…it shouldn’t be controversial that some characters simply don’t work, or they don’t work past the idiosyncratic spark of their original creators. There’s nothing wrong with limited shelf life. Yet this simple reality is warped by trademark holders who have unlimited interest in making money off of limited concepts, and by readers who refuse to let ideas go, even in the face of continued creative failure. … the same can be said for most superheroes. Most popular culture, really.
Reading the WW essays, I got the sense of an original vision both odd and personal; later attempts at the character, not so much. But it has enough cachet that people want to keep trying their own version. It could just be positioning (“the first female superhero”). Readers who won’t let go, I think, shouldn’t be faulted. They see untapped potential. (The Cubs could win the World Series; it’s not the fans’ fault for buying tickets.)
And the corporation’s a facilitator, never an author, no matter what the law says. The law’s the most interesting thing here, I think. Totally arbitrary and usually absurd, Odell’s right that it warps reality.
Without going into a laundry list of Boggsian aburdity, I’ll point to the English scrum over Lost Girls. Moore & Gebbie used Peter Pan characters still under copyright in the UK & EU. The hospital that owned the rights objected, so M&G waited to publish there until the copyright expired. An amicable solution, but still:
Why on earth does a hospital own Peter Pan?
(Yes, I know there are reasons. I could have my reasons to leave my fortune to a dog.)
So, my big question: at what point can a work be said to have reasonably escaped its author and been taken over by the culture? It makes less sense to say one
person hospital owns & controls Peter Pan than it does to say Peter Pan’s just out there somewhere. I think this question especially important to comics works, which rely more on “characters and situations,” as at least one comics copyright has it, than on any particular story. Certainly, the superhero genre’s founded on the character more than the situation.
(Uninteresting side note: yes, lots of money is involved. So? Granite mining is a cutthroat industry.)
Finally, this is silly:
Screw you, Sonny Bono’s ghost. Say I want to make creative use of the culture I’m in, works speaking in the language I grew up with. For a lot of people, pop’s the only language they have. And that language is owned & operated by companies. So I’m left with parody, the collective unconscious of the 1860s, or the lawless Mississippi kids who didn’t know they couldn’t remake Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Better than the original in every way, you can only see it through pirate versions as a legit release is a legal tangle.)
In film criticism, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson started the practice of using film stills without asking permission because studios routinely asked crazy fees for reprint rights. Now everyone reprints stills without permission, so a murky legal precedent’s set even if no case has been tried.
So, shouldn’t organized fan-unrest be able to destroy copyright? “24-Hour WW Fanfic Comic Day.” Or cosplay sit-ins, I don’t know. It might be worth it just to have thousands of people dressed as Amazons, going about their business. Maybe Moulton’s ghost would be pleased, if not as much for “24-Hour Hogtie Day.”