Why a U.S. Federal Court Ruled That Marvel's X-Men Aren't Humans

Ever since their introduction to the Marvel Universe in 1963, the X-Men have always had to deal with questions about their humanity. While their enemies will stop at nothing to cast them as monsters, the team continues to fight for a world where they are treated just like humans. Of course, that's just a moral on a comic book page; in the real world, it's in Marvel's best financial interest that the X-Men not be considered humans. In fact, they even went to court over it.

According to the podcast Radiolab, the question over the X-Men's heritage began in 1993, when international trade lawyers Sherry Singer and Indie Singh found an interesting provision in a book of federal tariff classifications. It turns out a "doll" can only be a representation of a human being, like a Barbie or Ken doll. A "toy," on the other hand, includes anything else—a robot, monster, demon, etc. Normally this would be nothing more than a technicality, but it turns out there's a marked difference between a doll and a toy when it comes to taxes. When a company imports a doll to sell in the U.S., they are taxed at 12 percent, while toys stand at 6.8 percent. There's no concrete reasoning behind this, but Radiolab speculated that domestic doll manufacturers had something to do with it.

Singer and Singh knew this distinction could be a sizable financial benefit for their client, Marvel Entertainment, who had an ownership stake in ToyBiz at the time. For years, Marvel had been importing its action figures as dolls, despite the fact that the company's cavalcade of brightly colored characters could hardly be classified as human in most cases. The two lawyers went to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C. with a bag full of action figures to try and convince the government that Marvel wasn't importing humanlike dolls, but instead very non-human toys.

The legal battle raged on for a decade, with a judge looking at various Marvel figures (beyond just the X-Men) to decide whether or not individual characters were human or not. Everything from Beast's blue skin to Wolverine's claws and Kraven the Hunter's muscle-bound physique were scrutinized, with lawyers on both sides weighing in on the philosophical ramifications of being human. After all, ToyBiz argued, how can these action figures be human if they have "tentacles, claws, wings, or robotic limbs?"

Official court documents [PDF] from the case are just as surreal, often sounding like overly formal Comic-Con discussions:

"The figure of 'Kingpin' resembles a man in a suit carrying a staff. Nothing in the storyline indicates that Kingpin possesses superhuman powers. Yet, Kingpin is known to have exceedingly great strength (however 'naturally' achieved) and the figure itself has a large and stout body with a disproportionately small head and disproportionately large hands. As it is, the figure is designed to communicate the legendary and freakish nature of the character. Even though 'dolls' can be caricatures of human beings, the court is of the opinion that the freakishness of the figure’s appearance coupled with the fabled 'Spider-Man' storyline to which it belongs does not warrant a finding that the figure represents a human being."

In 2003, Singer and Singh convinced Judge Judith Barzilay that the Marvel characters aren't quite human enough to deserve the taxation of a doll, leading the court to declare, “They are more than (or different than) humans. These fabulous characters use their extraordinary and unnatural physical and psychic powers on the side of either good or evil. The figures’ shapes and features, as well as their costumes and accessories, are designed to communicate such powers."

For the entire Marvel Universe to be catalogued as "non-human" might ring false to some fans, but for X-Men fans in particular, it was downright insulting. Chuck Austen, who was writing Uncanny X-Men when the ruling came down in 2003, said his goal while writing the books was to show the team's humanity, and that mutants were simply "just another strand in the evolutionary chain." Obviously this ruling flies in the face of the themes Marvel spent decades crafting.

Marvel itself had to quell concerns from fans by releasing a statement that read, "Don't fret, Marvel fans, our heroes are living, breathing human beings—but humans who have extraordinary abilities ... A decision that the X-Men figures indeed do have 'nonhuman' characteristics further proves our characters have special, out-of-this world powers."

In the never-ending world of comics, the X-Men will likely always be fighting for their rights to be treated as humans. But in the real world, the decision has already been made.

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

Eddie Redmayne Reveals the DC Villain He Wants to Play

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

While Eddie Redmayne is hardly a Hollywood newcomer, but there's one area of cinema he hasn't tapped into yet—and is apparently interested in exploring.

The Academy Award winner recently spoke with IMDb at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he and other stars were asked which supervillain they'd love to play if they could choose. Redmayne has previously played bad guys in films such as Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Hick (2011), however he hasn't taken a stab at any comic book adaptations. As reported by ComicBook.com, the actor chose DC's Riddler.

"I’d love to play The Riddler," Redmayne declared. "Just putting that out there."

His The Aeronauts co-star Felicity Jones said she'd play a character from Roald Dahl's 1983 book The Witches, to which Redmayne pointed out that it was too late. The classic story, which got its first big-screen adaptation (starring Anjelica Huston) in 1990, is being adapted again with Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci; the film is due out in 2020.

Though the question posed to Redmayne was purely hypothetical, it could happen. Matt Reeves's The Batman is set for a 2021 release, and so far only star Robert Pattinson has been cast, leaving plenty of villain roles up for grabs.

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