COPYCATS...WHO MADE WHO?
COPYCATS…WHO MADE WHO?
Millions of moviegoers must have been blown away back in 2012 (at least the ones who stayed for the post-post credits of “The Avengers”) to see a mega-threatening villain sitting on his throne: Thanos! Oh, boy! Infinity Gauntlet! A whole bunch of new movies! In other words…Marvel beat DC to the punch.
Trivia lovers and old-time comic fans know the story: in 1970, comic book legend Jack Kirby created Darkseid (a guy who looks just like Thanos, and who could also have our planet for breakfast) for DC comics in Superman´s Pal Jimmy Olsen No. 134, eventually introducing Big Barda (just in case you didn´t know her Victoria Secret size), Miracle Man, Orion, Metron (the guy in the flying chair) and what not. Jim Starlin, on the other hand, came up with his purple lookalike villain three years later so there is no question to who copied the cat.
Did Marvel copy DC´s Darkseid by creating Thanos? Maybe Thanos was created before and mentioned in a water cooler conversation that Jack Kirby heard? Are original ideas so universal that nobody really copies anybody? Truth of the fact is, nobody cares. We are in the ´10s now: it´s all about trailers, teasers, sound bites, ComicCon presentations…and who gets there first. Thanos made it first to the silver screen, so who cares? Whether WB decides to use the Dark Lord of Apokolips or not, it will look like DC ripped off Marvel. No matter what lawyers, courts, or the Living Tribunal may decide.
What did Starlin say about this controversy?: “You´d think that Thanos was inspired by Darkseid, but that was not the case when I showed up. In my first Thanos drawings, if he looked like anybody, it was Metron. Then Roy Thomas (editor-in-chief for Marvel back then) told me: “Beef him up! If you´re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!”
Did you know that Deadpool, whose surprise movie hit became the hightest “R” rated movie ever ($782 million at the box office) was loosely based on a previously created DC villain created 11 years earlier? Deathstroke, the one-eyed bad guy who first appeared in “New Teen Titans” No. 2 (1980) and whose claim to fame came a few issues later in the classic "Judas Contract”. Backstory? An ex-special forces mercenary with superhuman regenerative powers. Sound familiar?
The “Merc with a Mouth”? He came up in 1991 in New Mutants No. 98. Did Liefeld & Nicieza really copy ol´Slade Wilson? Well, let´s call him "Wade Wilson" and give him the same mask...what probably was a prank… I´m sure they never imagined this character would go on to become a Marvel icon, with a second movie coming up, hundreds of comic issues and guest-star appearances to his name…On the other hand, many others could argue that the DC comic book version of Harley Quinn (Joker´s off-her-rocker GF) ripped off Deadpool´s “breaking the fourth wall” initiative (Talking to you, fool!)
Everybody has an opinion on this, and nobody is every going to be 100% right. In a world where Led Zepellin has to go to court to defend its epic “Stairway to Heaven” and Amy Schumer is accused of ripping off other people´s jokes, who can say who came up with what first? Maybe even as we speak, a comic book creator is pitching an eight-legged bipolar character to Image, while another one simultaneously tries to convince Dark Horse to create a six-legged schizophrenic hero? Who is copying who?
Some powers are quite universal, and both Marvel & DC have had similar heroes for quite a long time. Green Arrow (DC) debuted waaaaay back in 1941 in "More Fun Comics" No. 73 (What a great title for a fun comic), while Hawkeye (Marvel) first appeared in "Tales of Suspense" No. 57 (1964). Today a second Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) has been a great success at Marvel, while DC has Red Arrow, Arsenal, Emiko Queen, and a few more to speak of. In conclusion, both editorials have had a star archer for over 50 years, but didn´t they maybe copy that concept from Robin Hood, a character from a 14th-century poem (“Piers Plowman”) who still inspires readers today? (No lawsuits yet…until the time machine is finally invented!)
You would expect so many copycat cases would have inspired publishers to sue each other over creator rights. However, you must remember that trials take a lot of time and money and back then (and even now), the “Big Two” were barely making ends meet, with underpaid, overworked crreators in very small working spaces. I´m sure suing your rival over one of hundreds of characters was not on your priority list. In fact, the biggest trials regarding comics have always been between creators and publishers (Siegel & Schuster vs. DC Comics over Superman; Stan Lee & Jack Kirby vs. Marvel; Alan Moore over Watchmen, among many others).
So basically, the street rule is: it doesn´t really matter who came up with it first in the comics world. The one who does it better and/or the one who makes it to the silver screen first will stick in the public´s consciousness. Who do you prefer: The Flash (Great TV series!) or Quicksilver (Two versions in the movies)? Ant Man or The Atom? Superman or Miracleman? Zatanna or Scarlet Witch? Catwoman or Black Cat? Punisher or Vigilante? Plastic Man or Mister Fantastic? Aquaman or Namor, the Sub-Mariner? Does it really matter? I guess not…but if I find out somebody´s copied my superpowers and/or really cool costume, they´re gonna get an ass-kicking, that´s for sure!