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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #62

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This is the sixty-second 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 sixty-one.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Marvel had a special insert in an issue of Fantastic Four because they irked the Nixon Administration.

STATUS: True

In Fantastic Four #128, there was a puzzling four-page, glossy insert in the middle of the issue, for no added cost.

FF128.JPG

Roy Thomas explains it in the letter column of the issue, but I’ll first give you some back story about what happened.

In the early 1970s, inflation was a mess in America. Costs were skyrocketing.

With books released the month of Fantastic Four #116, Marvel raised their prices from 15 cents to 25 cents, a huge increase at the time, but Marvel’s answer was to make the 25 cent books giant-sized.

Sadly, cost restraints were such that Marvel had to make the books normal-sized after just ONE month, but at a price of 20 cents per issue.

Meanwhile, though, the Nixon Administration had implemented a price freeze for the nation. So when the Wage and Price Control Board heard that Marvel ESSENTIALLY raised prices by charging 20-cents for 32 pages, they were upset.

But after things got hashed out, there was no big “to-do” about it, and Marvel offered up what was essentially their form of community service – a free, full-color glossy insert in Fantastic Four #128!

Here is Roy Thomas on the situation, from that issue’s letter column…

Fantastic Four 128-LP_edited.jpg

Weird, eh?

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47 Comments

What, no scans of the wondrous insert? Heh.

“I don’t recall feeling that way at the time, because Bruce Wayne was a pretty straight guy.”

Ha, ha.

I’m not quite a fan of this Johnson dude basically saying “Yeah, comics suck, and I made it better! Hahahahahah!” I mean, I love the Hulk show, but it doesn’t stand up *that* well to the tests of time and/or adulthood… except for that lovely Lonely Man theme, of course.

Price-freeze? Never heard of it. Sounds… asinine.

I agree, Johnson DID seem a bit too dismissive of comics.

I think the creators behind “Smallville” have taken a page right out of Johnson’s book, as far as their attitude toward the source material.

i.e. “Thank God we were able to make it better.”

Interesting that Johnson recorded a new commentary track for the current box set considering he had already done one for the pilot and the two-part “Married” which was released back in 2003 to coincide with the release of the movie.

I have listened to both countless time in addition to his commentary for V and I cannot say enough about how entertaining and informative the man is. Track those DVDs down if you can.

“They’ve taken all our good names, like Bruce and Lance and Julian. Those were the toughest names we had!”

Once again, Homer S. shows us the way!

The first urban legend sounds like Marvel just wanted to raise prices by 5 cents. Increasing the price it to 25 over 15 makes 20 sound like a bargain. Seems underhanded.

Anyway, I know that’s obviously what Nixon concluded too, but a color insert for one month is a bizarre “form of community service” for raising prices permanently.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 4, 2006 at 1:34 am

“Anyway, I know that’s obviously what Nixon concluded too, but a color insert for one month is a bizarre “form of community service” for raising prices permanently. ”

And the Deluxe editions of books in the late 90′s weren’t?

Or when they decided to stop the deluxe books, but keep the price hike, so they gave us extra pages of company advertising?

Or the fold out covers they came up with after that, which had info on all the characters and plot points in the book, but soon just became more advertsing as well.

Comics are weird.
First they say there are no kids, only adults reading comics, and they treat us like kids by trying to trick us about price hikes.
Much like how the internet is supposed to be only a minor amount of the readership, but no one should want footnotes, as everybody has the internet.

If I were Stan, I would consider it a point of pride to have made Nixon’s enemies list.

“at least I got to change Bruce Banner’s name to David,”

Wow. He actually sounds like he thinks it would have been better if he was red.

