April 18, 2012
WB/DC Wins Potentially Key Legal Victory; Still Gross
The entertainment wires fairly crackle right now with various hard-driving articles about a big Warner Brothers/DC Comics win in their ongoing series of litigation with the families of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. That it's portrayed as a huge victory in many of these pieces
without any explanation as to why shows how a company can spin its own press release: the victorious side disseminated the news wanting the analysis to go a certain way, and largely got what they wanted headline to headline to headline.
What's at stake seems a couple of things. The first is the ongoing formation of a legal strategy basically challenging attorney Marc Toberoff's representation of the families and thus calling into question the wins enjoyed on their behalf. This specific decision allows documents, some of which came to Warner Brothers' attention after they were taken from Toberoff's office, to be used in building that case against him. (As a TCJ
staffer in 1995 I can't really make any wisecracks about DC and acquired documents, but it does increase the icky factor here, like a felon cheering for a fire in the evidence room.) The second is the wider cultural argument whereby DC/WB might be able to claim some moral high ground against the family members making a challenge for Superman, or at least mitigate blowback against their fighting against it, by painting Toberoff as a villainous opportunist driving the family to this legal confrontation in order to muscle in on the character himself. It's not dissimilar to what Marvel has done with their PR spin on Toberoff's representation of the Jack Kirby family, indicating that these companies sort of follow what the other is doing in all areas, not just publishing.
I think the legal issues will eventually sort themselves out -- neither side is lacking in expertise or skill when it comes to seeing to as fair a process as is available -- and, as always, I caution anyone in casting the moral issues involved as keyed to the legal matters at stake. That Toberoff has been seeing setbacks taking on the Big Two Comics Media Companies after years of success with similar suits in other entertainment industries kind of underlines how uniquely tough and nasty comics can be on these matters. Mostly, though, I refuse to get worked up in a lather even if DC and Warner Brothers -- as it looks like they might -- have found a pathway to eventually win this case. I think that given the shower of riches the industry has seen, the fact that the families of the primary creators have been reduced to seeking legal redress or making threats of same for four decades now is a total embarrassment for comics, and any company seeking a press high-five on their latest win in an ugly, pathetic spectacle like this one should be stared at as if they're crazy rather than given one back.
posted 7:00 am PST
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