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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #2!

This is the second in a series of examination of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. The first one can be found here (spurred on by me falling for an urban legend regarding Walt Simonson keeping a list of Doom Bot appearances during his Fantastic Four run).

Let’s begin!!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Youngblood was a reworking of a pitch Rob Liefeld made to DC for Team Titans.

STATUS: True

Yes, amusingly enough, in the early 90s, Liefeld was in negotiations with DC to create a spin-off title of the Titans, tentatively called either Titans Force or Team Titans.

From an interview with Newsarama, here is Liefeld discussing the situation:

Question: And for fans who may not know, in the early ’90s you were in negotiations with DC about doing a Titans limited series with Arsenal and Speedy which eventually morphed into…

Liefeld: I proposed a new Titans book in 1991, Team Titans was the proposal, Jon Peterson who edited the book approved it, Marv Wolfman signed on to co-write it and then I couldn’t make the deal with Dick Giordano. God bless him, we just couldn’t make the numbers work. So I took my proposal and merged it with an existing indie project I had called Youngblood. Next thing you know, POOF…Image comics was born.

Question: Can you tell us about the circumstances surrounding that time and that project?

Liefeld: Shaft was intended to be Speedy. Vogue was a new Harlequin design, Combat was a Kh’undian warrior circa the Legion of Super Heroes, ditto for Photon and Die Hard was a Star Labs android. I forgot who Chapel was supposed to be. So there you have it, the secret origin of Youngblood.

Thanks to Ian Gould for the suggestion!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jim Steranko was the inspiration for the escape artist character in Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Klay as well as Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle.

STATUS: True

This is actually a three-part legend. The first part is “Was Jim Steranko an escape artist?” and the second and third parts are “Did Chabon base the escape artist character on Steranko?” and “Did Kirby base Mister Miracle on Steranko?”

The answer is yes to all three.

Steranko was, indeed, an escape artist during the 1950s, well before he became a notable comic book artist.

From a nice biography of Steranko,

In his early teens, he spent several summers with circuses and carnivals, eventually working his way up to sideshow performer, where he did fire-eating, the Hindu bed of nails, and sleight-of-hand effects on stage. In school, he joined the gymnastic team, specializing in the flying rings and parallel bars. Later, he focused on boxing and fencing, studying the latter with saber and foil master Dan Phillips in New York City.

By the time he was in his late teens, Steranko had reaped a wealth of newspaper and TV publicity as an escape artist, after being laced into straitjackets and suspended by his heels; shackled with a dozen pairs of handcuffs and locked into prison cells by police officials; entombed in huge vaults; buried beneath the earth; tied to giant ferris wheels; nailed into packing crates, stuffed into government mailbags and dropped to the bottom of rivers in the confines of heavy trunks (his death-defying performances inspired the character Mister Miracle). Almost always, he’d free himself in less time than than it took to lock him up!.

As for the Kavalier and Clay connection, here is what Michael Chabon had to say on the point (from Wizard #122…courtesy of Nate Raymond, who has an awesome Kavalier and Clay website), “I was westling with the question of how to get my character of Joe Kavalier out of Nazi-occupied Prague when I read an article about Steranko’s career as an escape artist. So both Kavalier and the Escapist share the same inspiration as Kirby’s Mister Miracle.”

And as for the last point, DID Kirby use Steranko as his inspiration for Mister Miracle?

Well, I have not been able to find any statement by Kirby himself on the subject, but Mark Evanier is about as reliable as you can get for Kirby info, and here is what he has to say on his great Kirby FAQ, “[T]he characterization between Scott “Mr. Miracle” Free and Barda was based largely – though with tongue in cheek – on the interplay betwixt Jack and his wife Roz. Of course, the whole ‘escape artist’ theme was inspired by an earlier career of writer-artist Jim Steranko.”

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Fawcett Comics had to stop publishing Captain Marvel because it lost a copyright lawsuit brought by DC Comics.

STATUS: A lot of truth to it, but the basic assertion that Fawcett was forced to stop publishing Captain Marvel due to a court decision is false.

Here is the straight story, right from the mouth of noted comic legal expert, Bob Ingersoll,

DC (here a shorthand for National Periodicals Publications, Inc.) sued Fawcett over Captain Marvel claiming copyright infringement At the trial, the court ruled that Captain Marvel did infringe on DC’s copyright on Superman (citing to the former Superman/Wonderman lawsuit as precedent). Specific panels of Captain Marvel flying and performing deeds were used in evidence to show his adventures and exploits swiped those of Superman.

But the trial court also ruled that DC (or NPP as it was called back then) couldn’t enforce its copyright, because it had abandoned it. The basis for this ruling was that the Superman comic strip, which the McClure Syndicate did under a license from NPP, did not include any of the necessary copyright notices which are required by law to secure and maintain a copyright. So, the trial court ruled that NPP had abandoned its copyright on Superman and couldn’t enforce it. This was a victory for Fawcett. The court ruled it did violate copyright, but also ruled NPP couldn’t enforce the copyright.

The federal court of appeals in New York affirmed the trial court in part and reversed the trial court’s decision in part. The court of appeals agreed that Captain Marvel violated NPP’s copyright on Superman. It also ruled that NPP hadn’t abandoned its copyright. It noted that an intent to abandon copyright has to be clear and unequivocal. NPP continued to attach copyright notices to the Superman comics that it published, so any intent to abandon the copyright wasn’t unequivocal. The Court of Appeals also ruled that NPP couldn’t be held responsible for the lapses of its licensee, McClure. For those reasons, NPP didn’t abandon its copyright on Superman and could enforce it.

