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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #85

This is the eighty-fifth 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 eighty-four. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Superman battled the real life Ku Klux Klan on his radio show.

STATUS: True

The Superman radio show was a great success during the 1940s.

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The show lasted into the 1950s, with actor Bud Collyer portraying Superman (and Clark Kent) for all but the very last season.

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The storyline we’re interested in today, though, took place in the late 1940s, where the Superman radio show took Superman’s fight for truth, justice and the American way to, of all people, the Ku Klux Klan.

Author and activist Stetson Kennedy is well known for his work undercover in the Ku Klux Klan during the 1940s.

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Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner wrote about his work in their recent best-seller, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (which I actually saw a fellow reading on the subway earlier tonight, talk about funny coincidences!). It appears now that Kennedy exaggerated a few of his exploits working undercover with the KKK, specifically taking credit for some things other people did, but what is not disputed is that at one point, Kennedy sent along to the Superman radio show some codewords he learned while with the Klan in Georgia, where the Klan was headed by former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Dr. Samuel Green.

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This info was featured in a sixteen-part series on the Superman radio show called “The Clan of the Fiery Cross,” which featured the codewords of the Klan in the story as Superman confronts the Klan.

This storyline reportedly greatly outraged the Klan in Georgia, even supposedly moving them to attempt a boycott of the show’s sponsors, which did not work, as the show remained on the air (that is, if the threatened boycott ever actually happened at all).

The Adventures in Radio Podcast contains some excerpts of the series. Check them out here.

Pretty cool, huh?

Readers Michael E. and Mark Seddon suggested that I feature this urban legend. Thanks for the idea, guys!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: John Romita Sr. helped design the Transformers for the American cartoon show and comic book.

STATUS: False

Reader Duck asked, “I one time read that John Romita Sr had a hand in designing Transformers into their cartoon forms for the show & the Marvel comic. Does anyone know if it’s true?”

As pointed out in an earlier installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Marvel was heavily involved in the repackaging of Japanese toys that became known as “Transformers” in America.

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However, Marvel’s involvement was solely on the writing side of the project. Marvel did no art design for the Transformers toys or the cartoon tie-in, they just provided the back-story and came up with new names (Denny O’Neil came up with Optimus Prime, and Bob Budiansky came up with Megatron, among many others).

And yet, John Romita, Sr. is often credited for the cartoon visuals.

One theory as to why that presents itself is that, in the Marvel Guide to the Transformers Universe, John Romita is listed as “Art Director.”

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Couple that with the fact that Romita has a storied history for designing characters at Marvel, and then couple THAT with the fact that, for years, no one knew who exactly did the design work for the Transformers cartoon, and it is really no surprise that Romita, a prominent name, became the default presumption for who designed the Transformers cartoon.

Of course, though, the “Art Director” credit was just to point out that Romita was Art Director of Marvel Comics, not the Transformers. Romita had no connection to the Transformers.

Eventually, it was discovered that the the designs for the cartoon were done by artist Floro Dery. You can check out his website here.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Roy Thomas used a pseudonym to retcon a 90s Conan storyline before it even finished!!

STATUS: True

In the early 90s, perhaps in an attempt to have their own “Year One” style story, Conan the Barbarian began a long (NINE parts!) storyline detailing the life of the Young Conan the Barbarian.

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It began with issue #232. It was written by Michael Higgins. The editor on the project was Don Daley.

The story repeatedly messed with established Conan continuity. The story was built around a framing sequence that had Conan addressing his son Conn with tales of his youth.

Well, by the last part of the story, the title had changed editors. Mike Rockwitz was now the editor, and for the last issue, Higgins was no longer the writer. Instead it was a writer named Justin Arthur.

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In the last issue, Arthur ended the issue by having Conan, after finishing his tale to his son, admitting to his wife Zenobia that he just made most of the story up.

In case the name sounds a bit familiar, Justin Arthur was the alias for the Golden Age DC hero, The Shining Knight.

