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How DC Sued Their Competition to Keep Superman as the #1 Superhero by Alex Grand

How DC Sued Their Competition to Keep Superman as the #1 Superhero by Alex Grand

DC and Superman are veritable symbols of the Superhero Golden Age, ever since 1938, Action Comics 1.

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Also known as the last son of Krypton, he has been recognized as a dominating symbol of hope and strength, truth and justice ever since.

 

 

One factor for DC and Superman’s success was the pioneering of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster as co-creators, with exciting art and science fiction stories,

 

 

as well as DC owners Harry Donnenfeld and Jack Liebowitz printing and distribution mechanisms that were able to carry the story to newsstands around the country.  However, there is also a darker reason that Superman stayed on top, and became a symbol of the Superhero Golden Age.  DC, back then known as National, sued other competing characters of other companies out of existence to keep the competition weak.   This was a tactic used by DC, which with the other factors, kept Superman at the top of the Golden Age Superhero pile for decades.  So let’s talk about various examples, when it was DC’s litigation attorneys that kept Superman, Super.

 

Victor Fox (left)                                             Will Eisner (right)

 

Victor Fox,  the first one labeled as the King of Comics, this case labeled by himself, of Fox Publications, wanted a profitable supercharacter, and contracted Will Eisner of the Universal Phoenix Eisner-Iger shop to create one.  Will Eisner came up with Wonder Man in 1939 for Wonder Comics #1.
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Wonder Man’s secret identity was Fred Carson who went on a trip to Tibet where an old monk bestows him with a ring of power that gave him powers almost exactly like Superman.
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His powers are almost exactly like those of Superman. Later in 1939, DC Comics brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against Fox, due to the character’s similarities to Superman, as well as stories and swipes from previous Superman adventures. The case was brought to court in Detective Comics, Inc. v. Bruns Publications, Inc 1940,  in which Eisner defended his creation as original.
Despite this testimony, the subsequent decision forced Fox to drop the character after just one issue.
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Fawcett comics, famous for its Shazam character, also created Master Man in Master Comics 1, 1940.  The interior story was drawn by Newt Alfred and the cover was drawn by Harry Fiske, and he was super strong, with super speed, faster than an automobile.
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The comic script read “Master Man! Stronger than untamed horses! Swifter than raging winds! Braver than mighty lions! Wiser than wisdom, kind as Galahad is Master Man, the wonder of the world!”  The character got his super strength from a wise old doctor who had him ingest a magic capsule containing vitamins of pure energy.
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Since DC Comics won its recent legal battle against Wonder Man, they set their next target on Master Man and threatened Fawcett with a lawsuit, and so after a six issue run, Fawcett ceased publication of the character in the series.
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Fawcett comics, did not give up however, they also created Captain Marvel in 1940 by Bill Parker and CC Beck who was a young boy Billy Batson who was magically given the power of the God’s to become the larger stronger Captain Marvel.  He was super strong, caped, bullet proof and could fly.  Captain Marvel was a tremendous success and actually had sales that rivaled Superman.
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They even had a Superhero serial with Republic Pictures which aroused the attention of DC Comics who sued both Fawcett Comics and Republic Pictures infringement of copyright  in 1941, alleging that Captain Marvel was based on their character Superman.  Technically this wasn’t exactly wrong, because although theyre totally different characters with Superman being sci-fi and Captain Marvel being magic,
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and although Billy Batson was a young boy, and Clark Kent was a grown man, there were some discussions  of the editors asking the artists to make something successful like Superman.  They even had the characters both smashing the same kind of car on the cover.
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Since Joe Simon had made the first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures 1 with Jack Kirby, and was now working at DC Comics, he testified against Fawcett comics.  Fawcett was making so much money from Captain Marvel, they used legal maneuvers to delay the case and defend the right to use their character.
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The National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Publications case went to trial in 1948, and ruled in favor of Fawcett in 1951.  DC made an appeal, and the Judge then ruled in favor of DC, in 1952.  By that point in time, the Golden Age of comics was over and we were in the atomic age of non superhero characters, Captain Marvel wasn’t making as much money, and it was no longer worth Fawcett’s time to retry the case again, and they settled out of court, and gave up using the Captain Marvel character.
