Comic Book Artists Sue Marvel Over 'Iron Man' Body Armor

The plaintiffs say they formerly worked at Marvel and created work that has been copied.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Ben Lai and Ray Lai, two brothers who run Horizon Comics Productions in Massachusetts, have found lawyers to represent them in an uphill battle against Marvel Entertainment over what the character of Iron Man wears.

According to a lawsuit filed on Thursday alleging copyright infringement and unfair business practices, the Lai brothers created in 2001 the comic book series Radix, featuring characters who "wear highly detailed, mechanized suits of body armor." They now see something too similar in the Iron Man films and its promotion.

Iron Man, featuring the superhero alter ego of Tony Stark, is based on a comic series created by Stan Lee in the 1960s.

The law allows new aspects of expression to be copyrighted so long as the authorship is sufficiently delineated and not a generic idea.

In an effort to show that Marvel had access, the Lai brothers say that after Radix came out, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used an illustration that was substantially similar to their own work. The image was allegedly used by MIT in the midst of a $50 million nanotechnology research grant from the United States Army to create a new generation of body armor for soldiers.

Supposedly, MIT apologized publicly for using the image in 2002, and a month after this occurred, Marvel hired the Lai brothers as artists to work on various comic book franchises. The complaint asserts that key personnel at Marvel were distributed the Radix materials from the Lai brothers.

The old comics of Iron Man depict the central character "wearing simple spandex-like attire and minimal armor," states the complaint, while the later films depict him "wearing a fully mechanized suit of body armor."

The complaint, filed by attorneys Jeffrey Wiesner and Paul Sennott, has pictures.

Before even getting to the issues of whether Iron Man body armor is substantially similar to Radix body armor, whether the idea of a superhero wearing such a suit of armor is more than generic, and whether Iron Man body armor is merely functional, the lawsuit figures to test plaintiffs on whether they brought a timely-enough complaint.

Marvel, which hasn't yet commented, is said to have shrugged off a cease-and-desist letter.

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