Monday, August 10, 2009

Superhero Franchising

Name recognition is a powerful thing. That's the whole reason why franchising is such a successful process. Having the powerful security provided by a popular brand brings with it a built-in customer base and an inherent level of trust in the product you provide.

Even superheroes can be seen involved with franchising. Batman has an entire family of heroes associated with him (Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Robin, Huntress, the International Club of Heroes, Spoiler, Red Robin, Ace the Bat-Hound, etc.). The same is true for Captain America (U.S. Agent, Bucky, Nomad, Super Patriot, The Spirit of '76), Spider-Man (Spider-Woman, the Steel Spider, The Scarlet Spider), Iron Man (War Machine, Rescue) and Superman (Supergirl, Superboy, Steel, and Krypto the Superdog).


But the difference is that instead of providing tasty burgers as a franchise service (ala Red Robin or Five Guys and to a lesser extent Burger King), hero franchises provide justice and evil thwarting. But the security provided by brand recognition still exists. If you needed to choose a hero for a good thwart, wouldn't you choose Batwoman over The Question if you had no other information besides their names? The boost Batwoman receives through her nominal association with Batman makes her seem like a better choice. And though heroes like Nightwing and Robin don't have the name recognition aspect of superhero franchising, their established connection with an effective and prominent hero makes them more desirable thwarters as well.

For a burgeoning superhero, it seems that aligning yourself with a currently existing hero can only help to build your recognition and your acclaim. But what incentive does the hero whose name is being lent out have? Does Batman gain anything from lending parts of his persona to Batgirl? Does Iron Man benefit by his association with War Machine? In many cases (namely with War Machine) the hero's image can be tarnished by the individuals in his/her franchise. If a violent pretender tries to usurp your role (like the 3 evil Batmen from Grant Morrison's Batman run & Nite-Wing messing with Nightwing), doesn't that damage a hero's perception with the public?

Perhaps that's why superheroes should turn unofficial heroic franchises into official ones. The current system allows pretenders to tack "Bat" or "Spider" onto their names without any official approval from the initial steadfast and popular hero. But if the most popular heroes organize themselves and only allow heroes they approve to use their names, the system could be streamlined and monitored. This means that a young hero seeking to use the name of, oh I don't know, Most Excellent Superbat would need to contact the hero he was franchising the name from and seek approval. Then pending approval, the new crimefighter could buy all his equipment and receive training from the originator of the title. This would ensure a baseline level of quality and uniformity for the new hero's heroic activities.

It just makes good sense.

In some cases...

17 comments:

Shulzi said...

I think this relates to the idea of service unions such as the SAG, which, like superheroes, have to have a unique name when registered to the union. Yet there is no mention of Superheroes striving to create a union let alone follow this idea (at least within my limited reading). Does the JLA hold union qualities? Why are mutants not better represented in civil society?

madiq said...

Wouldn't it make sense for a supervillain to use the franchise/trademark regime offensively, by acquiring the rights to a hero's brand, and forcing him to license it?

madiq said...

Shulzi,

I wouldn't be surprised if the Avengers and JLA have union-type protection, with their brands registered through either Stark or SHIELD in the case of the Avengers, and Wayne Enterprises in the case of the JLA.

Andrew TSKS said...

What I'm curious about is whether trademark claims by a superhero like Batman against, say, Most Excellent Superbat would hold up. After all, Batman's identity is secret, so how would he have the legal ability to trademark the "Bat-" pre/suffix where superhero names are concerned without compromising his secret identity?

The thing this makes me think of, which is only sort of equivalent but definitely has some relevance here, is when, in the Ultimate universe, there was a movie made about Spider-Man. Peter Parker found himself utterly without legal recourse, because any attempt he could make to either make a trademark claim or even obtain a royalty share from the film would reveal his secret identity. He had to watch Hollywood make billions of dollars off a huge hit movie about him while he was still poor and struggling, and could do nothing about it.

TheRules said...

All this talk of franchises ignores one simple fact - there isn't actually a market for superheros.

When in trouble, people either will or won't be rescued by a superhero. No one refuses Spider-man's help while being mugged but no one can request it either. What people think of him is irrelevant; in fact, there is a common theme in the Spider-books of Spidey making a daring rescue and being chewed out by the rescuee. This culminated with the recent "Man who sued Spider-man" story.

Hero marketing is only relevant for business-heros, a la "Heros for Hire". Luke Cage and Danny Rand would need to be concerned about dilution of the Power Man and Iron Fist franchises, because given the choice between two Power Men, one who charges $60 and one who charges $50, given no other information, people will choose the lower cost.

Spencer Ellsworth said...

This blog is great. Would you have any interest in writing some of your observations for Fantasy Magazine?

http://www.darkfantasy.org/fantasy/

It's an online publication for all things sf/fantasy and it has quite a decent circulation. Many of our stories have made it into best of the year sf/fantasy anthologies and been picked up by audio fiction podcasts. You can email the editors on the site to let us know.

Tom said...

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Mark said...

Yes gentleman, I do agree that secret identities would make franchising and unionization difficult to enact. Any such monitoring of the hero community would have to be done internally. Perhaps an elected version of the Illuminati would be useful in such a case.

And TheRules, you are indeed right. You don't get to choose who will save your when you're falling off a building or being attacked by a cybernetic werewolf. But the brand or intellectual property you usurp by being connected with an established hero should affect your perception by the victim and the villain during the rescue.

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