As it turned out (and was confirmed in a later issue of Conan Saga), “Justin Arthur” was, in fact, noted Conan comic writer Roy Thomas, who presumably had his concerns with the drastic changes to Conan’s backstory, and the change in editors presumably gave him a perfect opportunity to resolve the inconsistencies.

But isn’t that amazing? A story retconned BEFORE IT ENDED!!

Let’s see Superboy’s punch beat THAT!

Reader John McDonagh suggested this one, and supplied most of the info. Thanks, John!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

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

34 Comments

Didn’t you guys already cover the Superman vs the Klan story?

Are you sure Ron Lim penciled that cover? It says “Higgins – Lee” next to the white Spidey box, and that doesn’t look anything at all like Ron Lim’s work. They do look like Jim Lee’s inks, however.

I’d never thought of the Lee/Williams/Portacio “tiny crosshatching” school of inking as having a connection to Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan work, but that was obviously Lee’s intention on this cover.

you’re right, that looks nothing like Ron Lim’s pencil’s. and it can’t be Higgins, the writer, could it? his name’s on the cover, but was it really him?
could this be part of a future installment of Comic book Urban Legends? omg, i just can’t wait!

I own these comics. Ron Lim was really the artist. I think he hasn’t done any cover. Rodney Ramos was penciling a couple of issues in this story. That’s why the confusion.

The Conan cover was pencilled (or perhaps it was layouts) by Mike Higgins and Jim Lee did the inks/finishes. I remember occasional artistic contributions from Higgins during the 80s so there you go…

Captain America died in 1991 aged 50 years old?…

Look at the bottom the last Conan the Barbarian cover!

To Eqdoktor:
It’s not an RIP memorial. The reference was to Marvel’s recognizing Cap’s 50th anniversary. The first Cap story appeared in 1941; the anniversary date was 1991. As I recall, that appeared on all of Marvel’s direct market covers (in place of the UPC bars).

Re: RIP Cap

No, I’m afraid Cap actually died in 1991. Too many Hostess snacks. We’ve been following the adventures of a clone for the past 15 years. Sad but true.

No, no, no. The “clone” Cap that first appeared in 1991 was the real Cap all along. The Cap that died in 1991 was really the clone Cap created in the original “Clone Cap” story, who took over as Captain America. For the previous 15 years, loyal Cap readers were following the adventures of the clone, as the real Cap took another identity and lived a normal life.

Didn’t you guys already cover the Superman vs the Klan story?

Nope, just one that I probably SHOULD have done a lot earlier, as it’s pretty notable. :)

Okay, looking a little further into it, I shouldn’t have just taken the word that it was Lim (I thought perhaps Lee’s inks were just THAT strong, that it made it not look like Lim and that Michael Higgins was just getting a credit for the comic for some weird reason :)).

The actual penciller was JOHN Higgins, perhaps most noted for his work on Hellblazer with Warren Ellis.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 12, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Was the Conan storyline THAT bad?
Or was Roy Thomas showing once again, that he’s the biggest nerd of them all, and didn’t want anyone to harm ‘his’ baby?

Was the Conan storyline THAT bad?
Or was Roy Thomas showing once again, that he’s the biggest nerd of them all, and didn’t want anyone to harm ‘his’ baby?

I couldn’t say.

And I hope I didn’t give any indication that I thought it was one or the other! I was trying to describe it neutrally.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

January 12, 2007 at 5:22 pm

“I couldn’t say.

And I hope I didn’t give any indication that I thought it was one or the other! I was trying to describe it neutrally.”

You did describe it neutrally.

I was just curious as to what reason someone would feel the need to retcon a story before it was over.
i.e. Was it truly terrible, or was it that Roy Thomas didn’t want his ‘baby’ (even though it’s not) toyed with?

Stetson Kennedy. I’m writing his name in.

