A cartoonist has sued Universal Pictures, DreamWorks and Platinum Studios, claiming that the sci-fi Western Cowboys & Aliens infringes on his 1995 comic of the same name.
In his complaint, first reported by TMZ, Steven Bunti contends the 2006 Platinum graphic novel on which the film is based “contains striking similarities” to his own story, published more than a decade earlier in Bizarre Fantasy #1. Among those are “an alien spaceship zooming overhead the main cowboy character, the spacecraft being discovered by Native American warriors (specifically Apache) who are then attacked” and an alien commander “incredibly similar” to the conqueror “Morguu” in Bunti’s work.
Although Bunti didn’t register his comic with the U.S. Copyright Office until September, two months after the premiere of the Universal film, he notes that a preview of the story appeared on the back of Bizarre Fantasy #0 in November 1995, and was spotlighted in Comic Shop News — on the same page as a story about Malibu Studios and Platinum chairman, and Cowboys & Aliens creator, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (he’s also named in Bunti’s lawsuit).
In May 1997, Platinum released a one-sheet featuring a cowboy chased by an alien spaceship, part of a promotional effort that led Universal and DreamWorks to buy the film rights to Cowboys & Aliens, and Platinum to publish the 2006 graphic novel, overseen by Rosenberg.
The lawsuit is just one more blow to a film seen as a financial and critical disappointment. Despite the creative talents of director Jon Favreau and a stable of screenwriters that included Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and a cast led by Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde, Cowboys & Aliens grossed only a little more than its $163 million budget.
Just last month Universal Studios President Ron Meyer described the film as “mediocre,” telling an audience at the Savannah Film Festival, “Cowboys & Aliens wasn’t good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. I think it was a mediocre movie, and we all did a mediocre job with it. […] Certainly you couldn’t have more talented people involved in Cowboys & Aliens, but it took, you know, ten smart and talented people to come up with a mediocre movie. It just happens.”