I recently learned about a 2003 court case that I knew many of you would be interested in. You see, the comic book industry has a rich history of really strange court cases, however, this one is ahead of the pack.
In the late 90s – when comic books and their related merchandise were selling like hotcakes – people working for Marvel Comics discovered an interesting aspect of the United States rules dealing with import tariffs. This aspect is that when dolls representing human beings are imported into the country, their import tax is 12%; however, if the item being imported in is not a doll, but a toy – which is classified as a representation of a nonhuman entity – it only has an import tax of 6.8%.
To a company like Marvel Comics – specifically, its subsidiary Toy Biz – a tax difference of 5.2% would have saved them millions of dollars. Marvel/Toy Biz did what any smart corporation would do, they petitioned for their products to be legally considered toys by arguing that their characters were not representations of humans.
The punch line about this is that for decades Marvel Comics has been producing stories in which metahumans have been fighting to be treated just like other humans. For those of you who are fans of the X-Men, you then know that in the Marvel Universe mutants are seen as inhuman monsters by the misguided human power structure. And now, the Marvel Corporation is arguing that mutants are, in fact, not human beings. Therefore, their toy representations should not be taxed as if they were humans.
The issue became so volatile that Marvel took the United States to court and won.
After a close inspection of the items, Judge Judith M. Barzilay (her bio can be found here) ruled in favor of Marvel Comics. Specifically stating that:
“Some clearly resemble human beings, some clearly not. Most are on the borderline in that they exhibit a mix of human and non-human characteristics, such as arms and legs alongside non-human features (for example, one of the more popular figures of the series “Wolverine” has long, sharp looking claws grafted onto his hands that come out from under his skin along with wolf-like hair and ears).”
The judge then wrote, “whatever the degree is to which they resemble human beings, the court finds that these action figures do not represent human beings and are therefore not properly classifiable as “dolls” under HTSUS heading 9502.”
(The full judgment for this amazingly strange court case can be found here.)
What surprised me about this case was that Marvel did not only want the human/nonhuman status of the X-Men changed, they also argued in that Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four should no longer be considered humans. Which means that per judicial system of the United States of America that mutants and metahumans – despite decades of protest – are not human beings.
So, what do you think of Marvel having the courts legally declare several of their superheroes to be nonhumans? And while we’re talking about comic book court cases, what are some of the other cases you thought were crazy when you first learned about them?