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Friday, 3 June 2016

The Avengers, Diana Rigg and Marvel Comics: When confusion is not confusion


Why is confusion sometimes tolerated? Case in point— “The Avengers”. What comes to mind, it seems, depends upon your generation. Recently, this
Kat was speaking with a colleague about this Kat’s fond recollections of “The Avengers” and, in particular, Diana Rigg, who, as Emma Peel, was surely one of the coolest actresses ever to appear on the screen. My colleague looked at me in a quizzical fashion. He was, of course, familiar with The Avengers, but he could not recall an actress named Diana Rigg nor a character named Emma Peel.

After a bit, it dawned on this Kat that we were talking about two completely different things. I was referring to the 1960’s English spy-fi series, which was later broadcast in the U.S. Anchored by actor Patrick Macnee and including, over time, a number of co-actresses, described as “intelligent, stylish and assertive women”, the most notable of whom was (now Dame) Diana Rigg, The Avengers became, and remains, one of the all-time cult television series. It appears that the series can still be viewed on cable. (An attempt in the late 1990’s to do a movie version was less successful.)[Indeed, as a student in the 1960’s at what was then an all-male college, this Kat took part in a seminar course on Capetian France. One session took place at the home of the lecturer. There were about 10 of us. We settled in for the session when the lecturer asked whether we would mind if a guest joined us. That guest, improbably, was Diana Rigg, who was a friend of the lecturer’s family. As I recall, fantasies ran rampant during the class; our attention to the nuances of Hugh Capet, less so.]

My colleague, to the contrary, had in mind the highly successful 2012 movie, The Avengers, inspired by the comic superhero series published by Marvel Comics since the 1960’s (there seem to have been antecedents already in the 1950’s). The movie is part of what is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films”, a series of superhero films that are taken from characters that appear in various publications of Marvel Comics. The 2012 film, The Avengers, is reported to have grossed over $1.5 billion dollars, making it one of the most financially successful films of all time.

What is interesting is that, in the exchange regarding the title, The Avengers, for entertainment services, there clearly had been an instance of actual confusion between my colleague and me about what entertainment program was being discussed. This Kat tried to find any instance where the production company of the television series ever sought to challenge Marvel Comics (or later, Disney, which bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 with the intention of turning the comic series and related entertainment outlets into a movie franchise), or vice versa, but he could not. It seems that each was content to allow the other to make use of the same name, even in the face of actual confusion.

At one level, this apparent “live, and let live” situation may simply reflect the position that ultimately, whether or not to enforce one’s rights about confusion is a commercial matter for the parties concerned. “The Avengers” of the 1960’s has little commercial significance today and it is prized mainly for its cult and nostalgia value. As such, the confusion evinced by this Kat’s colleague has nothing to do about the commercial source of the two entertainment series; the 1960’s television series is simply irrelevant. For this Kat, his intention was clearly the 1960’s television series; in discussing The Avengers and Emma Peel, the 2012 movie never came to mind. As such, it would appear that the confusion was in communication rather than in the source of the respective entertainment series. No one, it would seem, is exploiting the goodwill of the other. This little story serves to remind us that not all confusion about words and titles may be a matter of intellectual property and the categories that we have created to prevent such confusion.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Isn't the possibility of this confusion why the film was called "Avengers Assemble" in the UK? http://movies.stackexchange.com/questions/2268/why-was-the-avengers-movie-called-something-different-in-the-uk

Rhoda Baxter said...

There's also the 1998 film The Avengers - which is based on the 1960's TV series https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Avengers_(1998_film)

I think the 2012 film was billed in UK and Ireland as Marvel Avengers Assemble, rather than The Avengers. The Marvel branding was also prominent in all the posters etc. Perhaps the reason was to avoid people complaining about the lack of John Steel and Emma Peel.

Ben said...

Lets not forget the New Avengers in the seventies - and Joanna Lumley's Purdey - not to be confused with the upmarket shotguns of the same name - or even the revitalising drink Purdey's https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Avengers_(TV_series)

Josh said...

Your colleague must be American - the movie was (officially) titled "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" in the UK to avoid this kind of confusion!

Michael Chester said...

I was under the impression that the reason the Marvel film is officially called "Avengers Assemble" in the UK is exactly this clash. (Not, of course, that anyone in the UK actually seemed to use the official title)

Tristan Sherliker said...

Good points – but at the time I remember it being reported that there was in fact some friction between the two brands, which may be why The Avengers (2012) was released under the different title of "Avengers Assemble" in the UK and some other markets.

It's still more generally known by the US title, anyway, which goes to show that reputation can quickly overtake any coexistence agreement (though whether or not they came to terms at the time I don't know).

Anonymous said...


You lucky Kat to have met Diana Rigg !

Philip Eagle said...

And in the other direction, a recent American-published comic medium version of the British "Avengers" had to be titled "Steed and Mrs. Peel" to avoid a lawsuit from Marvel.

Britt Reid said...

In the 1960s, a one-shot Gold Key comic about the TV Avengers had to be titled John Steed and Mrs Peel with a subtitle "Based on the TV series "The Avengers" because of the already-ongoing Marvel superhero comic.
A currently-running comic series about the 1960s tv characters is titled Steed and Mrs Peel
Similarly, a 1970s comic series reviving a 1940s pulp character called "The Avenger" had to be called Justice Inc (the name of the character's team of assistants) to avoid conflict with Marvel's trademark, though the then-current paperback reprint series of the original 1940s pulp stories was still called The Avenger.
Confusing, ain't it?

Jeremy said...

By curious coincidence Neil is not the only member of the Kat Klan to have met the lovely Diana Rigg in person. She married my upstairs neighbour Menachem Gueffen (his flat was also at one time inhabited by Dave, Angie and Zowie Bowie).

Unknown said...

The TV spy-fi Avengers were much more awesome and ground breaking than the Marvel ones and Diana Rigg was the most exciting heroine ever! I couldn't believe how awful the late 1990’s movie version was and should have been sued for libeling the original series.

Francis Davey said...

Aren't all trade marks that are effective in the UK containing for "Avengers" or "The Avengers" registered to Marvel Inc or have I missed one owned by ITV?

Glad to be out of the madhouse said...

That 1960s lecture on the Capetians was anyway surely of more use to Ms. Rigg than to any of the male attendants (regardless of how distracted they were by her presence): after all, she's now (very lucratively, I presume) in the cast of "Game of Thrones", which was heavily inspired in Maurice Druon's "The Accursed Kings" series of historical novels narrating the downfall of the House of Capet in the XIV century. Her own character,the scheming Olenna Tyrell, owes more than a little to how scheming Countess Mahaut of Artois is depicted in "The Accursed Kings"...

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