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 Difference Between a Snap and a Blip in the Marvel Cinematic Universe 

Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Every Marvel fan remembers that traumatic moment in Avengers: Infinity War when Thanos finally gathered all of the Infinity Stones and, with a simple snap of his fingers, wiped out half of the universe's population. That climactic moment needed a name, which ended up being (appropriately, albeit simplistically) referred to as the Snap.

Then came Spider-Man: Far From Home, which referred to the deadly moment as the Blip, leaving fans confused. In order to head off any confusion, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige stepped in to clarify the distinct different between a Snap and a Blip in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In an interview with Fandango, Feige explained: 

"It came pretty fast. We always referred to it as the Blip, and then the public started referring to it as the Snap. We think it's funny when high school kids just call this horrific, universe-changing event the Blip. We've narrowed it down to—the Snap is when everybody disappeared at the end of Infinity War. The Blip is when everybody returned at the end of Endgame … and that is how we have narrowed in on the definitions." 

Spider-Man: Far From Home is the first MCU movie to come after Endgame, so it has the hefty task of showing what the world is like after the Blip, as people return after five years. The people who survived aged normally, but those in the Blip didn’t age at all. It’s a whole exciting world of complexity, but at least we know how to speak about it properly.

[h/t Fandango]

Here's Each State’s Favorite Comic Book Universe

drante, iStock / Getty Images Plus
drante, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The hype surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe had barely subsided into a low roar after the 2018 releases of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War when 2019 brought us two more back-to-back MCU blockbusters: Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. Between the films themselves and the ceaseless stream of fan theories, celebrity content, and toys, it seems like it’s Marvel’s world and we love nothing more than living in it.

But in a recent nationwide analysis by DISH sales agent USDish.com, it appears that a majority of America actually prefers the DC universe over Marvel's. The study used Google Trends data to find out which comic book universe—and which superhero—each state searched for most often. DC is most popular in a surprising 32 states, while Marvel is tops in a mere 14 state. Four states (Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Kentucky) were tied between the two. DC was also the winner when it came to most popular individual superheroes, though with a smaller margin: 29 states went with a DC hero, while 22 chose someone Marvelous. Superman, a DC creation, held the number one spot in eight states, the most of any superhero.

Illustrated map showing most popular comic book universe in each state
USDish.com

The outcome differs pretty significantly from last year’s study, in which Marvel reigned supreme in 37 states, and DC in only 8 (the remaining five were tied).

It seems, however, that states don’t have a loyalist mentality when it comes to comic book universes: Plenty of states’ most searched-for-superhero was not from its most searched-for universe. Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, for example, all chose DC and the Hulk, while Texas and Iowa chose Marvel and Superman.

In a couple of instances, the actor who plays the superhero possibly influenced the results. Captain Marvel, brought to life by California-born Brie Larson, was California’s most popular superhero, while Jason Momoa’s Aquaman came out on top in his home state of Hawaii.

Though the list of top superheroes by state is heavily occupied by uber-popular names like Thor, Batman, and Black Panther, it’s not without a few head-scratchers. Kansas and Michigan both apparently love Green Lantern, while Delaware’s top superhero was Batman’s sidekick Robin.

See the full list here to find out what your state thinks.

[h/t USDish.com]

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