New publisher Radical Publishing is looking to make a name for itself in the world of comics, and it’s recruited some big-name talent to help in those efforts. The Los Angeles-based company issued a news release Tuesday to announce that comics legend Jim Steranko has provided cover artwork for the first two issues of its new Hercules: The Thracian Wars series. Furthermore, Steranko designed the look for this incarnation of Hercules as well as the cover logo for the series.
What I found interesting about the announcement was the nature of the Steranko cover art for the second issue. That cover is an homage to a well-known cover the artist produced for Marvel Comics 30 years ago: that which adorned Incredible Hulk Special #1. It’s an easily recognized image in comics, one that’s been reproduced and homaged often. Boasting a strong Will Eisner influence, perhaps the reason it’s been referenced time and time again over the years is how effective it is in conveying the power and struggle that are inherent in the premise and character. The Hulk is in danger of being crushed under a rock that spells out his own name. The earth and rock beneath his feet cracks and crumbles from the sheer weight. The seemingly simple cover says a lot about the title character. The biggest threat that the Hulk faces is himself, his own raw, uncontrolled power (and how others perceive it as a threat).
Radical might attract the attention of fans of comics history and the medium’s iconic images, especially since it’s Steranko himself who’s crafting the homage to his original effort (which, the Grand Comics Database notes, also included input from Marie Severin, who rendered the Hulk’s face on the cover).
A potential problem arises with another recent homage to that classic cover. Four months ago, Artist Arthur Adams provided cover artwork for a Marvel comic that also paid tribute to Steranko’s Incredible Hulk Special #1 image. That comic: Incredible Hercules #112.
I’m not suggesting Marvel will have a problem with another publisher offering an homage to one of its classic covers. Radical’s Hercules #2 Steranko cover is clearly an homage, not a swipe. And hey, the original artist is merely reproducing his own efforts. Where’s the harm? Well, a potential problem arises as a result of the convergence of a number of factors. Both covers feature characters called Hercules. They’re published within a short timeframe (the Radical comic book in question is due out in June).
The same character. The same pose. The same genre of storytelling. The same medium. That’s a lot of sameness.
I’m not saying Marvel will or should take issue with Radical Publishing’s move. The chances of the average super-hero comic enthusiast mistaking the new title from a small publisher for a Marvel title are limited, perhaps even negligent. But when it comes to copyright law and trademark protection, the reality of the situation rarely comes into play. There are principles and precedents to consider.
Conversely, let’s consider for a moment that the folks at Radical Publishing considered the slight possibility of some kind of controversy or a legal challenge. Hey, they could have anticipated. It’s incredibly (pardon the pun) difficult for a new, small publisher to get noticed in the Western comics market today, and any kind of discussion about Radical’s products can be helpful.
After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?