What was the glossy insert?

the long standing story that I’ve heard — and I’ve never heard it dismissed, so I don’t know that I’d classify it as a myth — was that Marvel realized that DC was following their lead and psyched them out. Remember, this is right after Kirby left, and it’s a real battle between the two. Neither publisher is happy with publishing 15 cent books and would love to have bigger books with higher profit margins. So Marvel does the twice as big for only 10 cents more move and DC follows. but then Marvel backs down right away (but only to 20 cents). So now DC, which was not as nimble as it was corporate at the time when Marvel was still a small company, has 25 cent books while Marvel has 20 cent books. since the bigger DC books were filled with reprints to make that price point and Marvel is now that all important nickel cheaper, Marvel took a commanding lead in sales that they didn’t relinquish for a long time (if ever).

Note that both publishers, not that long after this experiment, began doing more and more higher cost books like the DC 100 Pagers and the Giant-Size line from Marvel, not to mention the tabloids and eventually the Dollar Comics line. The publishers had figured out that keeping the low price point was not a strategy for survival. This was simply the first shot in that long battle.

kenneth Johnson does give great commentary and I can’t recommend his Hulk and “V” DVDs enough.

But it makes me laugh because he really is a terrible theater snob, and come on, there’s absolutely no basis for it. Maybe he did study at Juillard or something, but my God, he has NEVER been out of the SF ghetto. Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Hulk, V, Alien Nation, Short Circuit, the big-screen Shaq Steel… that’s his resume.

Now, I like a lot of that stuff, probably more than most fans, and his commentaries are enormous fun… but yeah, he should dial down the snooty a little. This is the guy that wrote “A Bionic Christmas Carol” for God’s sake.

Oh agreed. I spent a few years pissed at the man because of comments he made in an interview with Starlog that were horribly elistist and sometimes downright rude. It boggles my mind that the movie and television studios will chase people down to direct their projects who obviously have no respect for the material.

Yet I love the INCREDIBLE HULK series. It’s weird.

I had been saying for YEARS that Johnson was on the record about finding the alliteration childish, but no one believed me (I suspect they preferred the other story because it was truly controversial). No one has, to my knowledge, EVER said one damned word about ALL those silly names Stan Lee gave to early Marvel characters, beginning with Reed Richards and Sue Storm in FF#1, and continuing through Peter Parker, Matt Murdock and Stephen Strange, as well as Bruce/Bob Banner. I have ALWAYS felt this way about those, well before the Hulk show reached the airwaves, and now that Johnson’s feeling the same is irrefutably documented, STILL no comment on that point itself. Strange.

Saying Johnson was on the record is one thing.

Having a quote from Johnson on the record is another.

I’ve seen plenty of the former, but I’d prefer to have the latter before I do an installment on it.

I heard an Urban Legend (heh) that the reason so many of those names are alliterative is because Smilin’ Stan was writing a gazillion comics a day, and he had to use some sort of mnemonic device to keep the names straight; he found it easier if he could know that the character’s first and last names began with the same letter.

Of course, it could just be an urban legend. :-)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 5, 2006 at 1:12 am

Micheal Bailey: “It boggles my mind that the movie and television studios will chase people down to direct their projects who obviously have no respect for the material.”

Have you seen the Daredevil movie?
Sometimes a bit of distance can be a good thing – X-men, Superman, – or you end up with DD, where the person being a fan was the thing that ruined it.

Chris: “I heard an Urban Legend (heh) that the reason so many of those names are alliterative is because Smilin’ Stan was writing a gazillion comics a day, and he had to use some sort of mnemonic device to keep the names straight; he found it easier if he could know that the character’s first and last names began with the same letter.”

I heard that at DC it became a bit of a contest to see how many characters you could make with the initials “L.L”.

Hmm, so that explains why I never really got into the Hulk series, well that and it was a watered down version of “The Fugitive.”

Brian—”Saying Johnson was on the record is one thing. Having a quote from Johnson on the record is something else.”

