fair Lady), adaptations of bestselling novels (Tom Clancy) and other comic book films (the Green Hornet, “a low-tier comic book character that appeared mostly on radio during the 1930s and 1940s and that has not been seen since a brief television show in the mid-1960s”). Besides these apples-to-oranges comparisons, the judge observes, the plaintiffs made a comparison that he found completely absurd, as they likened Superman to
even more incredibly, a web creation then popular with little girls — the NeoPets.
So there you have it–even a federal district court has found that comics aren’t for girls.