web stats

CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #110

This is the one-hundredth and tenth 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 one-hundred and nine. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Special theme week! This week’s theme is Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy!

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: A comic character was made an actual citizen in Japan!


One of the amusing aspects of Science Fiction of the past is the way that the dates they chose for the “far-off future” have slowly creeped up on us. That was the case with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (in Japan, it roughly translates to “The Mighty Atom”).

Created in 1951, Osamu Tezuka set his story of a futuristic Pinnochio in the future, and had Astro Boy created on April 7, 2003.


Well, as you may have noticed, it is well past 2003 now. So how was the date celebrated?

In the city of Niiza, just north of Tokyo, where they were producing a new Astro Boy cartoon for a time, they celebrated by making Astro Boy, who strived always to be human, an actual citizen!

The mayor, Hiroko Nakayama named Astro Boy as an “ambassador for the future,” and registered him as residing in the animation studio where his cartoon was being made.

Pretty cool, huh?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Astro Boy name came about because NBC was afraid DC would sue them over the name “The Mighty Atom.”


If you look on the IMDB page for Astro Boy under trivia, you find the following:

Originally, NBC wanted to air the show under an English translation of the Japanese title “Tetsuwan Atomu” or “Mighty Atom”. However, DC Comics had a magazine at the time called The Mighty Atom, and skittish network lawyers therefore requested a name change to forestall a lawsuit by DC.


That sounded wrong to me (besides the whole no sourcing thing).

DC would not seem to have much of a standing to sue here, as they didn’t have a cartoon series featuring the Atom at the time, and heck, The Mighty Atom PRECEEDED DC’s current Atom series by a good many years.

So I went to animation expert Harvey Deneroff, and he, in turn, checked with Fred Ladd, the noted producer who adapted the Mighty Atom into Astro Boy for NBC, and Ladd said he did not hear that at the time (or since) and did not believe it, even pointing out the NBC executive who came up with the name, and noting that there was no mention of the comic book character in the creation of the name.

So I’m pretty willing to give this a status of false.

Thanks to Harvey Deneroff and Fred Ladd!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: In Japan, the re-runs of Astro Boy they use are sub-titled American versions.


An interesting change in popular culture in the last twenty or so years is the realization of the creators of works today that the work they produce might very well have a lasting impact. This was not the case so much in years past, where companies like DC Comics would just literally throw out used original artwork. Imagine the treasure trove of amazing artwork just thrown in the trash!

Likewise, the storage of old television programs were often considered a luxury that was not worth it.

That situation led to the freakish occurance that is the basis of this urban legend. As you probably know, Astro Boy is an English adaptation of the original Japanese anime of the 1960s. The character was re-named and all the dialogue was re-dubbed into English (plus some other changes were made between the Japanese version and the American).

The original copies that the Japanese production company, Mushi, sent to the Americans to adapt, were held by NBC until the mid-70s, when NBC attempted to return them to Mushi.

Mushi declared that, since they were going through bankruptcy, they could not receive the copies. Therefore, NBC simply burned them.


Later on, then, when Japanese channels wished to broadcast the original episodes – they no longer existed to re-air! So all they could do was to import the AMERICAN version, and add Japanese sub-titles!

This results in some pretty poor DVD collections, too, sadly!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

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


I heard that Mighty Atom was renamed Astro Boy because a skittish NBC executive was reluctant to use the original name. He believed that “atom” called atomic bombs to mind.

Astro Boy sounds better, anyway.

In the 50’s, company called Magazine Enterprises published four issues of a title called The Mighty Atom, later The Mighty Atom and the Pixies…I still have a coverless copy of the latter. And no, smart-asses, I didn’t buy it off the stands.

Anyway, perhaps that’s where the confusion might have begun.

Japan’s weird.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 5, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Huh, that’s nothing!

You should watch MPD Psycho and Audition!

Like watching Twin Peaks and CSI on crack!

