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Superboy’s Death Was Due to A Real World Legal Battle

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Many comics fans have heard of the dispute between Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, in which Kane signed for sole ownership of Batman, ultimately leaving his co-creator with nothing. The battle to credit Finger continued long past their deaths, only coming to a resolution in 2015, over 75 years after the character’s debut. His name now appears alongside Kane’s in all forms of media. However, a lesser-known legal battle ensued between DC and the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster.

Following the success of Superman, Superboy was created in 1945, debuting in More Fun Comics #101 (By Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) as a younger version of Clark Kent. The idea for the story was pitched by Siegel, who was serving in the military at the time. However, DC did not inform him before publishing the story. This violated the terms of Siegel’s contract at the time, though the company continued to publish Superboy stories without his knowledge.

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DC’s Superboy Faced a Real World Battle

Upon returning from the army, Siegel was shocked to see that the character he had created was seeing success. He continued to write Superman stories per his contract before convincing his co-creator to follow a lawsuit against DC in 1947. The suit covered a variety of grievances, including missed royalty payments for the creation of Superman and ownership of both Superman and Superboy. The case concluded on April 12, 1948, with the judge ruling DC owned the rights to Superman, whereas Siegel and Shuster owned Superboy. The creators would receive their missed royalty payments and any income they had not been paid prior. Interestingly, the two parties decided to settle out-of-court for approximately $94,000 (Close to $1 million today).

Following this, Shuster and Siegel’s contracts with DC were not renewed, and they went their separate ways. Superboy stories continued to be published until the character’s erasure during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Following this, a new version would debut in 1993s “Reign of the Supermen.” This version is well-known by fans as a clone of Superman and his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. He would go on to become a founding member of Young Justice and play an integral role in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans run in 2003. The character would be killed off during the events of Infinite Crisis, sacrificing himself to save the universe. While the character’s sacrifice was a noble one, one has to wonder if there was a behind the scene’s reason for it.

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A new lawsuit from the heirs of Shuster and Siegel was filed in 2004, one year before Infinite Crisis began. The lawsuit once again sought to explore the ownership rights of Superman and Superboy. Due to the ownership of the character being in question, there is reason to speculate that Conner was killed off to avoid any legal troubles stemming from future appearances of the character. A similar effect was seen in the show Legion of Superheroes. The initial press release for the show cited Superboy (A young Clark Kent) would be a prominent character, however, upon release, he was referred to as Superman, seemingly a result of the ongoing legal battle.

Ultimately, the case would conclude in 2008, ruling that the Siegels and Shusters solely owned the rights to Superman as he appeared in Action Comics #1 and not anything following that. Conner would return in 2008 and carry on with the mantle of Superboy. Overall, the legal battle between DC and the estates of Siegel and Shuster showed that the legal aspect of comics can be a messy one. When the character was created, one could not foresee how much of an impact Superman would have on the world. Even now, nearly 100 years, the character remains an icon in pop culture. Ultimately, Superman and Superboy continue to be featured in stories, and the future of the characters seems brighter than ever.

Sources: Justia Law, Scribd, Toy News International

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