How the creators of Superman were screwed out of millions of dollars

Kylie Mar
Host & Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics: The Trials of Superman revealed the shocking truth behind the world’s first superhero. Not many people know that when Superman was created in 1933 by two high school students, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the “Man of Steel” was actually rejected, by everyone.

It wasn’t until 1937, when DC Comics’ Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz were desperate for business, that Superfan finally got a chance. Siegel and Shuster excitedly signed a contract, a dream they’d shared since they were kids. Unfortunately, it became the biggest mistake of their lives because it meant they were also giving up all their rights to Superman, a character that would soon become a worldwide phenomenon.

Within three months, Superman sold a million copies. Siegel and Shuster were paid well but not nearly as much as Donenfeld and Liebowitz, who were making millions of dollars. Ultimately, this didn’t sit well with the creators, whose workloads were increasing dramatically with the Last Son of Krypton’s success.

In 1947, Siegel and Shuster sued DC Comics for the rights to Superman. Sadly, they lost the case and their jobs at DC Comics. The two were absolutely devastated. Not only was everything they had worked so hard on stripped away from them, but they were also barred from the character they created.

Siegel persuaded Shuster to sue DC Comics again in 1967. But they found out that due to the settlement they had received from the court judgment in 1948, the door had been completely closed on any future litigation. This second loss left the creators with almost nothing and barely enough money to survive.

It wasn’t until the release of the very first Superman movie, with Marlon Brando, that things began to finally turn around for the creators. After exposing their story to the public, Warner Communications ultimately decided to pay the creators, despite the previous court ruling.

In the end, after nearly 30 years of anguish, Siegel and Shuster got Superman back and the justice they deserved.

Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC

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