First, as I mentioned somewhere else (probably on the Kirby’s–leaving–DC thread which was left on the old site), I liquidated a great deal of my library some years ago (specifically early 1994), so I couldn’t even begin to track the statement down and list the citation, but I KNEW he had said it, and therefore felt it needed to be pointed out.
Second, what I meant was that NOBODY was saying anything about the alliteration in and of itself and not necessarily in connection with the Hulk TV show, not that you didn’t do an update or something like that about Johnson. Of course, THAT’s no longer true, either, I see. Thank you, Chris. Speaking of his comment, I wonder just how much Stan was actually writing then. After all, said huge quantity doesn’t justify expressly depicting the Human Torch’s true identity of Johnny Storm as a secret in his Strange Tales solo series, especially since Lee has claimed that he made the Fantastic Four’s identities non–secret in the first place as a deliberate change of pace from most superhero comics. True, the GCD gives him only plot credit on the Torch stories with brother Larry Lieber scripting, but didn’t the relevant volume of the old Marvel Comics Index series (my copy being among that aforementioned long–gone stuff, so I am truly ASKING) list Stan as THE writer?

Waitaminnit- Kenneth Johnson created the Hulk? Stan and Jack- those dirty liars!

SanctumSanctorumComix

August 6, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Uh…So, what WAS in that INSERT?

A pin-up?
Some gov’t line?
A coupon for free gov’t cheese?

What??

~P~
P-TOR

You know, I’ve always heard the same thing that Jim Kosmicki did about the price increase – that it was Marvel attempting to screw over DC and get their price increase at the same time. Marvel telegraphed to DC that they were raising their cover price to 25 cents, DC followed suit, and Marvel backed off to 20 cents, leaving DC with more expensive comics (because DC couldn’t move as fast as Marvel did – they were much bigger). Something rings false about the idea that Marvel wouldn’t have checked their costs enough to see whether the new price would be sustainable or not and would have to back off of it so quickly. Plus, the fact that I’ve seen this referenced as the tipping point from when DC went from #1 to #2 in the industry also makes it seem shadier than the above story would indicate.

And yo, a price freeze may sound asinine now, but back in the day it was conventional wisdom that a Price and Wage Freeze was how you slowed down inflation. The little pokes and prods that the Central Banks do now are a result of a shift away from the model of freezes that were, while not common, thought to be one of the only ways to keep inflation under control back in the day. From an economic standpoint, it seems to make sense (since you’re directly impacting the rising prices and rising wages which are the primary cause of inflation), but its a really heavy-handed intervention into the market that fell out of favor as the seventies progressed and inflation got worse regardless (mainly due to skyrocketing energy prices, which could only be controlled so much by a national price freeze, given that most oil was imported, even at the time.)

Here’s something for your consideration, Brian. Again, the documentation is something I no longer possess, sorry, but sometime and somewhere, I read an article or maybe even a lettercolumn about the troubles Jack Kirby was having with Marvel, and it was mentioned more or less in passing that Jack at least threatened legal action (successfully) to remove a “Created by Stan Lee” credit from a Captain America movie. The piece was no more specific than that, leaving the question, which “Cap” flick? NONE of what came out of the late 1970s development deal between Marvel Comics, Universal Studios, and CBS–TV have any sort of a creator credit, just a notice that Marvel owns and licensed the property, and a “Consultant” credit for Smiley. Was Jack still alive when the Cannon Films flop with Matt Salinger (finally) came out? Of course, it could be a case of B.S. seeing print because it jibed with somebody’s pro–Kirby/anti–Marvel (or Lee) feelings. Or does somebody here know more?

I’ve got one for you… Howard Mackie was writer “X” from the Brotherhood? The early 00′s mutant series

That one’s been nagging me for a while

Regards!

“And if you liked Big John Buscema’s pandemonious pin-ups as much as we do – you’ve already got ‘em all hangin’ loose on your living room wall, just as we intended!”

I see you’ve moved since I last visited.

