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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #44!

This is the forty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous forty-three.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The original ending of Marvel vs. DC involved the two companies swapping two characters, but this ending was changed due to external pressure.

STATUS: False

A lot of folks have mentioned this rumor since I’ve been doing this (by a lot, I mean, like, four), but the first one to put it into the comments was John DiBello, whose excellent blog is located here.

John asked,

At the end of DC versus Marvel (aka Marvel versus DC, there was a rumor that one Marvel character was to be stranded in the DC Universe and vice versa, and the other company would have that character to play with in their universe for a year (the way I heard it, the hook was on his foot, no, no, I mean it was to be Daredevil and Catwoman). Truth? If so, what happened?

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Well, here is Mike Carlin, editor of the original project (from DC’s side – Mark Gruenwald edited Marvel’s half of the project, with Peter David and Ron Marz handling the writing chores), on the topic:

Swapping a character each WAS discussed early on in the proceedings… but before we even homed in on specific characters to try to do this with, we decided that the legal department headaches (not just for issues the characters appeared in– but for any reprints for all time) would not be worth it.

Wasn’t the lawyers or higher-ups… [it] was Gruenwald and I… with Peter David and Ron Marz as the writers.

So that is, how they say, that.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Almost all the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club were based on famous actors, both visually and titularly

STATUS: True

In 1966, the popular British television series, The Avengers, aired an episode titled “A Touch of Brimstone.” The episode featured what was basically a modern-day version of the Hellfire Club (an exclusive British club from the 18th century that was rumored to engage in all sorts of crazy debachaury and orgiastic rituals), and during the investigation, Emma Peel was drugged and forced into dressing up as the Queen of Sin.

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As you can tell from the photo, the episode was quite racy for the time, and the episode had to be edited to appear on British television, and was barred from America television at the time.

Well, when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were writing the X-Men together, and coming up with ways of “darkening” Phoenix, they decided to introduce the Hellfire Club, and used that episode of the Avengers as inspiration (Emma Peel being forced into dressing up as the Queen of Sin is quite similar to Jean Grey being “forced” by Mastermind into becoming the Black Queen).

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Here’s Byrne on the topic, from his forum,

I first encountered Peter Wyngarde, as an actor, on the Avengers episode “A Touch of Brimstone”, which dealt with Steed and Emma having an encounter with the Hellfire Club. Later he turned up on a British series called Department S, and its spin-off Jason King (the name of his character). When Chris Claremont decided he wanted to do a Hellfire club arc in UNCANNY X-MEN (he had just seen the above mentioned Avengers episode) as part of the “darkening” of Phoenix, I suggested the “in-joke” of having Mastermind, in his disguised form, resemble Peter Wyngarde and, mixing character and actor, that his name be Jason Wyngarde. (Chris seemed to have some small problem remembering if this was supposed to be Mastermind’s real name, or one MM had made up. It is refered to both ways in the story arc.)

Here is Jason Wyngarde from the comic matched with Peter Wyngarde as Jason King, the Department S spin-off (and, remember, Wyngarde also appeared in the initial A Touch of Brimstone episode, as the villain).

Jason_edited.JPGWyngarde_as_Jason_King.JPG

Since he was already using a real actor for the inspiration of ONE of the Hellfire Club member, Byrne decided to use real actors for the other Hellfire members (and, in addition, Emma Frost likely got her first name from Emma Peel).

Sebastian Shaw = Robert Shaw

Sebastian_edited.JPGShaw2.jpg

Donald Pierce = Donald Sutherland (and the last name Pierce, from Sutherland’s turn as Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H)

Donald Pierce_edited.JPGdonald.jpg

Orson Welles = Harry Leland (Harry from Welles’ turn as Harry Lime, and Leland from the character Jed Leland in Welles’ classic Citizen Kane)

Harry_edited.JPGwellesbig.jpg

Neat, eh? Thanks to wikipedia for the exact homages.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe was held back for five years because of Justice League of America vs. The Avengers.

STATUS: Essentially, True

Few comic book one-shots have gone through as many iterations as the comic book project that eventually resulted in 1989’s release of Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe.

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Originally, the project (which was to follow up Fred’s successful “Fantastic Four Roast” for the FF’s 20th Anniversary) was to be released soon after, in 1984. Here is Fred’s own account of what went wrong,

Mulling over possible concepts on the phone one afternoon, Jim Shooter and I independently but simultaneously came up with the same idea. Actually, he was the first one to say it out loud-it had crossed my mind, but I was afraid it might be a bit too tacky to bring up. Y’see, way back when, news leaked out slowly, there being no Internet to dispense the latest scoops-or rumors-in the rapid manner we’ve all become accustomed to these days.

