What was likely viewed by DC Entertainment as a prudent -- even standard -- legal decision has snowballed into wincingly bad PR for the company, which now faces headlines like "Comic publisher blocks Superman logo on statue of murdered Toronto boy."
The Canadian Press reports DC has denied permission for the trademarked "S" emblem to be engraved on a memorial statue for 5-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 of starvation and septic shock after years of abuse by his grandparents.
Jeffrey's teenage parents lost custody of the boy and his three siblings, who were placed into the care of their maternal grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman. While two of the children were treated relatively well, Jeffrey and one of his sisters were locked in a dark room for 14 hours a day, deprived of food, verbally and mentally abused and left to live in their own waste. Bottineau and Kidman were convicted in 2006 of second-degree murder.
The case drew renewed interest last fall with a coroner's inquest, during which Jeffrey's father Richard Baldwin testified of the boy's love of Superman. "He wanted to fly," he said. "He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up [as Superman] for Halloween one year. He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel."
That testimony struck a chord with Todd Boyce, an Ottawa father of four who raised more than $36,000 on Indiegogo to fund a statue of Jeffrey in his Superman costume, sculpted by Ontario artist Ruth Abernethy. Everything went well, until it came to securing permission from DC to include that signature "S" shield.
The Toronto Star quotes an email to Boyce from Amy Genkins, DC's senior vice president of business and legal affairs, who explained, “for a variety of legal reasons, we are not able to accede to the request, nor many other incredibly worthy projects that come to our attention.”
When contacted by ROBOT 6, DC declined comment.
Boyce told the newspaper he thinks DC doesn't want Superman associated with child abuse. “I’m sort of empathetic to [DC’s] point of view on this, but I feel very strongly that the image of Jeffrey is so powerful,” he said. “It’s the image of a vulnerable boy dressed up as the most invulnerable character in the universe. So I just feel like there’s something lost if we change it.”
Still, Boyce said he'll likely change the "S" to a "J" for Jeffrey, as the City of Toronto wants assurances the statue won't run into legal problems. The statue is set to be complete by the end of summer for a fall unveiling.