Whose (Punch) Line Is It, Anyway?

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Punchline, Punchline, Punchline and Punchline

DC Comics' newest character sparks conversation over character usage and marks.

BATMAN #89 was an instant -- and unexpected -- sellout this week when DC introduced a partial profile cameo of a new character, Punchline. Meant to be a female partner/paramour for The Joker, one once wouldn't have expected much from such a character. Except the last time the role was filled, it went to Harley Quinn, whose first comic book appearance can net over $600, and whose media presence has skyrocketed even further after appearances in mainstream films like SUICIDE SQUAD and BIRDS OF PREY.

So it's natural for speculators to hit the streets to pick up what they are assured is the first appearance of Punchline.

But what if they're wrong?

What if I told you the first appearance of Sabertooth wasn't IRON FIST #14, but... THE FLASH #291?

What if I told you the first apperance of Doomsday wasn't MAN OF STEEL #17, but... SILVER SURFER #13?

There has, in fact, for the past few years, already been a comics character named Punchline. And they all seemed to get along just fine, up until such time as DC introduced their character. At issue is, of course, the impending expectation of a trademark being filed, so that DC can move through the process of having their character marketable for her own book and, to be sure, action figures, statues, and other licensed products. Such a mark might prove a threat to the other Punchlines -- of which there are, at last count, three.

There is the PUNCHLINE comic currently being published by Antarctic Press, by Bill Williams and Matthew Weldon, which hit the shelves of comic book stores in November of 2018 (listed in PREVIEWS August 2018). Bronx Heroes also has a character, under the title PUNCHLINE: CLOWN DETECTIVE, for which they have rushed in a trademark application. However, that title did not beat AP's to the shelves and so might face challenges for the name -- although the addendum of "Clown Detective" taken as a whole may give them some foothold.

However, foot traffic in comics shops would have encountered Punchline even before Antarctic, Bronx Heroes, or DC Comics. In April of 2018, seven months prior to AP's PUNCHLINE #1, Hero Tomorrow put out a book called TAP DANCE KILLER by Ted Sikora and Nikolaus Harrison; and appearing on the last page of that issue -- and on the cover of the second issue (July 2018, listed in PREVIEWS May 2018) -- was a homicidal heavyweight clown using the name (logo and all) of... you guessed it. Punchline.

If you're going strictly by print, BATMAN #89 trails a distant fourth. And, it would appear, that TAP DANCE KILLER could lay claim to first use. But this is no longer the 1980s, and comics don't get distributed merely on paper anymore.

Enter Comixology, and the digital distribution market. It's here that you would have to look to find the one, true first appearance of any character called Punchline. And it happens to be the Williams / Weldon version, published at that time by Lone Star Press, before it was picked up for print distribution by AP.

So it would seem fairly clear that if any trademark challenges were to arise, Williams and Weldon would be the clear front-runners for the mark, while collectors could certainly claim to have the first in-print copy of a book with Punchline in it by waving about their issues of TAP DANCE KILLER.

Neither of which will probably stop BATMAN #89 from someday selling for way more than it's worth in the secondary market.

Punchline #1
Antarctic

Tap Dance Killer #1
Hero Tomorrow

Batman #89
DC Comics