“Tetsuwan Atomu” translates to “Iron-Arm Atom”, by the way, not “Mighty Atom”. That’s just what pretty much everywhere uses.
Also, the first one could be confirmed by, you know, looking up Astro Boy on Wikipedia…

“Likewise, the storage of old television programs were often considered a luxury that was not worth it.”

I read on a website the other day that “At last, the 1948 Show”, a pre-Monty Python show has no copies available in England. Someone found 5 episodes of the series in Sweden.

That´s really, really sad.


July 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm

The burning of tapes thing is a sad fact of TV history.

Especially in the UK where episodes were taped and then the tapes were wiped so they could be re-used to film another episode.

Then, to make it all worse, every tape and copy eventually was destroyed.

This practice went on up till the late 1970’s (and some much later than that)!

Which is, sadly, why early seasons of DOCTOR WHO and the AVENGERS and many other fantastic shows are lost to time (unless a private collector’s stash is located).

A crime.

And to think… comic art was mistreated in much the same way for decades.



Also, the first one could be confirmed by, you know, looking up Astro Boy on Wikipedia…

And a notoriously reliable source it is, too!

Andrew Collins

July 5, 2007 at 8:12 pm

Wow, a “Burned Masters” story that looks to be true. There have been several anime like “DNA^2″, “Five Star Stories” and “Silent Mobius: The Movie” which have been the subject of all sorts of rumors and stories about how their masters were lost in a fire. However, all turned out to be in okay condition and have since been released in the US on DVD.

But I agree with the others, it’s such a tragedy in retrospect that so many masters tapes and films have been burned, lost, and destroyed over the years. And in some cases, the masters weren’t burned, but lost due to the deterioration of time.

I had also heard the story about Astro Boy being renamed because of the then-negative association with the word “Atom” and Atom bombs. I wonder if Fred Ladd could verify that one?

Steamboat Willie

July 5, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Not to be a spoilsport, but what happened to Urban Legend no. 109?

I was just wondering how one could go about getting a question answered through this column? I was looking for an e-mail address but I was unable to find one.

Wouldn’t there be an even more negative association with atom bombs in Japan?

Steamboat Willie,
While it seems to have disappeared from the main “CSBG” page. It can be found from the CBR main page, at least it was as of Tuesday. I it was on the regular page last Friday, but when I went to reread it on the 3rd I noticed it was missing. That is when I noticed it was on the CBR page.

(Repeatedly redundant.)

Steamboat Willie,

here’s the link to 109: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/06/29/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-109/

(I just clicked on 108 in the archive and changed two digits in the URL to get to 109.)

There are greek movies, that exist only with english subtitles. The original movies were destroyed but they found them in the BBC Channel, subtitled of course. It was weird to see them in such condition.

But it has happened before.

On a trip to the British Museum, I took a tour of the Ancient Greece section. The docent said that Ancient Greeks often melted down or broke old, decorated vases and what-not for re-use, so how do we have all of those remaining pieces found with exquisite art depicting the great battles and myths? They were found in modern-day Italy and other countries, where their own ancestors who visited Ancient Greece bought and kept them…as souvenirs of their vacation!

The word testuwan mean strong arm, not iron arm.
The Chinese character tetsu does mean iron, but when combined with the the character meaning arm (or ability) it means strong arm(noun, not a verb). You can’t always just slap the two meaning of the characters together to get the meaning of the compound.

As part of a name, tetswun describes Atomu as having strong arms, or as we might say in English mighty(or powerful, etc.). Translation isn’t a simple find and replce operation, you have to understand what the word expresses, and then express the same thing in your own language.

Steamboat Willie

July 7, 2007 at 1:42 am

Well.. you cannot ALWAYS just slap two characters together and expect them to combine… in 9 cases out of ten they just becomes gibberish.

We’re talking a language here, not Lego.

Japan’s weird? We’ve got a real town named Smallville basically devoted to the man of steel, 7-11’s being remade in the image of The Simpsons’ Qwik E Marts, and a statue of a fake boxer in Philly?

