Marvel Comics to US gov't: mutants are not human (and should not be taxed as such)

Radiolab covers the strange saga of Marvel Comics's fight against the US customs authority over whether X-Men dollies were "dolls" or "toys" -- the difference being that dolls (which are defined as characters that represent humans) are taxed at twice the rate of "toys." The case turned on whether a mutant was, indeed, human, or whether they were monsters. Despite Professor X's long advocacy for the essential humanity of mutants, his corporate owners argued that he and his cohort were mere monsters (for tax purposes).

Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah tells Jad and Robert a story about two international trade lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who noticed something interesting while looking at a book of tariff classifications. "Dolls," which represent human beings, are taxed at almost twice the rate of "toys," which represent something not human - such as robots, monsters, or demons. As soon as they read that, Sherry and Indie saw dollar signs. it just so happened that one of their clients, Marvel Comics, was importing its action figures as dolls. And one set of action figures really piqued Sherry and Indie's interest: The XMEN, normal humans who, at around puberty, start to change in ways that give them strange powers.

Here's the actual court opinion (PDF).

The solomonic court divided the mutants into varying degrees of humanness. In the human camp were the Invisible Woman, Punisher, Daredevil, U.S. Agent, Peter Parker, and Jumpsie were humans. The remainder (including the Fantastic Four) were mutants.

Mutant Rights (via MeFi)


  1. So, dolls are taxed differently than toys and there are actual real-life people spending significant portions of the available time between birth and death arguing about this… Excuse me while I go claim 

  2. On my census form under “race” I’m putting “monster.”  If they accept it maybe I can get a lower tax rate.

    1.  you need to be more specific.
      Are you:
      Magical Beast
      Monstrous Humanoid

      And when you’re done, you need to fill out the Subtype sheet in section D20

      1. The problem is since you nolonger are classed as human this also means you have none of the ‘basic human rights’ unless otherwise explicitly stated.

        1. Hey, whadda ya mean? Corporations are people now… (which makes about as much sense this toys/dolls dichotomy).

  3. Wait, that ruling makes no sense. The invisible woman is human, but the rest of the Fantastic Four isn’t? 

    Also, in “The solomonic court divided the mutants into varying degrees of humanness. In the human camp were the Invisible Woman, Punisher, Daredevil, U.S. Agent, Peter Parker, and Jumpsie were humans. The remainder (including the Fantastic Four) were mutants.” the first “mutants” should be “superheroes”. Only some superheroes are mutants.

    The Punisher is of course the most obvious case of a human, but Iron Man and other smart people in battlesuits are also human.

    But what I’d really like to know is who ever got the idea that dolls need special tax rules compared to other toys. And whoever did that should also have defined what really distinguishes a doll from other toys. I mean, what about a plush animal that’s so unrecognizable that it might as well represent a human?

    1. Glancing through, their rationale seems to be that mutants like the X-Men and Fantastic Four are sufficiently distinct from humans in terms of their extraordinary powers or appearances… even the Kingpin isn’t human, according to them, because he’s so freakishly large and wide and has unusual strength.

      One particular example that explained a lot is Storm- she looks like a normal human, but her figure includes a lightning bolt accessory, indicating her powers, so she’s considered a mutant. This kind of explains why Peter Parker is an exception- even though he’s Spiderman, the action figure probably represents him in his secret identity, and thus doesn’t include any webs or stuff like that. One could probably say that it even represents Peter Parker BEFORE he became Spiderman, and can thus be classified as a normal human.

      The Invisible Woman’s powers, being entirely invisible, are perhaps not represented in her action figure as well- if she doesn’t come with an “invisible force wall” accessory or something, then to the average joe who isn’t familiar with the comics, she could just be seen as a woman in a costume, and thus not considered a mutant. Mr. Fantastic apparently gets around this loophole by his figure being really stretchy, which would be noticeable once you open the box, at least.

      1.  Where do gods like Thor and aliens figure into this?   Then there are the artificial lifeforms like Vision and Ultron.  Human and non-human covers a lot of territory with Marvel.

        1.  That’s a good question. I wonder if the Thor action figure would just be classified as “guy with a hammer” and therefore human. Or is the fact that it’s a mythical hammer enough to bump it up to “accessory that indicates superpowers”?

          1. Some titan of jurisprudence will have to bend their expensive law-school education toward solving the cosmological conundrum of whether playing with a Thor action figure means you hold in your hands a god-toy or a god-doll.  And never mind the tax revenues, the mystic mallet Mjolnir shall smite thee stone dead if you guess wrong.

        2.  A Thor action figure would count neither as a toy nor as a doll. Instead it would count as religious paraphernalia, just like a figure of Jesus on the cross. As such it would be taxed in a third, entirely separate way.

        3. Where do gods like Thor and aliens figure into this?

          What category do Jesus figurines and St Joseph real estate statues fall into?

      2. So it’s not whether the characters are mutant or not, but whether their appearance is human? I suppose that makes some sort of sense (in crazyworld!)

        But still, aren’t many superheroes, like the Fantastic Four, not mutants at all, but regular humans who got hit by weird radiation? That’s how I’ve always understood Marvel lore.

  4. The specific issue of tax rates aside, this is an amazing story as it relates to the philosophical issues that the X-Men comics raise.

  5. Subnote 43: Any toy not classifiable as a “doll” or a “wheeled toy” falls under the “other toys” category. It goes without saying that these items are not “wheeled toys;” nor is such an interpretation urged.
    Subnote 14: Customs points out, for example, “Professor X” being featured in a wheel chair ..

  6. I see they failed to comment on whether mutants are allowed to marry humans.  Or whether gay mutants can marry each other, or hetero mutants can marry gay humans,   oh the combinations are endless!

  7. Is there any known history behind the doll/toy distinction in the tax code?  When was the law entered, who drove the initiative?  I’m wondering if it’s a simple case of tax/tariff law as subsidy (protect the American doll-factory-belt!) or if there’s some crazy social reason behind it, like “Ensure foreign-looking human dolls don’t taint the minds of our children.”

  8. I love this panel pointing out how ridiculous the hate mutants but love other super powered folk dynamics of the Marvel universe are:

    1. There actually was an obscure comic (a “Champions” or a “Defenders”?) that dealt with that last panel.  It seems that there are, given the amount of weird radioactivity sprayed about the place, a *lot* of mutants in the Marvel universe but most of the mutations are things like a second face, three extra fingers or hedgehog skin.  So most people are personally familiar with “the Freaks” and don’t like them much already.  The non-super mutants are more pissed off than anyone at the Super Mutants because they taint everyone’s view of mutants.  They get their powers in adolescence (if not childhood) and inevitably create some nasty, if not lethal, scene with them. So even if it’s unlikely that your mutant kid’s third eye will fire death rays the existence of Cyclops makes people afraid that it will so they run your family out of town before your kid can fry their little Johnny in a playground squabble.

      Sort of like how a lot of homophobes regard gays and AIDS only with laser-beam vision filling in for HIV.

      The regular supers usually don’t get powers until at least late adolescence and don’t look weird.  Some of the mutants don’t display (either because they need a trigger or come from an isolated place) any oddities until adulthood and pass as non-mutants: eg. Namor the Submariner.

  9. So Mattel, Inc. can make a bundle if they are willing to admit the obvious truth… that Barbie ain’t no human, she’s a sick, monstrous mutant.

  10. Crazy, but not as crazy as that official court document misspelling “lightning” as “lightening” on page 21. (Yeah, I read the whole thing.)

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