Who Owns Atlas Comics?

Dynamite Atlas Comics-Publicity-H 2019
Dynamite Entertainment
Producer Steven Paul wants to revive the defunct 1970s comic book publisher as a movie franchise, but it turns out, there's a significant hurdle.

At Cannes last week, Ghost Rider producer Steven Paul revealed that he had purchased the library of 1970s comic book publisher Atlas Comics, with a view to reviving the brand and relaunching it as a movie universe akin to what Marvel Studios has done.

But it won't be an easy road. While Paul may have acquired a majority interest in the publishing properties of the short-lived outfit, an entirely different comic book company says he does not own the trademark to the name Atlas Comics itself. Dynamite Entertainment maintains that it owns that trademark, and has for a number of years. 

Atlas Comics began in 1974 as an imprint of Seaboard Publishing, a company launched by Martin Goodman after he'd retired from Marvel Comics, the company he'd founded in 1939. According to those working in the industry at the time, Atlas was intended as a spoiler for Marvel after the latter replaced Goodman's son Chip as publisher, with the company earning the nickname "Vengeance, Incorporated" as Goodman attempted to hire staff and creators away from Marvel. 

Dynamite does not say it owns the characters, simply Atlas Comics the name. Paul acquired the stake to the library from its owner Nemesis Group and principal Jason Goodman, grandson of Martin Goodman, who died in 1992.

In a statement provided to Heat Vision, Dynamite said, “We have no clue why Martin Goodman, or anyone associated with him, feels that they can use the ‘Atlas Comics’ brand name. Any trademark rights the original Goodman's Seaboard Publishing group may have owned in the ‘Atlas Comics’ name was abandoned decades ago. Because of that abandonment, the trademark ATLAS COMICS was adopted in 2002 by Jeffrey Stevens, who then registered the trademark in 2005, and Dynamite now owns all rights in the ATLAS COMICS trademark, having purchased it from Mr. Stevens in 2014. We have been actively using the mark ever since.”

Dynamite was founded in 2004 and publishes a number of titles based on media properties including Red Sonja, Nancy Drew and Army of Darkness, in addition to owning and controlling a library of characters such as Vampirella, Evil Ernie, Reanimator and Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. The company, which has been nominated for and won a number of industry awards including Diamond Comics Distributors’ Comics Publisher of the Year (under 5 percent of the market) in 2006 and 2011, has worked with creators including Garth Ennis, Christopher Priest, Mark Russell, Kelly Thompson, Jenny Frison, Jae Lee and Gail Simone.

The “Atlas Comics” branding has been in constant use by Dynamite to denote limited-edition signed copies of high-profile titles for some years, with a visible cover banner as seen above.

When Paul announced his purchase of the majority interest in the Atlas Comics library, he also announced a partnership with Akiva Goldsman’s Weed Road Pictures with the intent of producing one superhero movie a year, starting in 2021, based on the defunct publisher’s output.

Although Paul said that he’s “still counting the characters” in the portfolio, it shouldn’t take that long. When Atlas Comics was in existence, it only published 28 comic book issues in the year or so it lasted before folding. An attempt to revive the brand in 2010 ran aground when Jason Goodman discovered that the Atlas Comics trademark was owned by another party.