I think we’re weird, too!

Sadly, NBC has a sad, almost disgusting history of burning or wiping master tapes. Nearly all pre-1970s programs stored in their library were purged during that decade, resulting in the loss of thousands of TONIGHT SHOWS, TODAY programs and nearly the entirety of the NBC daytime and syndicated archive up to that time.

Frankly, given the extent of the damage done, I’m surprised even the English-language versions of ASTRO BOY survived.

Oh NO, they don’t burn shows today. That means we’ll have all the seasons of the Family Guy for decades!

Good ol’ Astro Boy. Personally, I wish that the 2003 remake of the series received a bit more love. It was kinda just shoe-horned onto American TV, cancelled, and given a crappy DVD release — they didn’t even keep the Japanese version’s music, which was all orchestral and thus cool; instead they went with some bs electronica.

Tezuka be praised. ^_^

“Translation isn’t a simple find and replce operation, you have to understand what the word expresses, and then express the same thing in your own language. ”

“Japan’s weird? We’ve got a real town named Smallville basically devoted to the man of steel, 7-11’s being remade in the image of The Simpsons’ Qwik E Marts, and a statue of a fake boxer in Philly?”

Hey, if the board is going to be pedantic about words, then that second quote should say, “a statue of a FICTIONAL boxer in Philly”

Because Rocky never threw a fight.



I attended a birthday celebration for Atomu on April 7th, 2003 in an Otaku’s tiny room in his home in Sendai. He had a huge collection of Astroboy toys from the last several decades and about a dozen of us were interviewed by 4 different local networks. My friend and I had limited Japanese ability and their English ability was neglible, but we sang the theme song for them in English and talked about the show and our fondness for the character. All over Japan, the date was celebrated in various ways in most cities.
The newer short-lived tv show was one of the only reasons for me to get up early on a Sunday morning!

Wikipedia is still far more reliable than imdb.com.

Updating imdb is damn near impossible, while a bunch of volunteers are generally quick to fix incorrect info on wikipedia.

I think you are correct, Pete.

Sorry, Brian, but with the Atom/Mighty Atom, while your bottom line might be right, almost everything you said to get there seems to be wrong. That same IMDb has the JAPANESE version first going on the air in January 1963 (same year as “Astro Boy” in the US), while the GCD has DC putting the Atom in his own book beginning with a cover date of June-July 1962 (which means it was in stores no later than April), to say nothing of however farther back his SHOWCASE tryout began (on the other hand, the full phrase was to my knowledge never associated with that version, but only his Golden Age counterpart). Therefore, to say “The Mighty Atom PRECEEDED [sic] DC’s current Atom by a good many years” is pure D wrong. Finally, aside from that Trivia note, even the IMDb doesn’t associate NBC with the show, which jibes with my memory of it being in syndication. Just because something aired on a network affiliate in the New York market doesn’t mean that said net had a damned thing to do with it, beyond the fact that the NYC affiliates are owned and operated by the webs (at least back then; I know that the UPN carrier was WOR, owned by Universal/MCA, and I have no idea what the subsequent CW’s or the new My Network’s carriers are). THIS attitude is a piece of New York geo-arrogance (that’s geo-centrism taken to an extreme) that I’ve encountered more times than I care to count (although errors based on such faulty presumptions are not limited to New Yorkers; it’s just much more frequent from them). One of the IMDb’s “external links” for ASTRO BOY, http://www.retroland.com/pages/retropedia/tv/item/262/, states “syndication,” not NBC. That one isn’t YOUR error, Brian, but it does indicate that you didn’t research your topic adequately.

BTW, I was just checking the archive for less than likely additional postings, and took a better look at this page than I did originally (I preferred GIGANTOR, which alternated with AB, at least in Houston, TX). I have NOT spent a great deal of time looking up this stuff (just a preemptive strike, since people here have a history of grasping at unlikely straws to criticize me instead of dealing with my actual points).

