Why Marvel smacked down the IRS to prove mutants ain't human

Contributed by
Dec 16, 2012

If you're a canny lawyer representing the creators of the Uncanny X-Men, how would you save your clients hundreds of thousands of dollars? You'd claim that Marvel's characters, whose comic deals with identity issues over their human nature, weren't human after all.

That's what Indie Singh and Sherry Singer did back in 2003, according to Radiolab, a podcast that recently interviewed Marvel Comics' international trade lawyers. When poring over books of tax laws, they realized that "dolls" (i.e., human representations, such as Barbie) are taxed on import at 12 percent, while "toys" (i.e., non-human representations, such as robots and monsters) are taxed at a mere 6.8 percent. And all of Marvel's action figures were classified as dolls.

"Sherry and Indie realized there was a huge opportunity here. If they can convince the government to remove the Marvel action heroes from the human-y Barbie 'doll' category and push them into the robot demon-y 'toy' category, they could save a huge amount of money."

This resulted in not one court case, but an entire series of cases that lasted 10 years, and ultimately, Marvel prevailed in convincing the United States tax authorities to re-categorize their products as toys rather than dolls.

The irony in this whole situation is that, as we all know, the X-Men comic books are about the nature of humanity. In decades of storytelling we've learned about love, friendship and loyalty, and that these mutant characters are about as human as the rest of us, give or take a few chromosomes.

In fact, Bryan Singer, the director of the X-Men trilogy, added his voice to the human/mutant debate. In the podcast, he says that the X-Men have long been a stand-in for human struggles, such as the civil rights and gay rights movements.

So if you were wondering why news sources (such as this, this, this and that) were suddenly reporting on Marvel's denial of humanity for mutants, it all came from this new podcast.

You'll also know that we feel just a tiny bit hurt by Marvel's stance and have to remind ourselves that these characters aren't real.

For more information, check out this Wikipedia entry.

(via Radiolab)