September 24, 2007


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While I'm Thinking About It

While I'm Thinking About It

Thanks for your patience on this one.

So, if you took my advice your mind has been blown all weekend. Public domain Superman? If that's really the case, why haven't there been dozens of shoddy webcomics littering Keenspace (oh, excuse me, I mean Comic Genesis) and Drunk Duck with their own tales of the Last Son of Krypton, each as presumably as legitimate as that which comes from the infinitesimaly small arm of the Vast Time-Warner Empire known as DC Comics?

Actually, for all I know there may well be. But that's not my point.

My semi-facetous claim comes from the old Fleischer cartoons of the 1940s. Those are legitimately in the public domain, as anyone with a stake in them passed on renewing the copyright when they had the chance. Which is why you can find Superman cartoons on DVD at the Dollar Tree. Anybody can do whatever they want with those. Even, conceivably, create their own derivative works.

But you would be limited to the material found in those seventeen short films. No Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville (the first cartoon suggests Clark Kent grew up in an orphanage). None of the recognizible villains (that'd be Lex Luthor, General Zod, and, um, maybe Bizarro, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Brainiac for folks with memories of Super-Friends, be they fond or otherwise). No Jimmy Olson--sure, there was an office boy there at the Daily Planet, but he was never named. But hey! You've still got villains aplenty: mad scientists, a couple of monsters, and more hideous Japanese stereotypes than you can shake a stick at.

So there's not much there. Still, someone creative enough could take the raw material and come up with something fairly entertaining, right? Sure they could. After all, we're talking about Superman here, one of the truly great characters of the Twentieth Century.

But you would never be able to call him Superman. See, that name is still a registered trademark of the Vast Time-Warner Empire, through its relatively insignificant comic-book division. Call the project Superman, and you'd have lawyers swarming you as soon as you tried making money at it.

And if you don't call it Superman, then really, what would distinguish it from the multitudes of other superheroes out there? Not much.

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