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.

A Massive $2.5 Million Comic Collection Has Been Donated to the University of South Carolina

Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

When Columbus, Ohio, native Gary Watson was a boy, he purchased his first comic book, a Zorro title, for 10 cents. Over 60 years later, his massive collection of comics—full of Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers as well as romance titles and other genres—is worth an estimated $2.5 million. And he recently donated all of it to the University of South Carolina, where it will soon be on public view.

College representatives spoke about the acquisition with the Post and Courier last week. Watson, now 69, decided to hand off his entire collection—which includes key titles like Avengers #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, Fantastic Four #1, and a slew of other comics and books totaling 180,000 items—after deciding it could be better served as part of a university collection. He wanted to keep everything he had amassed intact instead of selling it off piecemeal to private collectors. He settled on the University of South Carolina after other colleges failed to promise the donation would be kept together.

His decades-long collection was made possible, he said, by being a lifelong bachelor with plenty of disposable income. Because of the sheer volume, it will be years before the entire donation is fully cataloged. But the public will be able to view part of it much sooner.

The school’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections plans to exhibit several of the pieces in the Thomas Cooper Library beginning August 29, with accompanying lectures by historians and comics creators, as well as other special events. Researchers will also be able to access the collection, which provides insight into cultural topics and concerns from their respective eras. Watson’s collection stretches from the 1930s to the present day and fills more than 500 long boxes, which typically hold 250 to 300 comics each.

[h/t The Verge]

All 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies, Recapped in Less Than 40 Minutes

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

If you don’t have the time to watch all 21 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before you see Avengers: Endgame this weekend, a massive MCU recap, courtesy of Screen Junkies, can get you up to speed in less than 40 minutes. (Not bad compared to a 59-hour movie marathon.)

The video explains everything in the MCU, but in a different way than most other recaps: Rather than recounting the details of each movie, it breaks the entire Marvel universe down by character and gives a timeline of how and when each Avenger made their way into the series.

The 38-minute video kicks off with Captain America, as he was the first Avenger (going all the way back to the 1940s). It then explains how the stories of the six key Avengers—Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye—cross.

The video finishes with the events of Avengers: Infinity War, where half the world’s population, including many of our favorite superheroes, was turned to dust at the hands of Thanos.

While going through each character, Screen Junkies give us exactly the facts we need to know without leaving anything out. Whether you're a complete novice to the series or simply looking for a refresher course, it's the best way to get you ready for Avengers: Endgame.

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