It’s not really an urban legend as such, but I’d like to know whatever happened to the Doctor Strange series JMS was supposed to be doing, and which kept being footnoted and set-up in issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and ended up with Strange bing whisked off to stand on trial for crimes against the timestream in ASM #500, complete with a “To be continued in Doctor Strange #1″. The subsequent orgin retelling that JMS co-wrote doesn’t seem to have much to do with that plotline, so what happened to JMS’ original series? Did it get cancelled, turned into the origin miniseries, or is it still on the way?

Was there a New Avengers tie-in issue that featured Daredevil as a member in previews, only to include “Ronin” when it was published? I don’t remember which book it would be, but I recall it waas one of the third-tier titles, possibly one of the anthology books, and undoubtedly cancelled since.

Oh, and did Warren Ellis really [SPOILER!] tell fans that Planetary‘s Elijah Snow wasn’t the “Fourth Man” because he’d made the mystery far too obvious?

Anastasios Pelekanos

August 28, 2006 at 7:39 pm

The glossy was 4 pages of Fantastic Four villain pin-ups. If I recall correctly there were two villains per page with a brief paragraph about each villain. They included Dr. Doom, Moleman, the Wizard (and as mentioned in his paragraph “nee Wingless Wizard”) and the Trapster.

I don’t believe Stan actually made it to Nixon’s enemies list. It sounded more like a little bureaucratic issue.

Ted Watson – “No one has, to my knowledge, EVER said one damned word about ALL those silly names Stan Lee gave to early Marvel characters, beginning with Reed Richards and Sue Storm in FF#1, and continuing through Peter Parker, Matt Murdock and Stephen Strange, as well as Bruce/Bob Banner.”

I don’t think Bill Bryson considers alliterative initials silly. Or Mike Marts. Or Stephen Stills, Parker Posey, Robbie Robertson, Mike Myers, Joe Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Janet Jackson, Geoff Johns (phonetic), Jack Johnson, Ben Browder, Claudia Christian, Alan Alda, Don Davis, Dom DeLouise, Mark Millar, Gary Groth, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Chris Kattan, Kevin Keegan, Dana Delaney, Noel Neill, Barry Bonds, Bob Barker, Brigitte Bardot, Ted Turner…

Russell H:

It works for entertainment industry figures the way it allegedly worked for Stan, i.e., it makes the name easier to remember, and it’s important to those folks that WE remember them. I still say such names sound silly in everyday life and, analogously, with fictional characters.

Russell H: “It works for entertainment industry figures the way it allegedly worked for Stan, i.e., it makes the name easier to remember, and it’s important to those folks that WE remember them. I still say such names sound silly in everyday life and, analogously, with fictional characters.”

If it works for entertainment industry figures, why doesn’t it work for fictional characters?

For that matter, it would be stupid for real life people to be calling themselves Spider-Man or Hulk, so I guess fictional characters can’t be named that either.

“If it works for entertainment industry figures, why doesn’t it work for fictional characters?”

Fictional characters, particularly superheroes who have their “super” names for recognizability, are supposed to be everyday type people with everyday type names. There are some explicit exceptions, of course, but THEY are just that, exceptions.

“Fictional characters, particularly superheroes who have their “super” names for recognizability, are supposed to be everyday type people with everyday type names. There are some explicit exceptions, of course, but THEY are just that, exceptions.”

On the other hand, they are in fact fictional characters and are better remembered with a snappy name, whether it’s their real name or their super-hero name. I don’t see what the problem is, especially when most of them are pretty common first and last names to begin with.

All it really takes is for one non-fictional, non-celebrity person to have an alliterative name to shoot holes in his theory. It may be comicbooky, but it’s not unrealistic…

–yo
went to school with Sara Stewart

I, a while ago, saw the Kevin Smith interview dvd – And Evening With Kevin Smith, I think it is. On it, there was a small bit with Stan Lee.

In this interview, Stan Lee himself, said the name ‘Bruce’ was changed because it sounded ‘gay’.

I have seen Lee make that point a few times, too, Andrew, but the fact of the matter is, Stan Lee is just not a good source for, well, ANYthing.

