She-Hulk has always been a legal eagle. Her career as a lawyer is as intrinsic to her character and powerset as her cousin Bruce. This week’s super fun episode of She-Hulk once again throws our hero into the courtroom. This time over a trademark dispute with villainess Titania (Jameela Jamil). It’s a great 30 minutes of legal comedy, but also calls back to a super fun story from 2021’s Women of Marvel #1. We had to revisit it after the episode dropped. And as we’ll explore later, it opens up some very interesting questions about likeness rights in the MCU.
What Is Women of Marvel #1 About?
The awesome anthology comic featured hilarious, heartfelt, and heroic tales about Marvel’s most famous female heroes. And it introduced a very funny short about She-Hulk. Featured in Women of Marvel #1, “Wild Rhino Chase” by Nadia Shammas, Skylar Partridge, and Triona Farrell pits She-Hulk against the classic Spider-Man villain. As they rampage through the Natural History Museum in an action-packed chase, She-Hulk shows her mettle, apparently trying to stop Rhino from stealing some priceless gems. But in a perfectly timed gag that feels influential on this week’s episode, She-Hulk was actually chasing down Rhino with a cease and desist. Rhino got that cease and desist for selling bootleg Avengers merchandise.
How Does Bootleg Avengers Merchandise Play into She-Hulk Episode 5?
Well, well, well, thank you for asking. In one of the most fun moments of the series so far, Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) and Pug (Josh Segarra) hunt down a famed superhero suit maker. But before they can make it there they need to hit up a special boba shop that acts as a front to the fashionista… or so they think. Instead, they come upon a young shopkeeper with a hilarious side business: selling bootleg Avengers merch. Whether you want an Avongers T-shirt or an Avingers fitted cap, you’re in luck. In order for Nikki and Pug to make it to famed superheroic fashion designer Luke Jacobson, they have to buy a bundle of not so official merchandise. It’s a super cool and silly bit but one that opens up a much bigger question.
Who Owns the Likeness and IP Rights of the Avengers in the MCU?
Episode five of She-Hulk is all about who owns the rights to the name She-Hulk. While Jen disputed it and claimed it wasn’t her name at first, she also doesn’t want Titania going around selling dodgy wares thanks to the villainess trademarking She-Hulk before Jennifer. This is a really interesting thread that continues with the introduction of bootleg Avengers merchandise. If someone has to make bootleg merch, it’s because they can’t legally make official products because another entity owns the rights. So who would that be?
Hawkeye also raised the question of the ownership of the Avengers’ likenesses. It was there that we saw a not so accurate portrayal of the Battle of New York brought to life in musical form. Surely someone would have had to sign off on the portrayal in the musical to make it official. And if someone is making a play or merchandise based on the Avengers then why didn’t members like Sam Wilson ever get paid? It’s all rather confusing but very fun to think about.
Seeing as Tony Stark was a fancy billionaire businessman, it makes sense that at some point he may have—unlike Jennifer—trademarked the name Iron Man. It’s smart on principle, but also a good move because he was creating multiple patents and suits based on his heroic mantle. But what about the Avengers? Did Tony establish an LLC to protect the name of his superteam? And if he did then who owns it now? We know that there are action figures of the Avengers which have appeared in both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jessica Jones. So who’s making them? And who’s turning a profit? In the MCU, Stark is usually behind most things so he seems like a safe bet. But now that he’s gone and the Avengers are more well known than ever, that could be in flux.
What Do the Marvel Comic Books Say About Who Owns the Avengers’ Likeness Rights?
Looking back once again to the delightful Women of Marvel #1, Shammas writes that the Maria Stark Foundation is in charge of licensing the rights. That is a very deep cut nod to 1982’s Avengers Annual #11. The issue ran the official Avengers Charter and By-Laws as back matter. It was there that Marvel Comics confirmed that Tony Stark did indeed pay the Avengers. Active members received a very impressive $1,000 a week.
The charter also mentions the Maria Stark Foundation. The non-profit is revealed as the primary source of private funding of the Avengers. So perhaps something similar exists in the MCU…? We’ll have to wait for confirmation of that, and until then at least we have the Avongers.
Featured Image: Marvel Studios