Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #72
This is the seventy-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 seventy-one. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Denny O’Neil named Optimus Prime.
With the great success of the G.I. Joe toyline, which was based upon story ideas invented by Marvel editor Larry Hama, Hasbro decided that they would go to Marvel once again for their new toyline, Transformers, which was made up of a combination of two lines of toys by the Japanese toy company, Takara.
Since they were taking two toy lines and merging them into one, not to mention the fact that the toy names were all Japanese, Hasbro went to Marvel for a new background for the new toyline and for names of the figures.
ASM: In an issue of Marvel Age from 1984, it was stated that Jim Shooter and Denny O’Neil created the background story for The Transformers and came up with the personalities for the first 28. Jim Shooter has gone on to say that he brought you in to name all of them. Can you tell us exactly how far in the development process were you actually brought in?
Bob Budiansky:My recollection is different, but only slightly. Shooter and O’Neil came up with the backstory, that’s true. I had nothing to do with that. Shooter brought me in when most of the initial names and at least some of the character profiles were rejected by Hasbro. For whatever reason, Denny declined to revise them. So, facing an imminent deadline, Shooter scoured the Marvel editorial offices looking for someone who could write at least basic English. The first few Marvel editors Shooter approached, all with more writing experience than me, wanted nothing to do with Transformers. I was probably Shooter’s third or fourth choice. I turned around the revisions over a couple of days — right before Thanksgiving of 1983 — and Hasbro was very pleased with what I wrote. I renamed most of the characters (Optimus Prime was Denny’s, Megatron was mine), and revised some character profiles.
ASM: Some character names mentioned in the Marvel Age article (such as BLOW-OUT and SPIN-OUT) differ from the final ones (they became CLIFFJUMPER and SUNSTREAKER, respectively). Were name changes from promotion to finished product common?
Budiansky:For that initial 28, yes. But for most of the Transformers that I developed over the next four years or so, I’d say 80% of the names I submitted got approved on the first try. Most of the rest I got on the second try. Hasbro was usually thrilled with what I submitted. One thing I did to improve the odds of getting Hasbro’s approval was to give Hasbro more than one choice of a name for a new toy. Often, I’d come up with three or four that I thought could potentially fit a particular character. I must have named well over a hundred during that period.
ASM:One thing that set the Transformers apart from other toylines in the ’80s was its use of Latinate names – Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Fortress Maximus, and Omega Supreme spring to mind. Was this an aesthetic decision on your part, or due to a mandate from Hasbro?
Budiansky:Give Denny O’Neil credit for that. He started it by naming Optimus Prime. Generally, Hasbro wanted more literal names for most of the toys, but for some of the really major toys, they preferred names with more grandeur to them, so they pushed me to follow in the vein of Op Prime on those. I think I named Fortress Maximus, and possibly Omega Supreme.
Optimus Prime was called Konboi (Convoy) in Japan.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Ethan Van Sciver took over from Alan Davis on Green Lantern: Rebirth.
When Green Lantern:Rebirth was first announced a couple of years back, there was a lot of confusion over who was going to be involved in the project.
One rumor was that Alan Davis was going to be the artist with writer Geoff Johns. There was enough talk that Alan Davis actually addressed the topic on his official website.
I have had a number of questions about the Green Lantern relaunch, (which I haven’t seen yet), and I’m happy to set the record straight.
When I was nearing completion of Another Nail, Peter Tomasi asked me if I’d consider writing and pencilling one of the proposed Green Lantern relaunch titles. I agreed, enthusiastically, with the proviso that I submit a proposal prior to signing any contract. Peter had said DC wanted to ‘shake-up’ the book(s) and I needed to ensure the new direction would be one I’d enjoy working on. I sent in a proposal which initially seemed to have been accepted but was eventually refused because it was too radical. Which was fair comment because I had overhauled some of the most essential elements of GL mythology in an attempt to rationalise the convoluted continuity– by redefining the reasons for the 24 hour recharge, the colour yellow weakness, why there are three or four Lantern’s on Earth when there are only 3600 in the entire galaxy– and why Hal became the Spectre.
Dan Didio suggested that I could do my story in an Elseworlds but, not only had I just spent a year on Another Nail, my GL story specifically arose out of the mainstream continuity– as a solution to problems arising from that continuity. It didn’t really seem as much an Elseworld as a ‘What IF..?’.
There was never any animosity or ‘falling-out’ over the situation. In fact, despite the fact I had written my proposal without a solid commission, Dan bought out my idea and I was paid for my time. I do regret that I never got the chance to do the story I conceived but I had always thought it a long-shot and all in all I was treated more than fairly by Peter and Dan.
I, for one, think it would have been pretty darn cool if we had gotten this on Green Lantern: Rebirth…
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Scott Lobdell became the writer of Uncanny X-Men by happening to be walking in the right place at the right time.
After Chris Claremont left X-Men, artists Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio drew and co-plotted X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, respectively. They brought in John Byrne to script the stories, but ultimately, Byrne was given far too little time to reasonably script the issues. That is how Scott Lobdell was brought into the picture.
Lobdell’s first issue was #286 – he took over the book solely a few issues later.
But exactly how Lobdell was chosen is an interesting anecdote, which Fabian Nicieza related on usenet a few years ago:
You know — I was NEVER “officially” OFFERED the monthly writing of the X-MEN book by my editor. Bob asked me for an emergency scripting job on an X-MEN issue (I forget the #) because John wouldn’t script it under the ridiculous deadline that was imposing on the books and when Bob came down to my office to ask me, I just smiled and said, “Nope.”
And Scott Lobell walked by my office on his way down the hall to talk to another editor and Bob looked at me and I looked at him and Bob said, “Please, no” (he might have even said, Please, DEAR GOD, no!!” I don’t recall ) and I smiled even wider and pointed my finger in Scott’s direction knowing Scott could script on that deadline (and knowing he would do a good job too). Bob walked down the hall with a hang-dog look of resignation on his face and that’s how Scott got involved in scripting over Jim and Whilce’s plots.
Then I pitched in by plotting two scheduled “fill-in” issues #12-13 (which were being prepared pending the possibility of Jim leaving the book), then we just sort of agreed I would work on the X-CUTIONER’s SONG issues (after Jim and Whilce and Rob left to star Image) and then I kept working on the book while Scott worked on Uncanny.
In all honesty, it just sort of ended up “happening” with no real premeditated plan on my part of the editor’s to put the pieces into place (there was such a flurry of uncertainty and awkwardness over the whole Image thing combined with a giddiness over the incredible sales at the time that it was more a locomotive chugging forward that you had to grab on to as it passed by much more so than a locomotive making planned station stops, if you get the analogy).
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