I BELIEVE Astro Boy/Might Atom was a Manga in the fifties before he was a TV cartoon. (Can someone check dates? I have a paper due in half-an-hour and ohgot I shouldn’t even be typing this.)

In the first item, Brian does say, “…created in 1951…,” which must refer to something other than the cartoon show, so that’s probably the manga, but he should have made that much more clear. Problem with this is that DC’s “Mighty Atom” made the last appearance of his original publication career in an issue of ALL-STAR COMICS with a 1951 cover date, which would really have given DC solid footing for a lawsuit. On the other hand, waiting until 1963 to file might well work against its standing in court. It comes down to this: DC had just put their original Atom on the shelf when the manga was launched, and had their second one well under way when the cartoon version came to the States; either way, Brian’s statement about the Japanese character preceding DC’s “by a good many years” is highly misleading at best. I’ll concede that “pure D wrong” was inaccurate, but not by much, and everything else I pointed out stands as given.

“Finally, aside from that Trivia note, even the IMDb doesn’t associate NBC with the show, which jibes with my memory of it being in syndication.”

It was syndicated, and the syndicator was NBC. Back then, the network had a seperate syndication branch. A lot of sources are confused by this in the opposite manner from Ted, and list the show as having actually aired on NBC.

“Tetsuwan” litrerally means “Iron Arm” but, as already pointed out, it’s also the Japanese term for “Mighty,” thus Atom’s name is a bit of a pun, as his arms literally are made of iron (or possibly space titanium…).

Finally, while I don’t doubt the truth of the third urban legend, I know for a fact that at least some of the original Japanese episodes still exist, as a few were included in The Right Stuf’s box sets and one, shot in color, was included as an extra on the DVD for the 60’s compilation film (it was one of the episodes included in the film, somewhat edited–the extra was the uncut version).

Thanks, E. Bernhard Warg, but, as far as your comments about me are concerned, you are just a wee little bit off, but only that much, and understandably so. I am well aware of NBC’s syndication arm, but just did not know it existed THEN, let alone that it has ever distributed anything but its own productions, let alone foreign imports. If it is defunct (as your use of the phrase “Back then…” implies), it has not been for long, as it was responsible for a recent weekday daytime talk show that was “‘The View’ but with men,” as one of its hosts, Danny Bonaduce, acknowledged at the time. Otherwise, thanks for the additional info.

Pete: “Wikipedia is still far more reliable than imdb.com.

“Updating imdb is damn near impossible, while a bunch of volunteers are generally quick to fix incorrect info on wikipedia.”

Yes, but the difficulty in getting things posted to IMDb in general means that stuff that is blatant garbage to those knowledgeable of the subject at hand but not to anybody else does not get put up in the first place. So it is more reliable than Wiki, and I speak as a regular contributor to both.

“Thanks, E. Bernhard Warg, but, as far as your comments about me are concerned, you are just a wee little bit off, but only that much, and understandably so.”

Well, I was trying to make a joke about how most articles about Astro Boy appear to have been written by people who see “NBC” in the credits and think “Aha! That means it must have aired on the NBC network!” whereas your post was based (correctly) on your memory of it being in syndication. In other words, they exclude syndication due to the NBC connection, you appeared to have excluded the NBC connection due to syndication.

It seemed funny at the time (when I was tired, and had been hit in the head with part of a staircase)…

“If [NBC’s syndication arm] is defunct (as your use of the phrase “Back then…” implies), it has not been for long…”

I don’t know the logistics of NBC’s syndication arm then vs. now, but I’m reasonably sure it either didn’t exist (or possibly existed under a different name) during the period when the FCC decreed that networks weren’t allowed to own programs (hence the “Back then”). I guess they revived it (or re-renamed it…”un-renamed” it?) when the ruling was overturned in, I believe, the 90’s.

