US District Judge Judge Barbara Crabb has made a decision following the June court appearance by Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane over profits for the characters Dark Ages Spawn, Tiffany and Domina. Gaiman held that these cast-members of the Spawn-i-verse were derivative of Medieval Spawn and Angela (characters that he co-owns, as ruled after the epic 2002 court battle), thus he was entitled to half the profits from these characters. McFarlane held the opposite and had refused to provide information on the profits.
Judge Crabb sided with Gaiman, citing the similarity of the characters in a decision (readable here) which shows she spent a lot of time reading up on Spawn:
Both Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn and Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn committed bad deeds in the past for which they want to make amends, both have sisters whom they loved who married men who were or became the Hellspawn’s enemies; both made a deal with the devil to let them return to Earth; and both use their powers to help the defenseless. The two characters are visually similar: both wear metal helmets and face masks with rivets; both ride horses and carry oversized swords and battle shields; both have armor shoulder pads with spikes. Both have aspects of the first Al Simmons Spawn: a “neural parasite cloak,” a particularly shaped face mask, green eyes and a red “M” on the chest.
Tiffany and Domina are visually similar to Angela and share her same basic traits. All three are warrior angels with voluptuous physiques, long hair and mask-like eye makeup. All three wear battle uniforms consisting of thong bikinis, garters, wide weapon belts, elbow- length gloves and ill-fitting armor bras. Angela and Domina each wear a long cloth draped between their legs and a winged headdress. Tiffany and Angela are shown in the Spawn Bible as having sharp wings. Tr. exh. 16 at 9, 20. All three of these female characters are warrior angels who fight in the war between Heaven and Hell. When plaintiff conceived of Angela, he saw her as part of an army of 300,000 “female, kick-ass warrior angels, who are hunters, merciless and not very nice.” Hrg. Trans., dkt. #311, at 16. Tiffany and Domina are part of this same heavenly army.
While McFarlane contended that writer Brian Holguin had created Dark Ages Spawn out of whole cloth, Judge Crabb notes that the character could have been anything else — “an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages” — pointing out the two characters “differ slightly in their backgrounds, but these are elements of their characters that make them individually copyrightable, not ones that prevent Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn from being found derivative.” Finally, she even uses Spawn continuity to seal the case:
In fact, the basic concept of the Spawn series raises questions about the individuality of Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn. In Spawn No. 9, plaintiff conceived of a new direction in the story line, introducing a courtly Hellspawn of the middle ages, the twelfth century, to be exact, who stopped to help a damsel in distress and who spoke “medieval.” According to the rules of the Spawn universe, only one Hellspawn could be on Earth at the same time and the Al Simmons Hellspawn was already around.
McFarlane must turn over information on money earned by the contested character must be turned in by September 1.
Gaiman has some commentary on his blog:
I wish I took some kind of joy in this, but I don’t.
At this point all I hope is that Todd can do an accounting for all the comics I wrote for which he paid no royalties, and the rest of it; and that he’ll settle up and I will make some comics charities very happy; that his comics company will finally come out of bankruptcy; and that I can forget this forever.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.