Everyone in the field looked to Cat Yronwode’s “Fit to Print” column in “The Buyer’s Guide To Comics Fandom” weekly paper for the up to the minute headlines, and when she came out with a startling set of accusations from Doug Moench, a long tenured but now departing Marvel writer, she soon had most of comics Fandom up in arms. The unhappy Mr. Moench alluded to some radical plans about to be set in motion by head ed Shooter : the destruction of the Norse Gods Asgard home, a replacement inside the Iron Man armor, a revamped Fantastic Four lineup, a new look for Spider-Man — in short, the kinda stuff that would get a dyed-in-the-wool comics geek’s knickers in a twist!?! And being one at the time, I could certainly sympathize with the angst everyone from Cat on down felt. We’d all grown up-or, at least, grown OLDER-with these characters, and we certainly didn’t cotton to the idea of someone coming in, trashing Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko’s creations and remaking the Marvel Universe in their own image.

Sensing the mounting outrage, Shooter was quick to issue a series of denials, pretty much laying the blame for the uproar on the misinterpretations of some previous discussions by a now disgruntled ex-employee, Mr. Moench. The so-called “Big Bang”? Wasn’t gonna happen, Big Jim assured me, and here he was, offering me more work. I wasn’t gonna broach the subject, but when he himself suggested I spoof the brouhaha over his supposed scheme to destroy the Marvel Universe, well, it sounded too good to pass up. If only…

(Oh, and for those of you totally unfamiliar with the situation, guess what? Everything that was reported to happen eventually did happen, just maybe not as soon as it would originally have had word not leaked out. Thus, a trend of radically rewriting comics history was established, and most older fans have become so inured to the revamping their childhood icons have had to endure over the past two decades that most can’t muster up enough energy to care, myself definitely included. But in 1983 the idea was so outrageous that it merited an all out spoof…)

Time to talk specifics with my employers. The F.F.ROAST was 32 pages with no ads, but aside from scribbling in good ol’ Fred on the various pages, I only got to pencil the covers. Howsabout we make this new tome a 48 pager-no ads, of course-and I get to pencil it as well as write it? Let’s try and get Terry Austin to ink it-after all, he is the best there is and he did a splendid job embellishing the wraparound cover of the ROAST? Jim agreed. Wonderful. And howsabout we call it what it is, JIM SHOOTER DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE? On this point, Jim was a bit tentative, but he went along with me, at least for the time being. By our next conversation, though, he respectively explained why he had to decline title character status: his bosses told him to. Seems they felt that, as a Marvel executive, it would somehow be bad form for him to plaster his name across the top of a Marvel comic. He could still be an integral part of the storyline-the star, even-but we had to find another moniker to attach to the title. Hmm? What to do? YOU’RE a comics character, Fred-howsabout we call the book FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE? So sayeth Jim-and who am I to argue with the head honcho of Marvel Comics? And besides, if you haven’t picked up on it by now, I can be a bit of a ham. So, after a few mild protestations-false modesty is a hard habit to break, y’understand-I acceded to popular (?) demand and took the mantle of mayhem upon my head. Who knew the headaches that lay ahead?…

Despite the billing, it was always my intention merely to play a supporting role in the newly christened FH/MU. As I plotted it, about half of my 48 pagers would be taken up by a framing story that would concern itself with the circumstances under which editor-in-chief Jim Shooter would hire me, freelance cartoonist Fred Hembeck, to destroy the Marvel Universe for him. This portion of the tale was a hoot to come up with, and flowed out quick and easy. I opted against any sort of true representation of the Marvel Bullpen, instead inventing three fictitious foils for Shooter, the suspiciously named Bruce, Clark and Diana. The meat of the book, the selling point of the whole project, the deaths of the Marvel multitudes was another thing altogether. The object was to kill as many characters as I could, all in as funny a way as possible. While it seemed like a good idea while yacking on the phone with Jim, when I actually sat down to perform the task as clearly spelled out in the previous sentence, I realized just how contradictory the concept was!