The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court for more proceedings. At this point, Fawcett had already lost the important question, did it violate NPP’s copyright. It knew it would lose the trial. At the same time, sales on CAPTAIN MARVEL had declined. So Fawcett chose to settle, rather than go on with a trial it knew it would lose to publish a character that was slipping. In the settlement, Fawcett agreed not to publish Captain Marvel anymore.

Thanks to Paul Newell for the suggestion!

So there you go!

Feel free to suggest urban legends you’d like to see debunked (or confirmed) in a future installment!

18 Comments

Whoa….that was horrible to hear about for Fawcett. Thanks for clearing that Urban Legend up.

And I never knew that Rob Lefield was pitching for a Titans series in the 90′s. Wow…the things ya learn online.

Hi Brian,

I’ve been reading through your columns and I gotta say they’re awesome.

Great work!

Thanks, Daniel!

[...] That is why, going all the way back to one of the very FIRST Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, folks still think Fawcett lost the rights to Captain Marvel to DC Comics due to DC Comics suing them. [...]

Comment 4 can't read

March 30, 2007 at 10:17 am

[...] to ONE OF the very first Comic [...] not the FIRST but ONE OF the first. Don’t read much, do you?

[...] As I discussed in the second installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, after a lengthy lawsuit with DC Comics and with sales dwindling, Fawcett Comics decided to simply cease publication of their comic book superheroes, putting such notable heroes as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. into mothballs. [...]

[...] A couple of years later, Liefeld helped co-found Image Comics, and in his new title, Youngblood (which, as mentioned in the second Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, was mostly a reworking of a pitch Liefeld made to DC for a new Titans book), he featured a character named, interestingly enough, Cougar. [...]

There was a small comic book company named Megaton that put out a free promotional comic that featured the first published appearance of Rob Liefeld’s “Youngblood.” So, if the Image Youngblood was a re-working of a pitch for the TEam Titans at DC, then that was, in turn, a re-working of his ideas for Youngblood at Megaton.

Good point, Matt!

Thanks.

[...] As I discussed in the second installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, after a lengthy lawsuit with DC Comics and with sales dwindling, Fawcett Comics decided to simply cease publication of their comic book superheroes, putting such notable heroes as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. into mothballs. [...]

[...] A couple of years later, Liefeld helped co-found Image Comics, and in his new title, Youngblood (which, as mentioned in the second Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, was mostly a reworking of a pitch Liefeld made to DC for a new Titans book), he featured a character named, interestingly enough, Cougar. [...]

Erm–

Isn’t Steranko himself invariably the source of all the “Steranko the Escape Artist” stories? In all the years I’ve heard of these wondrous tales, I’ve never seen a shred of convincing evidence.

I’d love to see come corroboration by his supposed contemporaries in the field, like James Randi, for instance.

I’d love to see a little more skepticism when writing about urban legends. ;)

[...] * Mr. Miracle, my favorite Fourth World character in concept, is also my favorite of the original creations in the issues contained here. Partially because of the stories, but mostly because I’ll always prefer the adventures of a super escape artist based on Jim Steranko to any other character, I enjoyed his story the most, even if the character synonymous with him, Barda has yet to appear. [...]

Mike Tiefenbacher

November 6, 2008 at 10:27 am

Without dismissing anything else Bob Ingersoll wrote about the DC vs. Fawcett lawsuit, I must add that he is wrong on one point: DC was not known as “National Periodicals (sic) Publications” or even “National Periodical Publications” or, for that matter, “NPP” when this suit was going on. Before 1947, while the suit was going on, it was “Detective Comics,” as publisher of “Superman” and “Action Comics.” After 1947 (following the buy-out of Max Gaines’ All-American Comics) the new company was redubbed “National Comics Publications.” It would not be renamed “National Periodical Publications” until 1961 (perhaps in preparation to going public–”NPP was its stock-exchange abbreviation). This is a common error which few comics historians seem to acknowledge, but it’s kind of an important distinction.

I’m not a lawyer and I assume Ingersoll is, but even so, the bit about (and I quote)

“the necessary copyright notices which are required by law to secure and maintain a copyright”

sticks out at me as problematic. I don’t know how copyright law worked in the forties, and I gather it’s changed a lot, but at least nowadays copyright is automatic. No notices are required, though they can help take certain legal arguments away from violators. What he describes sounds more like trademark law, with which copyright law is often confused but which is actually a different beast entirely.

Perhaps such notices were required back then, but at the very least it’s misleading to speak of such a requirement in the present tense, because it certainly doesn’t exist today.

Yeah, you needed notice for copyright for many years.

Well i guess the 50ies was tough on all Superheroes – (and I bet even Superman and Batman felt the genre shift)

i wonder would have Captain Marvel found new sales strength in the 60ies? Would it have stolen some thunder from Superman? :)

Oh well, in the meantime I still have quite some more Red Cheese issues from 1942-53 to read….

Timothy Markin

June 16, 2013 at 6:03 am

Fawcett did continue to publish comics after Captain Marvel. They published numerous Dennis the Menace comics, ceasing publication of those in the Spring of 1980.

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