Faster than a Speeding Ambulance: Superman’s Legal Case

The Superman legal proceedings remind me of the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

I was struck by one paragraph in the AP article on Warner’s virtually getting all of Superman:

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright noted in that case that the families of both creators have been paid in excess of $4 million since 1978, plus undefined bonuses and medical benefits.

Nice work if you can get it.


I asked myself, with all the frustrations I have with the major corporations winning, why this time didn’t bother me at all, in fact, I was a bit happy.

Well, I realized that this was not Siegel and Shuster against DC. In fact, it was not the families of Siegel and Shuster against DC. This was their lawyer, Toberoff fighting for and almost getting controlling interest in Superman. Contingency lawyers may be needed in our society, but too many of the ones I had to deal with in life were, well, sleazy, even if they were millionaires. They usually want a quick settlement, and frankly, manipulate everyone, including their own clients to get it. And by the way, they don’t just get a percentage of a settlement. That surprises people. If they win, they get their percentage THEN they give you a huge bill for “expenses.” This could include $5 a page for Xeroxing something, office expenses and time, phone bills, even their meal money and transportation. So they often get a lot more than you thought. The advantage of course, is that you do not have to pay any money in advance and if you lose you usually pay nothing. But here, they “bet” their recurring payments, which they have not received and some of the heirs have even died, getting nothing, during this trial.

Here, Toberoff would have gotten, as payment, a big share of the Siegel’s ownership of Superman and a big share of Shuster’s. So his combined share would have been the majority of Superman and he would have been the controlling owner, not the families.

There also comes a time when you have to give up the ghost, as the old expression goes. That is, after fighting over Superman since 1938, the older wives, sisters and brothers do not need this battle haunting them to their grave. Take the money and run, so to speak. They had settled, but Toberoff stepped in and tried to throw out everything in his favor.

In Bleak House, Jarndyce v Jarndyce was a case that was in front of the court forever. People were fighting over a will with a large inheritance. They fight for so many generations that legal costs now exceed the value of what was left. Dickens used this to go after and expose the civil courts in England and helped get some reforms.

When met with initial success, Toberoff became the lawyer for the Kirby estate. Here, he claimed, incorrectly, that Kirby was the sole and originally creator of Marvel’s most successful characters. Here was a lawyer who was fighting for the creative rights of his client Kirby, but threw Lee, Heck and Ditko (and Larry Lieber) under the bus when Toberoff claimed full and sole credit for the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Spider-Man.

I don’t feel that Siegel and Shuster lost, their families will get money and continued recognition. Toberoff lost and I don’t feel so bad.

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