Today in understandable legal moves but totally regrettable PR moves, DC Comics’ legal affairs have declined to allow Superman’s ‘S’ shield to be used in a memorial to a Toronto child slain by neglect and abuse.
Jeffrey Baldwin died in 2002 after his teenage parents lost custody of him and and his siblings, and they were placed, by a Catholic Children’s Aid social worker, in the care of their grandparents, both convicted child abusers. The details of Jeffrey’s life between coming into his grandparents care and his death shortly before his sixth birthday are horrific, and the legal process of revealing them to the court system has now stretched more than twice the length of his tragically short life, due to numerous legal appeals by those responsible for his death.
Ottowan Todd Boyce, whose son shares a birthday with Jeffrey, was so struck by his story that he launched an Indiegogo campaign earlier this year that raised $36,000 to create a statue in memorial to Jeffrey, depicting its subject in his favorite Halloween costume: a Superman uniform. Jeffrey’s parents spoke, at trial, about the love their son had for the character.
Production on the statue had been going swimmingly until it came time to apply to DC Comics to obtain the permission to use the Superman logo. From the Toronto Star:
DC’s senior vice-president of business and legal affairs, Amy Genkins, told Boyce in an email that “for a variety of legal reasons, we are not able to accede to the request, nor many other incredibly worthy projects that come to our attention.”
DC declined to comment.
Boyce says that while he’s saddened by the decision, he’s “empathetic to (DC’s) point of view,” guessing that they’d rather the Superman symbol wasn’t associated with child abuse. It’s also possible that DC has given exclusive licensing rights to statues using the Superman logo to another company (as the licensing rights to specific kinds of objects are often thrown together in long and varied lists when, for example, being given to toy or other merchandise manufacturers, in order to give the company greater freedom in coming up with merchandising concepts), and that allowing its use elsewhere might have represented a breach of contract for DC. Either way, the headline “Comic Publisher Blocks Superman Logo on Statue of Murdered Toronto Boy” can’t be great for the blood pressure of DC’s PR department, and it’s too bad that the legal reality doesn’t exist for cases such as this. Though, maybe it’s better that a company not have to adjudicate whose memorials deserve their branding and whose don’t.
Boyce plans to replace the ‘S’ in the logo with a ‘J’ for the final bronze statue, sculpted by artist Ruth Abernethy, and hopes for a fall unveiling. Said Abernethy of the piece: “Because Jeffrey didn’t have that opportunity (to grow up), we are reminded of our obligations. This is a reminder that we all have the option to do better and the obligation to not let this happen again.”