If I’m going to use a cover from this series, let it be the one with kangas.

§ September 14th, 2022 § Filed under dc comics, multiverse talk, publishing, wonder woman § 8 Comments

Cassandra presents

“Mike, the main reason Wonder Woman survived into the 50s has to do with the terms of the original contract between AA/National and Marston. If there came a period where she didn’t appear in a comic published for a certain length of time (I’ve heard two months), the rights would revert to the Marston estate. So, Wonder Woman might be the first comic that continued to be published solely for a rights issue!”

If I recall correctly, it was Kurt Busiek who first unleashed this knowledge onto the world…some kind of deal where he mentioned “oh yeah that post-Crisis, pre-Perez series mini I wrote was done else DC lose the Wonder Woman rights” and the rest of the funnybook resident was all “…wait, run that by me again?”

Now that’s entirely paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines. The Legend of Wonder Woman, scripted by Busiek and illustrated by Trina Robbins, was released in the year-long interim between the cancellation of the original Wonder Woman series and the George Perez/Greg Potter relaunch. Apparently, without that mini being rushed into production and released, that publishing gap would indeed have been enough to trigger whatever contractual clause existed to revert all Wonder Woman rights to the Marston estate. Last month’s issue of Back Issue, the ’80s DC Mini-Series issue, features a good interview with Busiek and Robbins about the series.

One of the details I believe I learned from that interview was that it had to be specifically a title starring Wonder Woman. Guest-appearances in other comics, or even just being a member of the Justice League, wasn’t enough to keep the shepherd’s crook at bay and yanking her offstage.

Now I’d assumed after that close call, as the series was rushed into production after someone realized that contractual issue, that DC/Warners went to the Marston estate, pulled out the checkbook, sighed and asked “…okay, how much?” I presume that was the situation when DC nailed down the Shazam!/Captain Marvel rights a couple/three decades back instead of just continuing to license the characters from Fawcett. Anyway, in that Back Issue interview Busiek said he wasn’t sure what the situation was regarding the Wonder Woman contract, and whether that clause was still in effect. If there’s been clarification on this since then, I’d like to know.

As I noted in the post upon which Cassandra was commenting, in that otherwise superhero-less gap between the Golden and Silver Ages, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman continued to be published because they were still money-makers. In Wonder Woman’s case, yes, that title was still making money via all the toys and such DC was able to license, which certainly gave them incentive to keep the title going. Not just to encourage more licensing, but to keep their mitts on the property so they could continue making that toy-and-costume scratch.

Now as to whether or not any other titles continued on solely to retain the rights…well, technically, that’s the deal with pretty much any licensed property, but I know what you mean, Cassandra! There was that aforementioned licensing arrangement DC had with Fawcett over usage of the Shazam! family of characters, but I don’t believe that would’ve been a “use it or lose it” kind of deal. I don’t think there were too many long gaps with DC’s usage of Captain Marvel anyway, so I don’t believe that to be entirely analogous. But I can’t think of anything else that’s quite the same. Something to look into, perhaps!

Also, I should note that I’m filing this under the “Multiverse Talk” category not just to continue the conintuity of converssation, but also because the Legend of Wonder Woman mini includes a nicely appropriate send-off to the Earth-2 Wonder Woman!

8 Responses to “If I’m going to use a cover from this series, let it be the one with kangas.”

  • I think the most famous example is probably Watchmen, though it’s successful enough that DC probably would have kept it in print even if not doing so didn’t have copyright ramifications.

  • Mikester says:

    Oh, duh, Watchmen of course. This actually has come up quite a bit at the store lately, for some reason.

  • Hal Shipman says:

    I seem to remember that the Captain Marvel situation was a balancing act. They had a use or lose it situation, but they also had a cost per use issue pulling in the other direction.

    I believe that was why Cap was pulled from the Giffen Justice League so early. It wasn’t worth the additional cost to have him appearing in the title.

    I don’t know when they went ahead and outright bought him and how that affected other uses (Ordway’s series, his appearances in JSA, etc., etc.). And if it was ANY Marvel family appearances (CM Jr. in Jurgens’ Teen Titans) or Cap was the only one that “counted.”

  • DK says:

    We’re likely to see more of this in the future and not less because of all the “special arrangements” now made with certain copyright holders to provide royalties.

    If I’m the lawyer for the Schuster family, for sure I am asking “hold on there, are you trying to avoid publishing my client’s Superman to stop paying royalties, is that what this replacement Superman is about?”

    If DC is ever really at “we are phasing out Clark Kent for the forseeable future, it was a good 85 year run, you will not see him very often, it’s all Jon Kent & pals now in the books and on the merch” that’s a problem.

    Somewhere in the multiverse the Earth-999 Alan Moore successfully sued DC because they took the modestly successful Watchmen out of print and his royalties ceased.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    My question is: How stoked was Trina Robbins to draw a legit Wonder Woman mini-series for DC Comics in 1986–after having drawn that bootleg Wonder Woman on the cover of the classic underground comic “It Ain’t Me Babe Comix” for Last Gasp back in 1970?

    Also, I think you should have showcased the cover to issue no. 3 of “The Legend of Wonder Woman”…

  • Patrick says:

    At one time it was true, but no more. Kurt Busiek clarified the issue (DC Comics Message Boards on 25 January 2005):

    They are no longer true, but they were true for a long time — as I understand it, the terms were that DC had to publish at least four issues with “Wonder Woman” as the banner lead feature or rights would revert. That’s why DC did the LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN mini-series that I wrote and Trina Robbins drew — the Perez revamp was in development, but coming along slowly, and they had to publish something to fulfil the contract terms.

    They specifically didn’t want something that would be attention-getting, because they didn’t want to undercut the revamp. So they wanted something gentle and nostalgic, and we had fun doing it.

    In the intervening years, though, I’m given to understand that at some point DC bought the character outright, and thus those contract terms are no longer in force.

    Source: https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/242796/did-william-marston-mandate-that-wonder-woman-be-continuously-published-for-dc-t

  • Snark Shark says:

    Hal Shipman: “I believe that was why Cap was pulled from the Giffen Justice League so early”

    You know, I’d wondered about that! He was only around for the first several issues or so.

  • Ben says:

    There’s a lettercol in the original Who’s Who that mentions DC we’re still licensing (and didn’t own) Captain Marvel in the mid-80’s at least, and that they no longer had publishing rights to any of the other non-Marvel Family Fawcett characters (Spy Smasher, Mr Scarlet, Ibis the Invincible etc, all those guys that appear in the JLA/JSA/Earth S team up story).

    I believe they purchased all of the rights to all of the Fawcett characters outright in the 90’s at some point, I’d guess before Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam graphic novel and follow-on series came out? As with the Quality characters tho, there’s still seems to be a bit of a public domain question mark over a lot of this stuff