NPR Revives a Forgotten Superhero

Also better visual design.

The Crawling Creature is about as generic as it gets. The name is both boring and kind of dumb, as is the visual design. He’s basically just a big lizard. He’s just eminently forgettable.

Fin Fang Foom, meanwhile, is a goofy name, but it’s fun and memorable. And he’s a classic Kirby visual design.

Fin Fang Foom evokes and embodies the wonder and wonky creativity of the Silver Age. The Crawling Creature is just…kind of there.

I liked the story of The Green Turtle myself.

And the search for a public domain superhero to call your own?

Here’s the first list than came up for me on google!

I like Dr. Styx!

Who would you pick?!

A gigantic green dragon who wears purple boxer shorts amuses me.

Right, exactly. Which (I think) means that the actual value of the IP from the 1960s was zero. They could have just made a new laconic sentient tree and the fact that they sort of had a vague name and a reference to a comic book from decades ago didn’t make any difference, since they used almost none of that.

Planet Money probably needs the gimmick of reviving an old comic book character to sell this story, but Marvel doesn’t.

On the other hand, Marvel only recently re-acquired the rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and associated characters, and had to cut a special deal with Sony that’s already nearly fallen apart at least once to include Spider-Man in the MCU. I doubt they’re eager to license out any of their characters again.

And if Planet Money did acquire the rights to Doorman, would that include his previous appearances, including stories where he appeared with Squirrel Girl, who has become a genuinely popular fan favorite? Would Marvel still be able to reprint or reference those comics?

Even if he’s not a particularly valuable piece of IP, allowing Planet Money to “buy” Doorman has the potential to create needless licensing and rights headaches for Marvel. This whole discussion just seems kind of odd to me. Why should Marvel sell one of their characters to Planet Money?

I get the idea for using this as a way to explore intellectual property rights and the public domain and so forth, but the idea of “buying” an existing character from a comic book company just seems like kind of a dumb idea to me, and I don’t blame Marvel one bit for not taking the offer seriously.

I don’t think they should sell, I just don’t buy the reason explained in the episode. I think the reason they shouldn’t is that Doorman is worth so little that it’s not worth whatever pittance they could make in licensing to potentially have some weird rights issue, or, honestly, to even take the time of the people high up enough to make that call to sit down and think about it.

And of course Planet Money is not really making a serious offer. I bet if a legit film studio came and said we want to option Doorman for a 3 movie series for $X million and Y% of gross, Marvel would at least sit down with them.

But those good reasons to not sell Doorman are very different than the reasons given in the episode, which is that these old characters that almost no one knows about are potentially so valuable that they can’t be parted with at any price.

So, I actually listened to the third episode, about the public domain hero, Micro-Face, when it first aired, and thought it was kind of interesting. I just went back and read the transcripts of the first two episodes. And the first episode, about Doorman, was just…not good. I mean, I get it, it’s not actually a program for comics geeks on obscure characters, it’s a general interest economics program, and in this episode, they’re dealing with the economics of comic book characters. But, still, it’s just bad.

As I wrote upthread, they bungle Doorman’s actual character and powers (he isn’t a guy that turns into a door, or at least that’s not all he is), but that’s kind of a nitpick. More importantly, they, and their supposed expert on obscure super heroes, seem to completely miss the fact that he’s supposed to be kind of a dumb character.

They also don’t have a serious offer to “buy” him - it’s clearly a stunt. And they interview an Archie Comics exec, who gives them the reasoning that even the most obscure character could be valuable so no one will sell them the rights. But they only make a token request to buy one of his company’s characters. The idea of “buying” Doorman is just a transparent stunt, and Marvel clearly has no real reason to talk with them, so the idea that Marvel won’t sell them “obscure character number 6,782” because he might be the next billion dollar franchise star is honestly kind of shoddy journalism.

They also don’t deal with the fact that a couple of decades ago, you could walk in off the street and license a Marvel character for cheap. That’s how Marvel lost the film rights to the Fantastic Four for so long. There’s been a revolution in the value of comic book IPs, and they barely even touch on that.

And, as I pointed out, they don’t deal at all, like not even the vaguest mention, with the fact that Doorman, like just about all Marvel characters, is tangled up with other characters and IP, and, as I also mentioned a couple of times in this thread, he’s closely associated with Squirrel Girl, who actually has earned Marvel a fair amount of money for several years now.

What keeps frustrating me is their emphasis on copyright, and the public domain provisions of that statute. Of course, the bigger protection for characters is trademark law, as is always noted when it’s pointed out that the copyright protection for Steamboat Willy runs out in 2024.

That won’t mean that Planet Money can start selling Mickey Mouse merchandise later that year, though. The vagaries of what “used in commerce” means, and what would count as abandonment for a character, would actually make a much more interesting episode.

All of this, yes. Better put than I could.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Another thought occurred to me. The Planet Money team wanted to “buy” Doorman. As touched on upthread, they didn’t explain what exactly they meant by that (exclusive rights? Just for the comic book series they wanted to create or for subsidiary media as well? Retroactive ownership of all previous appearances?). But beyond that, the idea of “buying” a specific character - I’m not sure that’s actually a thing.

I can’t think of any examples of this ever happening. To be sure, comic book companies buy other comic book companies and acquire their entire catalog. And they license the rights to characters for specific projects (but even then it’s pretty much always a bundle of “associated” characters - if you get Spider-Man, you usually want to at least be able to mention Uncle Ben and Aunt May). And Marvel and DC sometimes finagle deals to share an IP (like the name “Captain Marvel”). But I just can’t think of any examples of anyone “buying” a single character from a comic book company.

Unless I’m just not remembering, or am unaware (which is a distinct possibility), that’s another reason Marvel didn’t even take a call from them. It would be like trying to buy the radio out of a car at a car dealership. It’s just not how the business operates.

“Look, that car radio is just sitting in a car on your back lot, not doing anyone any good, not making you any money, no one’s using it. I’ll pay good cash money for it right now!”

The comparison that came to mind for me was it’s like me approaching Planet Money and saying “I’d like to buy every other sentence in the September 27, 2011 episode of Planet Money”. That’s basically free money in NPR’s pockets, right?

I beg your pardon. The crawling creature has all kinds of superfluous fins coming off his legs and horns on his head*, just the kind of ephemera that Kirby stuck on his monsters to make them interesting.

Besides, it’s the only creature I can think of that was stopped by SALT (not by salt water – there are several of those). That’s a nifty quirk.

*(although on Kirby’s original 1961 Tales to Astonish cover he hasn’t got those fins. When Gil Kane drew it for the reprint in 1972’s Where Monsters Dwell it definitely looked pretty generic, with just a double row of spines down its back. )

How about this month? Versus Horse Skull Thor! (Apparently Frog Thor was busy?)

They’ve had a few follow-up episodes now (e.g. about licensing for products and film rights) that I thought were more interesting.

They’re doing a musical!

It’d be funny if this ends up a huge moneymaker for NPR.

I wouldn’t rule it out; I happen to know the composer/librettist, and she’s done some pretty well-regarded stuff, besides having excellent contacts in relevant fandoms.