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The Check That Made Superman

The rights to Superman were sold for a mere $130. Sure, in 1938 that was a small fortune, but still. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel sold their rights to their creation with this piece of paper, and it was recently located. An image of the check was tweeted on October 23 and it’s possible the check comes from a Comics Connect auction tied to Siegel’s estate, but it’s not certain.

It’s a critical piece of not just comic book history but pop culture and even U.S. history. Superman is a widely beloved character, and this check helped push the superhero to what he is today. Additionally, legal battles over this check and rights time may have helped shape current U.S. copyright laws. Comic Connect presented a timeline of the check’s whereabouts, and you can view it after the break:

On May 24 1626, Peter Minuet bought an island for $24 worth of goods. That island later became known as Manhattan.

On December 19, 1919, the New York Yankees bought a baseball player from the cash-strapped Boston Red Sox. That player was Babe Ruth.

On March 1 1938, DC Comics gave two young men from Cleveland $130 for the rights to a comic character named Superman. That $130 check essentially created a billion dollar industry and set in motion nearly 70 years of legal battles that continue to this day.

Much has been made of the original 1938 $130 payment to Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster. Did DC Comics take advantage of two eager young men looking for their big break in the comic business or was this unequivocally fair business practice between comic book writers and publishers in a 1938 America? Whatever you believe, the $130 check is the quintessential symbol of this debate for the ages.

But whatever happened to the check? The consensus has always been that this 1938 check had been simply lost to time. Thrown out by some DC employee without a second thought. Or so it had been thought. . . .
The check exists!

This March 1, 1938 Detective Comics check, signed by Jack Liebowitz is made payable to Jerome Seigel and Joe Schuster. (You would think that the payment for a character as important as Superman, DC would have spelled Siegel and Shuster’s name correctly!) The check, in the amount of $412, includes an accounting of the items being paid for. At the very top is “Superman $130,” Next is the payment for the June 1938 Detective Comics at $210. Following that are payments of $36 each for Adventure Comics and More Fun. It would also appear that DC Comics used this check as evidence in their 1939 lawsuit against Victor Fox, given the fact that the evidence stamp from this case is clearly visible on the reverse of the check, as are the actual endorsement signatures of Siegel and Shuster themselves.

The final clincher is that the check exactly matches the signed agreement between DC and Siegel and Shuster, which transfers to DC “exclusive right to the use of Superman “in consideration of $130.” The date of this agreement is March 1, 1938. The same date as the check.

(via The Beat)


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