Laughs! Death! More laughs! And more death! Hey, I have as much an appreciation for so-called black humor as anyone, but that doesn’t mean I can produce it. Still, I took this job on, and I was gonna see it through. So, I wrote up a plot-the office antics highly detailed, the dying laffing section far more sketchy-and sent it in for my star’s approval. Which I received. Remember that. It’ll be important later…

Okay, okay, I won’t keep you in suspense-I wasn’t the one the one that was doomed, the book was. Y’see, while Shooter himself had guided the F.F. ROAST, by the time I’d turned in all 48 pages of FH/MU (plus 4 covers, inside and out), he’d become to busy to shepherd this project to completion. So, he told me he was turning it over to another editor, Larry Hama. That was the last time we would speak about FH/MU. Now it was Larry’s baby-and if it hadn’t already been born, metaphorically speaking, I’m sure he would’ve aborted it…[Hembeck then discusses a great deal of problems that occured with the production of the comic, mainly some tragic events in his life and some inking snafus due to some communication issues with Larry Hama, but the comic is now ready to go!]

But, as they say in those newspaper movies on late night TV, “Hold the presses!”…

Remember that framing story? The one starring Shooter? Well, as Larry informed me in a frantic phone call, Jim had finally gotten around to reading it and he was very disturbed about something he’d found in it. Specifically, the reason I gave toward the tale’s conclusion regarding cartoon Jim’s motivation for wanting to destroy the Marvel Universe. While never coming out and naming names, I allude to Jim being planted at Marvel as a sort of sleeper agent by his old mentor, the man who first hired him to write comic books when he was a mere teenager from Pittsburgh, Superman’s editor at DC Comics, Mort Weisinger. It was all in good fun, and was in fact a key point included in my original proposal, but here was Larry being called on the carpet for letting such a potentially libelous suggestion get by. I assured him this plot point was there from the get go, and he soon located my initial notes and could see for himself that I was once again in the right. I remember him commenting that we’d somehow ironically wound up on the same side of an argument, but it did us little good. Unless we changed the ending, Marvel refused to release the book. What happened? I’ll never know for sure, but my best guess is that AVENGERS VS. JLA happened. Or rather, didn’t…

Commencing with the SUPERMAN VS.SPIDER-MAN edition in the mid-seventies, Marvel and DC Comics had successfully published a handful of joint ventures, all relatively trouble free-until they decided to match up the premier super-teams of each company. Too many people wanted control, company politics became involved, and the whole thing became one great big ugly mess. George Perez was stuck with a score of pencilled pages that’d never be published, since this even more highly anticipated project (imagine!) was ignominiously yanked from the schedule too!! When I submitted my original plot, the two companies were buddy-buddy. By the time Jim had a make-ready in his hands, the two comics corporations were at war. YOU figure out what happened. Sigh…

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A few years later, somebody got the bright idea to assign Jim Salicrup the task of rescuing FH/MU from limbo. An excellent notion, seeing as how Jim and I had already worked for years on MARVEL AGE MAGAZINE. As it’s editor, he enlisted me to provide a monthly two page feature, an assignment that eventually lasted over 100 issues. No disrespect to Larry, but Salicrup and I were a simpatico team. When he proposed we give it another shot, I really didn’t know where to go with it, but somehow just putting our two heads together sparked some new solutions to old problems; i.e., what to do about cartoon Shooter’s motivation?

At this late date, I have no clue as to who first suggested it, but it occurred to us that we could get some laughs by playing off Jim’s excessive height, a characteristic known well to industry folk and Marvel readers of the day alike. What if he had a twin, an evil twin, a jealous evil twin, a jealous evil twin who resented Jim because he was shorter than his brother, a whole half inch shorter, and who had to go through life being mocked as Tiny Tim Shooter?? That’s it! We had our new ending! Of course, to properly set it up, several early pages would need to be at least partially changed, but in all, less than half a dozen of the original pages would have to be modified. I’d lose my cute inside joke ending, but I rather liked this one as well, so all in all, I was pleased. I drew up the new stuff, Vinny inked it on his lunch hour, and we were all set to go.

Then disaster struck-Marvel Comics Destroyed Jim Shooter!! Yup, they fired the big fella. The likelihood of them publishing a book starring their now ex-employee? Like I said earlier, YOU figure it out…

That was it as far as I was concerned. The book was never coming out. I resigned myself to fielding questions about it’s non-appearance at comics conventions for the rest of my life (maybe not such a bad thing-after all, look at the revered stature the Beach Boys “Smile” disc has attained while having never actually been released. Fans would just think the world of this piece of unattainable Marvel ephemera, especially if they couldn’t actually see it!). Then new ed-in-chief Tom DeFalco spoiled THAT little fantasy by ordering Salicrup to take another pass at it. How would such a thing be possible, you ask?

