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Comic Creators Claim Ownership Over Idea of Powered Suits of Armor, File Suit against Marvel

Now here’s a ridiculous lawsuit.

The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Ben Lai and Ray Lai, two brothers who run Horizon Comics Productions, have filed suit against Marvel. They allege that the Iron Man suits used in the movies ripped off designs from the Lai brothers comic, Radix:

According to a lawsuit filed on Thursday alleging copyright infringement and unfair business practices, the Lai brothers created in 2001 the comic book series Radix, featuring characters who "wear highly detailed, mechanized suits of body armor." They now see something too similar in the Iron Man films and its promotion.

Iron Man, featuring the superhero alter ego of Tony Stark, is based on a comic series created by Stan Lee in the 1960s.

The law allows new aspects of expression to be copyrighted so long as the authorship is sufficiently delineated and not a generic idea.

I do not know the words to express what utter horse manure this lawsuit is.

To start with, if the following image is a representative sample then Marvel didn’t copy any of the images from Radix:

marvel iron man lawsuit

Looking at the Radix covers I found via Google, at best Marvel picked up a few design ideas, which is not copyright infringement. And no, the "man crouching in powered armor" idea is not unique, either.

But even if Marvel did draw inspiration from the Lai brothers, they were not the first to write about soldiers fighting in powered suits of armor. That idea dates back to at least 1959, when Robert Heinlein used it in a little SF novel called Starship Troopers.

The novel’s most noted innovation is the powered armor exoskeletons used by the Mobile Infantry. These suits were controlled by the wearer’s own movements, but powerfully augmented a soldier’s strength, speed, weight-carrying capacity …

My point, folks, is that the Lai brothers did not come up with the idea themselves.

While the actual artwork and the stories told in the Radix comics are deserving of copyright, the same can’t be said for an idea which has been used a hundred times over the past 50 years.

What’s more, the lawsuit also makes misleading claims about the Iron Man armor.

The old comics of Iron Man depict the central character "wearing simple spandex-like attire and minimal armor," states the complaint, while the later films depict him "wearing a fully mechanized suit of body armor."

That is not even close to being accurate.

Over the past 50 years, the character Tony Stark has created dozens of Iron man suits. The earliest ones were simple, but as we get into the 1980s and 1990s the suits grow increasingly detailed.

This chart shows the progression of the suits:


click to embiggen

I don’t know enough about Iron Man to say for certain which of these suits date before Radix (help me out?), but to call these suits "simple spandex-like attire and minimal armor" is just nonsense.

Unless some key detail was left out of THR’s story, this lawsuit is utterly without merit.

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Brandy April 27, 2015 um 1:24 pm

Nate Hoffelder April 27, 2015 um 1:30 pm

I hope it’s okay that I embedded the image for you.

Brandy April 27, 2015 um 2:22 pm

Yep. Thanks! Sorry, I should have done that myself.

Rob Siders April 27, 2015 um 3:53 pm

The War Machine armor, shown as Model 11, was introduced sometime before Summer of 1995. (I know this because I have a nice 1 x 3 panel from those days tattooed to my left leg and I had it done as a birthday present to myself that year.) That armor was probably the most elaborately conceived powered armor to date. Heck, before that, the armor had long served as a powered exoskeleton to keep Stark’s heart beating and lungs breathing.

These guys are nuts.

fjtorres April 28, 2015 um 8:46 am

Without going into the "pre-history" of armored characters in fiction, where exist charactets only scholars remember (like the Iron Terror; , there are plenty of examples of functional (as opposed to magical or super scientific, skintight) armor in comics that long predate even Iron Man.
But for this exercise one need not go much further back than 1987 and the ROCKET RED BRIGADE of GLC and Justice League International fame:

Looking at the pictures, what they seem to be suing over is more of a trade dress/trademark issue about the design of the movie Iron Man 3 armor. Which is odd because not only is there only minimal resemblance but also because they are years late. The time to sue on those terms was when the first promo stills for the movie were released…

Very odd.
Maybe something has been lost in the reporting?

Nate Hoffelder April 29, 2015 um 2:31 pm

I don’t think we missed anything.

Mark Randazza posted the filing (PDF). A quick scan suggests that the lawsuit is as ridiculous as it seemed.

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