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Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark truly is the gift that keeps on giving. The much-balleyhooed musical debuted to disaster and scabrous reviews, but for a while it looked like it’s run was ultimately looking like a success. Sales died down, however, and ultimately, the show closed up shop, leaving behind tabloid drama, lawsuits, injuries, and a dubious chapter in the Spider-Man history where some of us had to pretend that villainess Swiss Miss was a part of canon.
And now it’s fodder for yet another contentious legal battle between Marvel and Stan Lee Media Inc., according to THR. Stan Lee Media Inc., or SLMI, was by some accounts a poorly-run endeavor spearheaded by Marvel legend Lee, formed in the nineties only to promptly go bankrupt, forcing its shareholders to attempt to reclaim any shred of profitability they could find, which in many cases has been claiming ownership of characters likes Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four because, quote, "Stan Lee dun created it and stuff so it’s ours and money." And over the years, SLMI has not quit, in every way attempting to get those lucrative rights, even losing a billion dollar lawsuit against Disney last fall.
Turn Off The Dark enters the picture with Broadway: Now And Forever, a Pennsylvania-area revue of popular Broadway shows that Marvel attacked for not having the rights to their beloved Spidey musical. It seems like after this suit was raised, SLMI swept in and illegally struck a licensing deal with the show to use Turn Off The Dark material it legally did not own. This is the equivalent to when you were young and your friend came over asking to borrow your toys, but because you weren’t there, your little brother let them take it instead, pocketing a Juan Gonzalez rookie card in the transaction for his own. Little brothers are the worst.
Now SLMI has filed an intervenor complaint against Disney, claiming that their suit is interfering with SLMI’s nonexistent licensing deal with the show. You have to believe the show thinks there’s some sort of relationship between SLMI and Marvel, unless they totally bought SLMI stockholders walking into the room and saying, "Eh, it’ll all figure itself out in court," while trying to pry money from producer’s pockets. But this is part of SLMI’s full-court press to grab the rights, even though Disney (who seem likely to have better lawyers that Marvel did before the Mouse House purchased them) counters with two painfully obvious points. One, Marvel’s been in business for decades, and SLMI’s claim of rights to Marvel’s characters should have been made upon the company’s beginnings in the late nineties, at least before it went belly-up. And two, SLMI ISN’T EVEN A THING. Disney maintains it’s an "administratively dissolved corporation that lacks the capacity to license," and that the company hasn’t been active for a dozen years. Lionel Hutz could walk backwards blindfolded into this case and end it effectively for Disney.
The rights issues to certain characters can be fairly complicated. Marvel (and DC) infamously maintain the rights to characters while often disregarding the creators, and normally you’d side with the company named after an actual comic writer as opposed to a giant corporate entity. But this isn’t Lee, this is merely a shell of a business endeavor that went belly up, leaving a sea of dubious decisions in their wake, grasping at straws simply to see a return on their bad investment a dozen years after it went in the toilet. And even if Lee were a part of this and SLMI were a complete entity, this is Stan Lee we’re talking here. He’s not exactly starving. Ultimately this is a case of one group of businessmen who are well-prepared, and one who is not.