Simple-we reduce the book from 48 pages to the more standard 32, cut out the framing sequence and just keep the blood, gore and gags (actually, there was no actual blood and gore, but you get what I’m saying). By utilizing the inside front and back covers, that left us 7 pages to devise an entirely NEW framing sequence, one depicting yours truly down on his luck, haunting back alleys, and being grilled mercilessly by the Punisher (a VERY hot item at the time) as to the story behind this by now somewhat mythical destruction of the Marvel Universe book. I allude to as many of the old jokes as I can salvage, add a few new twists, and voila! Marvel finally has a book they’re willing to publish! (oh yeah-I should mention that the newest of the new pages were inked, at my request, by my friend and neighbor, Joe Staton, and very nicely, too.

FH/MU was released in the summer of 1989. It’s been my everlasting regret that my favorite part of the whole crazy thing would never be seen. Oh, there’s a couple of bits in the happy death section that I like, specifically Ant-Man in the microwave oven, the Kingpin and the Juggernaut in the canoes, and my salute to Jack Benny and Mel Blanc via the Daredevil sequence, but although I feel the rest of it reads okay, it’s just not full of the massive yuk-yuks, y’know?

So, here is the page that really caused the most fuss – the Weisinger sequence, courtesy of Fred’s excellent site, www.hembeck.com.

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Thanks also to Fred for suggesting this tale!!

Well, that’s it for this week, thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!!

7 Comments

Ah, Cat “Ronwode”. The [censored] who destroyed the utexas usenet gateway back in the 80’s. It’s a shame Fred didn’t destroy *her* universe instead.

Robert McKinney

August 21, 2006 at 7:39 am

The info about the Hellfire Club was intertesting. I had known about the connection to the Avengers episode, and Harry Leland’s resemblance to Harry Leland was hard to miss. The rest was surprising. Donald Sutherland?!?

It makes me wonder about something. The second Hellfire Club story featured a body swap between Storm and the White Queen. There was an episode of the Avengers that featured Emma Peel swapping bodies with a blonde enemy agent. I wonder if that didn’t influence the X-Men story.

“Ah, Cat “Ronwode”. The [censored] who destroyed the utexas usenet gateway back in the 80’s. It’s a shame Fred didn’t destroy *her* universe instead.”

This statement piqued my curiousity as to how someone would go about destroying a usenet gateway, as well as what the motivation would be, so I decided to Google for info. And what I discovered was that not only was it unintentional, but that it actually happened in 1995 (not “the 80’s”), and at a time when it was only like one of three usenet gateways still active anymore as they were becoming outmoded…leading me to wonder if this Tom Galloway person was even affected by it anyways, or just has something against Yronwode in general…? I just don’t understand the vitriol.

Michael Joyner

March 7, 2007 at 12:02 pm

Oddly, I alway thought Sebastian Shaw was supposed to be Producer/Director Dan Curtis, whom he looks like as much if not more than Robert Shaw. Also, Sebastian Shaw was the name of a Dark Shadows character, a series produced by Dan Curtis. Pretty much any major DS website pulls up photos of Curtis, check out the amazing resemblance sometime. (Curtis also produced the original Night Stalker, as well as Trilogy of Terrror TV movies, and much more.)

Only Tom can speak for the effect it had on him, but I was partially responsible for the chain of events involving cat, and it cut off my newsgroup access, so it wasn’t insignificant at the time. (In the long run, it weaned me off newsgroups altogether.)

mike shakespeare

August 21, 2008 at 9:45 am

please add me to your emal list….thank you….mike

Picked this old segment from the Bendis board.

Two interesting elements:

The Hellfire being these guys throws me on the floor. It definitly gives us a better handle on Sebastian Shaw and how he should be. I guess Pierce is Donald Sutherland when he was in Casanova. About Dan Curtis…he also produced a Dracula tv movie starring Jack Palance and Palance also look like the Byrne Sebastian Shaw.

The other thing that interested me was the New Marvel Universe thought out by Jim Shooter. You know, as much as I like the characters the way they are, the changes could have been interesting. Heck instead of the New Universe, Shooter could have done all the elements that he wanted to do with a new FF, etc…but in another Universe than the 616 one. Also I wonder what were the other changes? I remember reading Shang Chi would become a ninja…

What’s funny is that the Big Bang did not occur, but some of those things ended up happening anyway. Another guy became Iron Man(James Rhodes), Spider-Man got a new costume(the black one), Fantastic Four gota new line-up when She-Hulk replaced Thing. And this happened during a big event called Secret Wars.

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