Intellectual Property and the Hollywood Superhero
A thrilling investigation of superhero comics and films through the lens of copyright law
Copyright Vigilantes: Intellectual Property and the Hollywood Superhero, 1998–2018 explains superhero blockbusters as allegories of intellectual property relations. In movies based on characters owned by the comics duopoly of DC and Marvel, no narrative recurs more often than a villain’s attempt to copy the superhero's unique powers. In this volume, author Ezra Claverie explains this fixation as a symptom of the films’ mode of production.
Since the 1930s, the dominant American comics publishers have treated the creations of artists and writers as work for hire, such that stories and characters become company property. Thus, publishers avoided sharing the profits both from magazine sales and from licensing characters into other media. For decades, creators have challenged this regime, demanding either shares of profits or outright ownership of their creations. Now that the duopoly rents, licenses, and adapts superheroes for increasingly expensive franchises, and for growing international audiences, any challenge to intellectual property relations threatens a production regime worth billions of dollars. Duopoly movies, therefore, present any attempt to break the superhero’s monopoly on their powers as the scheme of terrorists, mad scientists, or space Nazis—assuaging studio anxieties and revealing the fears of those who benefit most from the real-world ownership of superheroes. Weaving together legal analysis, Marxist political economy, and close readings of movies, Copyright Vigilantes explains the preoccupations of Hollywood’s leading genre.