At least in the Action Figure Aisle. As reported by Fox News, in a move that would devastate Charles Xavier, but that is sure to delight his owners Marvel Comics, the U.S. Court of International Trade has overturned a 19 year-old ruling that had previously classified Marvel’s plastic representations of the X-Men and other Marvel characters as “dolls” versus “toys.” The roots of this situation trace back to when Toy Biz (who actually filed the appeal) held the Marvel general license (currently held by Mattel). Several Marvel Super Hero toys arrived at the docks of San Fransisco and Seattle, along with another Toy Biz product, a baby doll named Jumpsie. The government determined that since they were all together that they were all “dolls.”
What’s the difference, you may ask? A pretty penny, it turns out as “dolls” are subject to a whopping 12% tariff, whereas “toys” are only subject to a 6.8% tax. That means that importing “dolls” is almost twice as expensive as importing “toys.” Dolls, as defined by the government represent “only human beings,” whereas “toys” represent “animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters).”
What is perhaps most shocking about this turn of events is that not only are the mutant X-Men being reclassified, but non-mutants such as The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man! Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, Marvel’s lawyers in this case, pointed out The Beast’s (right) blue fur, Wolverine’s claws and even Dr. Octopus’ metallic tentacles as features that differentiated them from the government’s definition of a doll representing “only human beings.”
The government’s legal counsel, Joe Leibmen countered with the statement, “The government’s position was that the essential nature of these figures and the characters that they represented in the story … were essentially human despite the presence of these additional features or abilities.” Sounds like a verbal battle that might actually take place in an issue of “Uncanny X-Men!”
In another turn that strongly mirrors the Marvel Universe, it was, in fact, the more outlandish characters’ inclusion that swayed the court in Marvel’s favor, despite the relatively normal appearances of characters like Storm and even civilian Peter Parker. The government classified dolls as “ONLY human beings,” according to Singer. “It doesn’t say resemble a human being, it says represent ONLY a human being.” So thanks to “Beast,” “Bonebreaker,” “Cameron Hodge,” “Robot Wolverine,” and “Vulture” (all specifically named in the document), the government has determined that Marvel’s roster are not human beings! It might be a slap in the face to the characters, but Marvel (and its licensees) is surely laughing all the way to the bank, as they are being refunded a “six-figure” settlement on previously paid taxes!
The official court release states “the action figure playthings at issue here are not properly classifiable as “dolls” under the HTSUS by virtue of various non-human characteristics they exhibit.”
“Whatever the degree is to which they resemble human beings, the court finds that these action figures do not represent human beings …These fabulous characters use their extraordinary and unnatural physical and psychic powers on the side of either good or evil.”
What effects will this ruling generate? Will other manufacturers, for example Mattel who currently releases DC Comics’ roster of toys as well as the typically inhuman Masters of the Universe Classics, be able to make the same claims about their colorful playthings? Will these reduced tariffs trickle down to the consumer, so that we get to pay a little less for our collectibles? As a steady purchaser of Hasbro’s current Marvel Universe line, I certainly hope so!
So while this decision goes against the Marvel Comics’ typical message of inclusion, I doubt anyone, creator or fan is going to complain about having to pay less for our little plastic addictions!
UPDATE: Although Fox’s article is new, the court ruling was made in 2003. So why is it being reported again? Well, Fox used the story to plug the new Avengers movie and we used it because the history is pretty cool. Just think how important that 2003 ruling was. It opened the doors to a lot of cash for Marvel and the protection of other comic book creations.