Friday, June 12, 2009

The difference between a rip off and a homage in comics/ Henry VI (part 2) Act IV, scene II

[Just think of this as a generalized rant on the rip off accusation that comes up in comics so very often.]

It's the principle of the thing that gets me

You have name rip offs, then you have character homages. I'll start with the Golden Age, cause that's where my fan boy reader interests are focused these days. Am I the only one still pissed that the original Captain Marvel's comics have to be labeled Shazam? Basically Stan Lee or whoever at Marvel, ripped off the name for a character that has nothing much in common with The real Captain Marvel. It is of coursed not lost on me that Fawcett had to go out of business thanks in large part to a DC lawsuit saying the real Captain Marvel was a Superman rip off. The man of tomorrow was a alien, the big red cheese was a boy who could say a magic word to transform. [Marvel's Captain Marvel did a homage to that trading places, with the power bands. ] The types of stories went in completely different directions, based on that 'super strong guy who can fly' concept. For a while there back in the Golden Age if a character was super strong and jumped/flew through the air, here comes National/DC's legion of soulless lawyers to shut'em down. Marvel has pulled the same trick any number of times much more recently. Fighting American couldn't throw his shield, which is a little ironic since I think Timely got into some trademark trouble over Cap's triangle shield? Stan Lee also did the same thing with his version of Nick Fury agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, which looks and acts a lot like Captain Battle right down to the Eye patch. Get rid of the cape and side kick, add in a government team (but keep all the high tech toy's) -it's sue proof!!! I don't personally have a problem with a Captain Battle look a like, or another hero throwing their shield. Thanks to public domain Stan got away with it, Awesome entertainment didn't. If one is a uncreative rip off they both are, if one's a homage to the past -they both are. In the 90's, Plasm from Defiant became 'Warriors of' thanks to a failed lawsuit from Marvel over a character called Plasmer. I know theirs a difference between trade mark and copyright. I also know about public domain characters. Captain Marvel can be Captain Marvel DC just can't title a book that. You had Stan Lee create Daredevil the blind hero, but he ripped the name off from the real Daredevil a Golden age hero from Lev Gleason. So you get the Shazam situation all over again with Death-Defying Devil and the like. No one on God's creation will ever convince me Stan the Man came up with the Daredevil name on his own, that he didn't realized some other character was named that. It's public domain though so copyright that title you ripped off to keep the rightful character from using it again. The creators of the Punisher were inspired by the Black Terror's costume. Lucky for them BT is PD, otherwise the flock of vultures that legal eagles truly are would have been circling. Never mind the fact their is no way in hell any rational 6 year old could ever confuse them. Lawyers ain't got that much damn common sense. The real Captain Marvel vs. Marvel's Captain Marvel, or the real Daredevil vs. Marvel's Daredevil. The last examples don't even share similar costumes. I think the idea of a company being allowed to copyright the action of throwing a shield, or the wide ranging arch type of 'super strong guy who can fly' is legalistic ignorance. I think the idea of playing snatch and grab with old comic titles is a damn unfunny joke. Shakespeare called it right years ago, and he didn't mean it as a compliment.

Secret Serum Madness/ I was a Golden Age dope fiend

Look at all the superheroes who got their powers from drinking a special concoction back in the Golden Age. Mark Gruenwald and Ron Lim dealt with this in the excellent Captain America's Streets of Poison arc. Captain America (might have been the first), then you had Black Terror (it's amazing how incestuous and cannibalistic the place where people get their ideas from are;) ), and Stan Lee's Destroyer. Same basic secret formula origin, but look at all the different directions these characters went in back in the day. Their also must be any number of other characters that got their 'powers' the same way.

The voice of reason is Dave Sim

One question in particular, I made a mental note to cover in this column. Someone asked about working for the mainstream companies; something along the lines of 'what if you have a really good Batman story or X-Force story you want to do.' I pointed out that 1963 is the answer to that. Everyone knows who the characters are supposed to be. Just change the way they look and the name. It dates back to Watchmen, actually. As soon as a DC executive told Alan Moore to change the original Charlton characters into new characters (DC already had plans for the Fly, Blue Beetle, etc.) and as soon as DC trademarked and copyrighted those new characters; well hey, that's checkmate on the big board. If you change the way a character looks and his name, you've created a new character.

-Dave Sim, Note from the President Cerebus #173

Actually it dates back to Captain Marvel for being done well, or the original Wonder Man (Marvel strikes again) for being done poorly. A basic concept taken off into a different direction. It also happened with Rob Liefield's Supreme. I could give a damn less about Moore's run on that title -just go back and read the first 5 issues. In these early issues Supreme took the 'super strong guy who can fly' arch type which had been science fiction, fantasy, humor (Superduper man), and turned it into a horror story. The Lois stand in tortured/killed, Newsboy legion stand in's decapitated/ heads hung on a wall, and Jimmy Olsen's body double got ran over by a truck. Superman as a horror story, I was amazed by it. Taking another direction also happened for Doom Patrol of DC vs. X-Men from Marvel. ..I’ve become more and more convinced that [Stan Lee] knowingly stole The X-Men from The Doom Patrol. Over the years I learned that an awful lot of writers and artists were working surreptitiously between [Marvel and DC]. Therefore from when I first brought the idea into [DC editor] Murray Boltinoff’s office, it would’ve been easy for someone to walk over and hear that [I was] working on a story about a bunch of reluctant superheroes who are led by a man in a wheelchair. So over the years I began to feel that Stan had more lead time than I realized. He may well have had four, five or even six months. - Arnold Drake. Unlike with the various titles/costumes, Stan Lee didn't actually steal anything here. I know both these creators took a basic idea (team of 'freaks' led by a man with a amazing brain, but handicapped body), and went in completely different directions. You have adults in Doom Patrol who just want to hide away from the world after their accidents, but the Chief convinces them to help humanity. In X-men you have mutants young people with powers the world mistrusts. They have to earn the trust of humanity, but also fight against the radicalism of other mutants. The themes are different blaming yourself for risky choices, vs. blaming God for your genetic code. Knowing what it's like to be normal as a memory, vs. only having idealized dreams about what its like not to be different. Doom Patrol's biggest character flaw was feeling sorry for themselves, in X-Men it's the creeping idea of we were born superior, not just different. A homage to a generalized concept from Stan Lee maybe, but not a rip off. It follows the model set forth by Dave Sim.

In closing taking a general concept and making it your own -awesome homage. Ripping off the title of a comic book and preventing a character from being sold under it's rightful name -absolute bull shit move.


  1. That was a great post - and while I do have quite a fondness for the Alan Moore Supreme run, I have to admit - I'd never read the Rob issues that preceded Moore's. I'll have to go track them down.

  2. Thanks Jim.
    What Rob and Brian Murray did to put a new spin on the Superman set-up is still amazing to me.
    Plus how this all ties into Dave Sim's old advice -which still holds true today.
    I love it when a post comes together. :)