Symbols can mean different things to different people. The sight of the Christian cross, for example, can bring hope and peace to some and inspire a sense of dread or an eye roll from others. The Superman symbol, which is said to be the second most recognizable symbol in the world after the cross, is equally capable of possessing multiple meanings.
To DC Comics and their corporate overlords, the Superman symbol represents a cornerstone of their yesterday, today and tomorrow. As such, they guard that symbol carefully and accordingly.
Todd Boyce is a Canadian man who raised $36,000 on IndieGoGo to build a memorial statue of a five year old Superman fan in Toronto’s Greenwood Park after hearing about the boys tragic death. Unfortunately, Mr. Boyce’s request to use the Superman “S” was declined by DC.
Here is, thanks to The Toronto Star, a bit of the email sent to Mr. Boyce by DC’s Senior VP of Business and Legal Affairs in response to his request.
“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.”
Again, DC guards the Superman symbol carefully and accordingly. That is their right, but this isn’t about their rights or policies, it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong.
Here’s a bit from Robot 6 about the subject of the statue, Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002.
Jeffrey’s teenage parents lost custody of the boy and his three siblings, who were placed into the care of their maternal grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman. While two of the children were treated relatively well, Jeffrey and one of his sisters were locked in a dark room for 14 hours a day, deprived of food, verbally and mentally abused and left to live in their own waste. Bottineau and Kidman were convicted in 2006 of second-degree murder.
The case drew renewed interest last fall with a coroner’s inquest, during which Jeffrey’s father Richard Baldwin testified of the boy’s love of Superman. “He wanted to fly,” he said. “He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up [as Superman] for Halloween one year. He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel.”
According to The Star report, Boyce feels that DC “didn’t want the Superman character associated with child abuse.”
Symbols and the different meanings that we attach to them…
To Richard Baldwin, the Superman symbol and that image clearly represents a memory of his son that is not covered by a thick layer of sadness and a tie to the boy’s innocent joy before it was snuffed out. It is impossible to assign a value to that and to what a lasting tribute to that innocence and Jeffrey’s young life would mean to the boy’s family, but I have little doubt that it would be more impactful than any damage that could conceivably be done to the Superman “brand” if the statue were allowed to proceed as planned.
The damage done to the DC brand (a shield that bears the brunt of controversies born from either its creative or its business sides) because of the decision to say no, though…
Look at the DC symbol, think of this situation and tell me what you see.
Update: DC has reversed course according to a new statement.
We are honored by the relationship that our fans have with our characters, and fully understand the magnitude of their passion. We take each request seriously and our heartfelt thoughts go out to the victims, the family and those affected. DC Entertainment uses a flexible set of criteria when we receive worthy requests such as this, and at times have reconsidered our initial stance. After verifying the support of appropriate family members, DC Entertainment will be allowing the Jeffrey Baldwin Memorial Statue to feature the Superman S Shield.