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Another one bites the dust!
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In the early 1950s, EC Comics, known for its Horror comics like Tales from the Crypt, had a spoof comic that eventually became the famous magzine, called MAD comics.
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In 1953, Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood made Superduperman for Mad Comics #4 as a spoof on DC’s Superman, and even satired his rivalry with a “Captain Marbles” spoofing the DC feud with Fawcett.  Although all it was, was a Saturday Night Live style spoof, it still attracted the DC Comics who threatened to start an infringement lawsuit against Mad and its owner, Bill Gaines.  Since “parody” is a legally protected right, they were protected and Gaines continued to publish Mad using Superduperman and even one upped them in issue 8, by spoofing DC’s other premier team as “Batboy and Rubin.”
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So DC couldn’t get them all!
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MLJ comics, otherwise known as Archie Comics was under President John Goldwater, who contracted Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to create a couple superheroes.  One was the Fly that we discussed in a couple other episodes, the other was Private Strong, a sort of retcon or remake of the Golden Age character, The Shield.
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Private Strong was created in 1959 with Superhuman powers including throwing lightning, super strength, super running, a subject of his father’s experimentation, and an orphan adopted by a farming couple.  Not only that, he donned a red and blue suit.  Joe Simon wrote in his 2003 book, Comic Book Makers that John Goldwater dropped Private Strong after two issues because DC Comics’ lawyers had sent him a cease and desist order because the Shield’s powers were too close to Superman.
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Marvel Comics premiered their Wonder Man in Avengers 9, 1964 about Simon Williams who was endowed with ionic rays, gaining super strength and invulnerability.  He started as a villain and died at the end of the issue.
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Stan Lee mentioned in an interview that when they used Wonder-Man, similar to the 1939 Fox Comic, DC Comics sent them a cease and desist letter to immediately stop using Wonder Man; however unlike the last time, they didnt claim similarity to Superman in their request, they mentioned Wonder Woman!
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So Marvel put this character on hiatus until Avengers 131, 1975.
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 As annoying as it is for DC Comics to get their way most of the time by using litigation and legal maneuvers to either scare, or tire down their competition; there was a time when DC got a taste of its own medicine.  In 1941, DC printed a book that contained stories with Superman, Batman and Robin called World’s Best Comics #1. The problem here was that Better Publications had a comic called Best Comics since 1939, and it has been discussed by Michael Uslan that they went after DC Comics for using this title, and forced them to change the title to World’s Finest Comics with issue 2.
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Since DC used litigation (or the fear of) to maintain Superman, as the Super Hero, and in one case did the same with Wonder Woman, to round out the DC trinity, they did the same with Batman against Myron Fass’ 1966 character, The Bat.  Myron Fass actually copied alot of characters and names during this time. To protect their Batman copyright, DC sent a threat of legal action, so the writers changed the villain’s name from The Bat to The Ray.  Well this has been a fun episode of Comic Book Historians, when we see Superman, and his two accessories, Wonder Woman and Batman, we should understand that this trinity which stands for Truth, Justice and Good, it should also be understood that they had a certain amount of turf in comic book fandom from the late 1930s to the mid 1960s, and besides having a good product including good stories, good characters, and good art, they also used their attorneys to maintain their dominance over their visibility at the newsstands.  These characters are a product of talent, as well as their legal team who used fear and copyright laws to weaken their competition for close to 3 decades.  Cheers.

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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.

Action Comics © DC Comics, Pages from Wonder Comics, Whiz Comics, Master Comics, Best Comics are Public Domain.  Republic Pictures © CBS corporation, Tales From the Crypt © Gaines,  Mad Comics © Time Warner, Private Strong © Joe Simon, World’s Best Comics © DC Comics, World’s Finest Comics © DC Comics, Avengers © Marvel, Detective Comics © DC Comics, Shazam ©DC Comics, Captain Marvel TM Marvel, Photos ©Their Respective Copyrightholders