Note how Lee has not been used as a source for any of these Urban Legends so far – the guy, great as he is, just doesn’t have the best memory, and he seems to go by the theory of “If I don’t remember it, let me just go with what sounds most interesting.”

The line “I don’t remember feeling that way” sure sounds like Johnson’s covering up. I’m really more inclined to believe Stan Lee on this one. I mean do seriously believe that this guy would admit to being a homophobe in this day and age?

Although Bill Bixby portrayed David Banner in the series and movies, Lou Ferrigno finally got his chance to play the role in a commercial for a senior citizen’s residential area. In it, he is building a boat and hits his hand with a hammer, causing the inevitable transformation from Banner to Hulk. The Hulk then shatters the boat with his fists before realizing that the boat is named the “S.S. SERENITY.” He then sits down and reads a book on how to control his temper. Lou played the role of Banner in the commercial because the actor who had portrayed Banner in the series, Bill Bixby, had already been dead for over a decade.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned that Marvel finally went with a Red Hulk after all….

ParanoidObsessive

July 30, 2011 at 10:30 am

Well, this article WAS originally posted about 2 years before Rulk showed up, and the comments kind of trailed off long since.

Interesting that the subject came up shortly before Marvel came up with the idea, though. Maybe Quesada was watching the DVD commentary (or reading this article!) shortly before he pitched it…

aren’t there examples of real-world people with alliterative names? It just seems so arbitrary to go from Bruce to David.. Oh well..

I don’t think the alliterative names sound “comic-booky”. I never thought twice about the alliteration until it was pointed out. And “Bruce Banner” just rolls off the tongue so well, whereas “David Banner” doesn’t.

And about inflation. Jer rightly points out that price and wage controls are heavy-handed interventions, but like many people seems not to realize that rising prices and wages are not the cause of inflation, but rather a result of inflation. It is monetary inflation that usually leads to price increases, as the value of the currency is driven down. Our monetary supply is mostly controlled by the Federal Reserve and the fractional reserve banking system. The Fed has long had a policy of small but continual inflation every year–usually about 3% a year. The more recent Quantitative Easings would have been disastrous if the banks hadn’t been cautious about lending out that money. As it is, QE has still resulted in more noticeable price inflation in the last couple of years.
I’m not trying to rant or lecture–I’m just trying to correct an economic urban legend. ;-)

Geoffrey Freeman

May 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

I’m WAY late to this conversation, and I just skimmed the comments, but I do think it’s funny that Bruce Banner supposedly was too alliterative even though he was going to be played by Bill Bixby. That cracks me up, and, if anyone else pointed this out, then laugh with me….

Timothy Markin

May 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm

If Kenneth Johnson had such disdain for comic books as he seems to then why bother to adapt one? Proudly proclaiming that he tried to distance himself from Hulk’s comic book sources is saying he has no respect for the medium, and makes me wonder how he was even aware of the character’s existence. And I also can’t stand when tv producers are credited with creating a character based on a comic, instead of a “show developed by” credit. It gives the non-cognoscenti out there the idea that Johnson DID create the Hulk instead of Stan & Jack. I remember the dust-up with Chris Carter and James Hudnall regarding “Harsh Realm.” That should be covered here somehow to show how things have changed regarding comic creator credits in tv and movies.

I believe Carmine Infantino went so far as to say in an interview that he had a formal agreement with Stan Lee for DC and Marvel to raise the price of their books concurrently, but the very next month, Marvel intentionally reneged on the deal.

I can’t dispute Infantino, since he was there, but I do wonder if pricing is something that Stan would have been negotiating about in 1971, or if Chip Goodman was still in the picture? I would think something like that would have been more Chip’s responsibility than Stan’s.

Well Stan Lee has numerous times contradicted Kenneth Johnson stating that he himself was told that Bruce sounded too homosexual when he contacted the networks to ask why Bruce was changed to David. I think this one is still up in the air in all honesty. It’s neither false, nor true, just two different versions of essentially the same story.

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