“…the period when the FCC decreed that networks weren’t allowed to own programs….”

When was that? I’ve never come across the slightest hint of any such prohibition in all my readings and documentary–watching about the medium’s history, which is considerable. On the other hand, the only hint I ever encountered of the nets being involved in syndication way back was that CBS had developed a series called THE WHIRLYBIRDS in the late 50s, but syndicated it out instead (just now remembered that). That, and “NBC” being in ASTRO BOY’s credits, pretty much proves that they were, of course, so I am open to this other being true as well.

“I’ve never come across the slightest hint of any such prohibition in all my readings and documentary–watching about the medium’s history, which is considerable.”

Looks like I was a bit fuzzy (or outright wrong) on the details, but information on the FCC’s restriction on networks’ ownership of programming can be found here, here and here.

I just read all three of your linked in items. Did you? They are ALL about the networks having financial interest in post-network syndicated reruns of programs made by OUTSIDE production companies–I admit that the first one isn’t as clear as it should have been that this is its subject, but careful reading shows that this IS it. Not one of them is about prohibiting the networks from owning programs completely. They have always had “in-house” productions, although in this day and age, with a major studio being a corporate sibling in most cases—CBS & UPN having been sold by Paramount–owner Viacom two or three years ago, the former is the sole exception among the current six commercial broadcast nets—that’s how they tend to be done. One example: Disney–owned ABC had a major hit with HOME IMPROVEMENT, produced by Touchstone Films, an imprint created by Disney for less–than–family–friendly productions.

As I said, I got a lot of the details wrong, the big one being that I thought the 70’s ruling stated the networks weren’t allowed to own shows when, in fact, it merely prohibited them from owning shows that were wholly created by outside production companies (and I realize that even that is simplifying it a bit).

The first article I linked says “The rules prohibited network participation in two related arenas: the financial interest of the television programs they aired beyond first-run exhibition, and the creation of in-house syndication arms, especially in the domestic market.” This would seem to indicate that the syndication branch of NBC, which syndicated Astro Boy and, I’m sure, many other shows not actually created by NBC, was eliminated by the FCC’s Financial Interest and Syndication (“Fin-Syn”) Rules. Hence my admittedly confusing use of “back then.”

I’m glad you called me out on my inaccuracies–it gave me the chance to do some research on what the rules actually were. Prior to this, all I had read were some 90’s articles in TV Guide and the like which said very little about the Fin-Syn rules and much about how the networks only renewed some shows with borderline ratings in exchange for partial ownership.

I have just seen the Japanese version of “The Birth of Astro Boy” on the Net, so at least that episode exists. As for the name issue, D.C. did own an earlier character called the Atom, who was very different from his 1960s version: the original Atom was a man about five feet tall who became a champion boxer and then set out to fight crime when his trainer was killed. Therefore, it is both reasonable and understandable that the character’s name was changed from Mighty Atom to Astroboy.

Moreover, there was a real-life strongman called the Mighty Atom who was still performing at this time period even though he was nearing seventy years old. It could very well have been that the Atom learned of the Astro Boy cartoon and it was he who called up the studio and urged them to change the character’s name. The real name of the Mighty Atom was Joseph Greenberg.


July 9, 2012 at 7:57 pm

The Japanese version of the 1963 version still exist as you can get the Japanese version on DVD. Only a few episode or so have been lost.

Just look at CDJapan and look here: http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/detailview.html?KEY=XT-2621

Two box sets under 36 disc for under $400. Granted, it’s in Japanese only with no English dub or sub, which is disappointing as it means we have to learn a second language to get it, but we can still get them.

Anthony Durrant

March 19, 2016 at 8:59 pm

As l mentioned in #13, it appears that the Japanese versions of the ASTROBOY episodes do exist, except for one for which only the shooting script exists. The other lost episode now consists only of the original audio. The Mighty Atom’s real name was actually Joseph Greenheim senior, not Greenberg as l originally reported – my error.

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives