Yesterday the first issue of Superman: Secret Origin appeared in comic shops, and I’ve been asked whether about its legal ramifications in regard to DC’s claim on the ownership of Superboy.
As I describe in more detail in these two posts, the question of who owns Superboy has undergone some interesting twists and turns. At one point a judge ruled that the Siegels owned the character, but then Judge Stephen Larson came on the case and granted DC’s motion to reconsider the earlier judgment.
For reasons I explain in more detail here, Judge Larson’s opinion could have led DC to conclude that the worst it could end up with is co-ownership of the Superboy character. That changes the copyright landscape considerably. If the Siegels owned the character, DC arguably couldn’t publish new Superboy stories without the Siegels’ approval, but if Superboy is a joint work now co-owned by the Siegels and DC, both sides would have the right to publish new Superboy stories–though they’d have the share the profits and the Siegels would have to be mindful of trademark concerns.
There’s actually a fun historic precedent in this regard. As Michael Patrick Hearn relates in The Annotated Wizard of Oz, the original publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was registered as a joint work co-owned by its author, L. Frank Baum, and illustrator, W.W. Denslow. After the pair had a falling out, Baum and Denslow went on to publish their own separate individual Oz stories. These competing versions of Oz even extended to the Sunday comics section, with “Denslow’s Scarecrow and Tin-Man” a rival to Baum’s “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz.”
Precisely who owns what percentage of Superboy has yet to be determined. Judge Larson had prioritized the Superman litigation, with the Superboy trial scheduled to follow the resolution of the Superman case. Now that Judge Larson has decided to leave the bench to tend to his seven children, we’ll have to wait to see if Superboy gets another legal retcon.