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The tragedy of Funnyman: How the the creators of Superman tried to make lightning strike twice

The 75th anniversary of the Siegel and Shuster comeback that never came.

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Joe Shuster (Magazine Enterprises)

In 1938, the Cleveland, Ohio based writer/artist team of Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster debuted their greatest creation to the world: an all-powerful champion of the oppressed with an 'S' emblazoned in a triangle on his chest, identifying him as the one and only Superman. But before that original strip would even run in Action Comics #1, they would lose control of their greatest creation which would change the cultural landscape forever – signing over the rights to National Comics publishers Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld for $130.

Mind, that’s about $2,750 counting for inflation by today’s standards, but still just pennies compared to the billions of dollars in licensing and merchandising that the Superman brand has made the modern day DC Comics and its parent companies today. Siegel and Shuster attempted to sue for their rightful piece of the greatest icon of the 20th century, but court after court found the contracts they signed were ironclad. So, here’s the question. As a creator, what do you do when you find that you’ve irrevocably signed away your greatest, once in a lifetime idea?

Answer: get right back to work, and pray that 'once in a lifetime' happens twice.

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About the Author
Alex Jaffe avatar

Alex Jaffe

Contributing writer

Alex Jaffe is a columnist for DC Comics, answering reader-submitted questions about the minutiae of comic book history. He also hosts the Insert Credit podcast, where he's been asking the smartest people in video games the weirdest questions he can think of since 2012. ReedPOP is Alex's place to write about Star Wars, his "vacation universe" away from DC, but he may be persuaded to occasionally broach other topics. A powerful leg kick makes this goon the meanest guy in the gang.

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