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This is the one-hundred and thirteenth 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 twelve. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jack Kirby left DC because he thought they lied to him about the sales of his New Gods titles in order to pay him less money
This one is an oldie, as reader Dave sent it to me in October of 2006, but I figure now is as good a time as any to address.
Right off the bat, the answer sounded false to me, mostly because, as I understand it:
A. Kirby was not working on a royalty system with the Fourth World books
B. Kirby DIDN’T leave DC after the Fourth World books were canceled, he stuck around working on other projects until his contract expired.
So right away, I’m pretty confident that we can say “false” for this one, but just to be sure, and I’ll be honest, I was interested in the specifics as well, I posed the question to the greatest Jack Kirby expert I know (don’t you worry, Harry Mendryk, I didn’t say Simon/Kirby! And even if I did, I guess Joe Simon, still being alive and all, would probably be the greatest Simon/Kirby expert, right?), Mark Evanier.
Here is what Mark had to say on the subject:
Jack’s deal with DC was not linked to sales. That is, he was not on a royalty deal with them. Presumably, had the books been huge sellers, he would have been in a great position to negotiate better terms when his contract expired but that was not what happened.
Jack left DC because at the time his contract expired, he wasn’t getting along well with them. The company was in trouble — it was not long before the publisher was dismissed — and there was a general panic in the office. Jack thought they were giving up too quickly on almost everything they published, cancelling books upon receipt of the slightest poor sales reports. He didn’t feel he could work in that environment.
In the case of the Fourth World books, there are different reports of how they sold and Jack was told many things. Clearly, they were not the Marvel-destroying hits that some expected of him. Paul Levitz went into the files at my request and reported back that they were “mid-range” sellers. From what I can tell, they sold decently until DC upped the price across their line from fifteen to twenty-five cents, whereupon everything plunged in sales. When the whole line went to twenty, most books recovered somewhat but Kirby’s, because of their intricate continuity, recovered slower than others.
I go into this in more depth in the books I’m writing on Jack, one of which will be out later this year.
Folks, when Mark Evanier’s book on Jack Kirby comes out, you better darn well buy a copy, for it will be AWESOME!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Superman radio show had a drastically different origin for Superman
Tom Foss wrote in to me with this one, and it is a real hoot!
We are all used to the various changes that media adaptations have made to the origin of superhero characters, whether it be the whole crystal thing in the more recent Superman films, or basically everything on Smallville.
However, one of the most dramatic changes to Superman’s origins for media was in the Superman radio show, which came out very soon after Superman first appeared!!
Debuting in 1940, the first episode of the Superman radio show was standard enough, telling the now-familiar tale of the destruction of Krypton.
The second episode, though, veers DRAMATICALLY from what we are now used to, as the youth sent from the dying planet of Krypton aged as he flew, so when the ship crashlanded on Earth in the desert, the boy was now a grown man!!
This “Superman” saves the lives of a professor and a young boy (named, oddly enough, Jimmy). He wants information about this planet, so they suggest he check out the metropolitan newspaper – the Daily Planet!
It is Jimmy who coins the name “Clark Kent,” and by the end of the episode, “Clark” has a job as a reporter via Perry White (who made his debut at this time, which is something we addressed in a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed).
Pretty crazy changes, eh?
Thanks to Tom and the Superman SuperSite for the information!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: JM DeMatteis changed a storyline in Justice League of America because he didn’t know how the story was supposed to go.
Reader M. Bloom was wondering about an old Justice League of America storyline…
Back at the tail end of the first volume of Justice League of America, Gerry Conway devoted several issues to an ongoing plot where Zatanna was abducted by a cult and had her genes copied into a man named Adam, who was clearly depicted as having some fairly nefarious aims for Zee’s homo magi power.
This all came to a head in issues 255-257 of JLA, but it took a sudden turn at the very end when Gerry Conway left the book for the final time and J.M. DeMatteis came in to write the last few issues before the relaunch set up in Legends. Adam suddenly switched from being an ominous potential villain to having a sever mental breakdown and needing Zatanna’s help to stabilize himself.
What I’ve been wondering since I first read this is how much of the final published storyline followed Conway’s original plan, and how much did DeMatteis add himself. To me, it read like Conway left the title before the final countdown to cancellation, and DeMatteis took the ongoing plot and added his own ending to it that didn’t perfectly mesh with the set-up. So I’m wondering if you can find out what the story is behind this story.
So I hit up J.M. DeMatteis, who has been pestered by me so many times that he and Evanier ought to get co-authorship of these pieces, and he gave a nice simple reply.
He had taken over the book when Conway left, and he and editor Andy Helfer had no idea what Conway was planning with the current storyline, so DeMatteis had to make up a plot of his own, all with the knowledge that he was there to specifically draw the series to a close for an upcoming relaunch, so it appears that he just decided to use the storyline as a way to write Zatanna out of the book, turning a villain into, well, not a villain.
So there you go – mystery solved!
Thanks to Matt for the question and Mr. DeMatteis for yet another answer!!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!
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