Public Domain Superheroes: The Game

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Drawnder

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I have been working on a little project for over a year, and I wanted to put my feelers out there to see if there if I can get any enthusiasm out there for this kind of idea.

I've been fascinated with Public Domain Superheroes for years. While most of the really popular comic book characters are basically locked down by Warner and Disney, now, the idea that these characters can be used without any cease-and-desist type ending fascinates me, and it surprised me it hasn't been tried yet.

So for over a year I've been working on a game, a 2D sidescroller-beat-em-up inspired by the kinds of licensed games I played as a kid, except instead of Batman and Wolverine I'm putting The Black Terror and Twilight in there.

So my point being...Which public Domain heroes would you like to see in a game? And why do you think no one has tried to use this characters in videogames?

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4donkeyjohnson

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Didn't Alex Ross sweep up all the public domain guys? Same with Green Hornet & Lone Ranger?

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cbishop

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Didn't Alex Ross sweep up all the public domain guys? Same with Green Hornet & Lone Ranger?

@239461 said:

@4donkeyjohnson: Though I think since they are in the Public Domain they are still free for use.

Erik Larsen intro'd a bunch of them in Savage Dragon also. However, "public domain" means there is no copyright, and that they are free for the public to use, without paying any royalties. Take Daredevil for instance (used by both Ross in Project: Superpowers, and Larsen in Savage Dragon)- if I wanted to, I could have my own version of Daredevil running around in my story universe, as long as my version isn't like Ross' or Larsen's. We start with the same root, so we would share the same secret identity and costumed identity, but after that, there need to be differences.

Ross made it that when DD and the others came out of this magic urn they had been trapped in, their personalities were somehow changed. He basically took recognizable public domain characters (PDC), used their names and looks, and nothing else.

Larsen took his DD, reprinted the original origin (which he can do, because it's public domain [just like publishers do with classic literature]), and evolved the characters from there. He made it that Solar Man had trapped the PDC in a device (basically the same as Ross' urn, but it was technological rather than magical) that somehow drained them and increased his own power. Dragon and company finally managed to destroy the device, which released the PDC into the present day, and made them available for his own use. So far, he has only used DD. DD has lost one of the Lil Wiseguys (killed by Dart), gotten laid (Dart again; also Angel Dragon at one point), and been superheroing all over Chicago.

If I wanted my own DD, I could find my own way to transport the original to the present day, just rewrite his origin for the present day, or say there's been generations of them, sort of riffing on The Phantom. As long as my version isn't like anyone else's, I can use every PDC available.

Technically, Superman is public domain, but a) DC's lawyers are going to be very vigilant about protecting their copyrights, b) they'll say only certain elements are public domain (the elements that were originally part of Superman's story), c) the other elements are NOT public domain, and d) this is why we keep seeing alternate universe versions of Supes- DC will always do this in order to tie up as many versions of Supes as possible.

But guys like Daredevil and the Black Terror? Completely available. :)

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cbishop

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@drawnder: Probably no one has tried it for the same reason comics aren't overly flooded with PDC. See the post above so I don't have to retell everything, but Erik Larsen intro'd all PDC into his Savage Dragon universe, but has only used one so far. The others are simply out there should he decide to use them. Ross, on the other hand, built his Project: Superpowers universe completely from PDC. One I failed to mention above is Alan Moore- he used PDC for Terra Obscura; a lot of the same PDC that Ross used later in Project: Superpowers.

All three are great stories, but had one of the characters proven to be off-the-charts popular- let's say Black Terror- they can't do anything with it unless others want to play fair. Let's say I'm a movie producer and you're a game producer, and we both love Alex Ross' Black Terror. I want to make a movie of it, and you want to make a game. Now, if we want to be nice, we work with Ross to develop his version of Black Terror- the version that made BT popular- into movies and games. However, royalties cost money, and while you and I have a good budget, royalties could really kill us. So why not make our own versions of BT for movies and games? I mean, the look and name Ross is using are public domain anyway. The story gets changed for movies anyway, right? Same with games, so the gamer isn't bored with the game story. If we're going to change it anyway, why pay Ross for his version? We'll just make our own versions, and your game won't be like my movie, and neither will be like Ross' BT.

But that's not all- let's say the gaming community went nuts over the idea of a BT video game. Sure Drawnder Games makes cool games, but man, Nintendo thinks they can make a comeback with their BT, but the Wii is getting their version from Bethesda Game Studios. Meanwhile, Cbishop Cinema has cast a complete unknown that looks just like the classic Black Terror, and he has a great voice for a superhero, but y'know...Lionsgate Films has cast Jet Li for their own version, and there's a rumor that Marvel Studios is thinking of tapping PDC for their cinematic universe...so you know that they can't be far behind in Marvel Comics.

Point being: you can't lock down the rights, which means everyone can make money on it. It's the same sort of thing when you hear pharmaceutical companies won't make a drug that eradicates cancer, because the patent has run out on it. They can't make money on it, because there will instantly be a generic version(s) out there, so they don't touch it. Mythology is public domain, and there's lots of entertainment versions out there, but you don't see it over proliferated, because everyone knows that they're only going to make but so much money on it.

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cbishop

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Here's the other thing- go back to Daredevil for a minute. Let's say both of us want to make Daredevil comics, using the PDC- we can do that, but neither of us can call the comic Daredevil, because Marvel has the title rights tied up with the popular red-suited guy who goes by Matt Murdock when not in costume. That's why Ross called his version "Death Defyin' Devil" on comic titles, and why Larsen uses his DD in Savage Dragon, but doesn't give him his own title.

So sway we want to make Daredevil into movies and games? Can't. Again, Marvel Studios has the film title rights sewn up through their Netflix series, and Twentieth Century Fox or someone had it tied up in 2003 for the movie. Encore, Inc. had the video game rights tied up in 2003, so the name is not available there either.

Name copyrights become problems. That's why Marvel keeps a Captain Marvel title out just often enough to keep their rights, so that DC can't snatch it up for their Captain Marvel (which is always published as Shazam).

Now, I can create a movie called "Run From the Devil" that stars my version of the PDC Daredevil, because the name is not in the title. You can create "Devil of a Time" with your version of the PDC Daredevil for the same reason.

OR I can rename my version of the PDC Daredevil as "Dayrdevil," and now I can copyright that spelling and use it however I see fit, in whatever media I can get it into. That's why so many Marvel and DC characters use weird spellings, like "z" in place of "s," and "ph" in place of "f," so they can copyright the name as well as the logo. If the name is a word in the dictionary (that predates the name), they can't copyright it- they can only copyright the logo. With an off spelling (like Dayrdevil) it won't be in the dictionary, so it can be copyrighted and fully owned.

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239461

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@cbishop: So it's like how they're can be a Frankenstein in DC comics, but still be the book Ifrankenstein, and a Frankenstein Underground

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cbishop

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@239461 said:

@cbishop: So it's like how they're can be a Frankenstein in DC comics, but still be the book Ifrankenstein, and a Frankenstein Underground

More like how there can be a Frankenstein at DC, Marvel and Image, but the estate of Mary Shelley doesn't sue them all. ;)