Here’s a comics convergence you might find interesting. Back in the mid-80’s, DC Editor Dick Giordano wrote “Meanwhile” columns that appeared in the back of DC books. In one multi-part column, he did a “Day in the Life of the DC Editor” type thing in which he ran down everything he did in one day. What’s interesting about this is that to the best of my recollection, on this day he had his first look at two pitches that he found highly appealing: Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. If so, then that’s one heck of a day…kinda like unearthing the Illiad and the Odyssey in an afternoon.

I remember him doing a Day in the Life column, but I don’t remember the particulars! If so, that WOULD be pretty darn neat, Sam!

I’m almost positive the Conan story was bad.

Higgins was one of the worst writers at Marvel. I’m not sure how he got into writing, but he was given Excalibur bookshelf stories and fill-ins, and was writing for MCP. He also took over Power Pack, with the awful storyline that made fans go crazy (Alex turning into a horse, the secret identities revealed). His work was retconned by Alan Davis on Excalibur and Louise Simonson on Power Pack.

He was more or less the “Chuck Austin” of the time.

I may be biased, because I loved her take on the Power Pack, but the Power Pack Holiday Special by Simonson was one of the most expertly done retcons that I can recall offhand.

I always thought that cover to Transformers #1 was pretty strange looking. It was painted and Optimus is crushing a little plane in his giant fists. Was that Starscream or whatever his name was?

…Nono, the Clone Cap was from Earth-Too, and the Earth-616 Cap was the real one. However, the Super-Cap from Earth-Primed-And-Loaded used his Shield to break through the barrier, and his “Cap Punch” retconned everything into the mess we know as “Civil War”.

Thanks for getting around to the Superman vs KKK story.

Freakonomics makes for an interesting read – though it looks like the authors (Levitt and Dubner) themselves fell foul of an urban legend (relying on Kennedy’s acccount), and over-empasised the extent that the Superman radio show damaged the real life KKK . They write that the Superman radio show gave away much of the secret language and rituals, causing the clan to be exposed and ridiculed. However, when one listens to the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” series expecting to hear the secret language and description of the secret rituals peppered throughout the series, none or very little is found. The authors feel that they have been “hoodwinked” by Kennedy and will modify this chapter in a revised edition of the book.

> Freakonomics makes for an interesting read – though
> it looks like the authors (Levitt and Dubner)
> themselves fell foul of an urban legend (relying on
> Kennedy’s acccount), and over-empasised the extent
> that the Superman radio show damaged the real life
> KKK…The authors feel that they have
> been “hoodwinked” by Kennedy and will modify this
> chapter in a revised edition of the book.

Apparently already done. I leafed through a new edition of FREAKONOMICS at the bookstore the other day and it included and addendum about their initial Stetson Kennedy account.

Yeah, Mark, I made sure to steer clear of that stuff in my version.

In my research, it really appeared as though, beyond Kennedy over-exaggerating, the media coverage of the whole thing was grossly exaggerated as well, and I mean the coverage from back THEN!

It WAS bold of the show to do the KKK storyline, but really, it wasn’t THAT big of a deal.

“Was the Conan storyline THAT bad?”

It contained numerous contradictions to Savage Sword of Conan#119 or so (the death of his father and family, including Siobhan) and possibly CTB I#119 (his grandfather).

Conan the Barbarian #235 depicted the famous Raid on Venarum. The raid on
Venarum, while never fully seen before, was partially depicted/referred to in
Conan the Barbarian #8, #145, #261, and Savage Sword of Conan #6. The version
seen in Conan the Barbarian #235 does not mesh well with these versions, and in
any event, was eventually superseded by Conan the Adventurer #1’s account of the
Battle of Venarum.

It’s not an unrban legend, but Skyman’s costume being changed at the last minute because of similarities to a marvel character’s?

Not to be too terribly pedantic about Transformers (but hey, it’s a comics blog, so whatever) but Dery is generally credited with the character designs for the second-season and Movie characters. The first-season designs were done by a Japanese designer, Syouhei Kohara (sp?). (This is why even though all the Decepticon jets are essentially the same toy, the 1984 ones have *very* different models from the 1985 ones. It’s also the case with some of the Autobot cars that share molds, too.)

