As the Avengers do battle against the nefarious Ultron this weekend, it appears Iron Man is also set to face off against his newest nemeses, the comic book artists Ben and Ray Lai, founders of Horizon Comics and one-time Marvel artists.

Last week, the Lai brothers filed a copyright infringement suit in federal court against Marvel and its parent corporation, Disney. In it, they claim that Iron Man’s suit, as featured in the Iron Man and The Avengers film series, as well as marketing and promotional materials and related merchandise, copies the design of suits featured in their own independently created comic, Radix. Marvel has 21 days to respond to the complaint.

Three volumes of Radix were published by the Lai brothers between December 2001 and April 2002. Set in an apocalyptic future, Radix features characters that “wear highly detailed, futuristic, armored, and weaponized suits of body armor.”

According to the Lai brothers, Marvel hired them in the spring of 2002 on the strength of their work on the Radix comics. While at Marvel, the brothers worked on X-Men, Thor, and Hasbro’s G.I. Joe. They claim that it was not until after they had submitted Radix to Marvel that Iron Man began to wear powerful, futuristic, fully-mechanized suits of body armor substantially similar to the armor worn by the characters in Radix, as opposed to the “simple spandex-like attire and minimal armor” Iron Man has worn since he was created in 1963.

Evolution of Iron Man copy
A legal exhibit from the Lai brothers.

In 2013, the Lai brothers sent a cease and desist letter to Disney, claiming that one of the studio’s promotional posters for Iron Man 3 copied an image from the Radix comics (pictured at top). Both images featured a character in an armored suit crouching, with one knee on the ground. Marvel neither ceased nor desisted in using the image, however, effectively daring a lawsuit. Two years later, the Lai brothers have obliged.

The Lai brothers will need to demonstrate that the Iron Man and Radix suits are actually substantially similar, and not just generic armored suits common to fantasy and science fiction. Furthermore, they will need to get around the statute of limitations, which requires that an infringement case be filed three years from the date of the alleged infringement. Because the first Iron Man movie was released in 2008, seven years prior to the filing of the suit, this will present a significant challenge.

If the Lai brothers prevail, it would not be their first such victory. In March 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was forced to issue a public apology to the Lai brothers for the unauthorized use of an image from Radix in an application for a $50 million nanotechnology research grant offered by the U.S. Army as a way to spur the development of body armor for soldiers.

There is no word as to whether Stark Enterprises was involved in the army’s nanotechnology research grant.

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Brian Gabriel

Brian Gabriel

Brian Gabriel is a writer covering legal issues for Cartoon Brew.

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