Check That Bought Rights to Superman in 1938 Being Auctioned
The payment for Superman's rights to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster from Detective Comics created the modern superhero industry and sparked a seventy-year legal battle over the deal's terms.
Its the comics equivalent of the $24 in beads for Manhattan or trading Babe Ruth to fund a Broadway flop: The $130 payment from Detective Comics, Inc. to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster for the rights to Superman.
Now the evidence of this famous transaction is up for auction.
Bidding for this unique piece of comics’ history has already reached $36,055 (as of March 29). The auction ends on April 16.
Comics Connect is selling the March 1, 1938 Detective Comics check for $412 to Siegel and Schuster that includes the money for Superman. The check includes a notation breaking down the payment as $130 for Superman, $210 for the June, 1938 issue of Detective Comics at $210 and $36 each for Adventure Comics and More Fun Comics.
Siegel and Schuster, teens living in Cleveland, created an early version of "Super-Man" in the early '30s and the familiar version in 1934. After four years of pitching the character, DC made it the cover feature of Action Comics no. 1 and a phenomena was born.
That $130 for the rights to Superman created the modern superhero and the billion-dollar comics industry. One could argue that without this check from DC Comics, there would be no Superman, no Batman, no Wonder Woman, no Spider-Man, no X-Men, and no such thing as the superhero.
The payment also set in motion nearly seventy years of ongoing legal battles about what Detective Comics actually bought. The check also included a signed agreement (the original has been lost but copies exist) that said, "In consideration of $130.00 agreed to be paid by you, I hereby sell and transfer such work and strip, all good will attached thereto and exclusive right to the use of the characters and story. … The intent hereof is to give you exclusive right to use and acknowledge that you own said characters or story and the use thereof, exclusively. I have received the above sum of money."
Fan site Bleeding Cool has done an exhaustive history of the check. It’s worth a read, but here's a brief summary.
Detective Comics asserted it bought Superman, but the comic was an immediate hit and the pair immediately challenged the deal. First, they asked for more money and then they sued DC. By 1973, a version of the lawsuit had reached what seemed like a final decision with an appeals court decision in DC's favor (subsequent changes in copyright law would bring new lawsuits). To celebrate DC executives and the company's lawyers went to lunch. Afterward, the lawyers handed back a box of original documents to DC. Thinking the case was over, a junior employee was told to throw the box away but realizing the check's historical significance he saved it.
No one knew the check had been saved. Most assumed it had been lost time. Evidence suggests this is the genuine article, including an evidence stamp from an early lawsuit.
See a copy of the check below.