-hx

I think should be expressed in Comics becuase kids love comics and they can learn through History with comics

Mike Rockwitz

May 4, 2007 at 9:09 am

I was the editor of Conan when Justin Arthur aka Roy Thomas took over. Michael Higgins was a dear friend of mine, but even I knew his talents were not in writing and or drawing. #232 cover was penciled by Higgins to mimic Barry Windsor Smith. it was given to Jim Lee to salvage as it failed to achieve its original goal. I too was the editor of Power Pack when Higgins was writer. that book had run its course and the damage was done by the time I inherited it. He turned the kid into a horse-embarrassingly so. it sucked. We were told to kill the book-the sales and interest were in the toilet. I would like to state that I did ask Louise Simonson and June if they wanted to come back to the book-but they declined.

Higgins also did the cover to an issue of Nightmask that was drawn by Keith Giffen doing his second rate Kirby impression. The tale behind that was to undo what Jim Shooter tried to set up in that continuity-the world outside your window. Once Shooter was fired Higgins decided to “piss” on his grave. Justmy 2 cents worth

ParanoidObsessive

November 19, 2008 at 9:23 pm

>>> No, I’m afraid Cap actually died in 1991. Too many Hostess snacks. We’ve been following the adventures of a clone for the past 15 years. Sad but true.

>>> No, no, no. The “clone” Cap that first appeared in 1991 was the real Cap all along. The Cap that died in 1991 was really the clone Cap created in the original “Clone Cap” story, who took over as Captain America. For the previous 15 years, loyal Cap readers were following the adventures of the clone, as the real Cap took another identity and lived a normal life.

The real irony of this is that in the Captain America title, Cap fought the Red Skull in issue 300, which eventually led to the storyline where Captain America was strapped down, had cells extracted, and those cells were used to clone the Red Skull in Steve Rogers’ body. Cap spent at least some of that time unconscious, so it would theoretically be MORE than possible to imply that the REAL Cap has been in suspended animation ever since, and that the Cap who’s been running around for the last 24 years was, in fact, his clone.

So clearly, the real Cap died in 1991, still a prisoner of the Red Skull, while it was his clone who continued as Cap and eventually died in the Civil War.

I was just recalling a Golden Age howler in the Deacon story from CAT-MAN #32, on the sixth and final page. On that page, in the fifth of sixth panels, the villain’s henchwoman – a champion swimmer – is pictured; she is acting as his wife’s nurse. However, the dialogue coming out of her mouth is that of the villain’s wife, the very woman who is under her care. Specifically, she says:

“I recovered when Lance [the villain] was killed. I have been living in terror of him for years. In public, he was a good man, but at home, he was a real villain.”

There is another Golden Age story I was recalling, a Ka-Zar tale that first appeared in JUNGLE COMICS #75 and was reprinted in KA-ZAR #4. When the story was reprinted, the art was used but the original dialogue was not. Instead, new dialogue was created specifically for the reprint for some reason.

I know this entry is long, LONG past but… is there any chance the Conan retcon may have had to do with changes made to Robert E. Howard’s origin? Whether the story was awful, or Roy Thomas was overly-protective, both of these would pale in comparison to any contradiction of the source material.

I know we (as comic fans) tend to think of comic-book Conan as the definitive one, but I would think Roy Thomas, as a Conan fan and a writer himself, would be beholden to the original stories more than anything.

@TJCoolguy, the trouble is that Howard left a lot of gaps in between his stories, and he didn’t even try to write the Conan stories in any chronological order, although he apparently did have a rough timeline of Conan’s life worked out. It was left to L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter to put the Conan stories in chronological order and add a few more stories in the 1960’s Lancer series.

The Sacking of Venarium was mentioned by Howard, but never described in any detail, so Roy’s take on it in the early Marvel comics was, for all intents and purposes, the original and definitive version.

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