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This is the one-hundred and forty-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 one-hundred and forty-four. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This week we have legends involving masturbation, penises and sex! It’s the most risqué Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed yet!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: There is no masturbation in the DC Universe.
STATUS: At one point in time, Apparently True
One of the more interesting facets of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is how odd the early issues are compared to the rest of the series, because the early issues of Sandman were firmly placed within the DC Universe. Once Gaiman established himself, he really pulled away from the world of superheroes (while still occasionally noting some connections), but in those early days, he was at the mercy of DC, who thought it made more sense for a brand new character like Morpheus to connect to other DC characters, so you have the interesting oddity of Mister Miracle and the Martian Manhunter guest-starring in early issues of The Sandman.
By the second story arc, Doll’s House, Gaiman had gained more freedom, but the comic was, even then, still intended to be a part of the DC Universe (this, of course, being before the days of Vertigo), so you would think that DC might take some issue with the topics being discussed in the Doll’s House storyline, including a serial killer’s convention.
Well, Michael Berry had the same thought, so he asked Gaiman about it in a piece Berry did in 1991 for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Gaiman let him know that, in the issue about the serial killer’s convention:
“the only word that got censored was ‘masturbate,'” Gaiman says. “It was explained to me that people do not masturbate in the DC Universe. Actually, that explains a lot. That’s probably why the characters all dress in tight costumes and go around thumping the shit out of each other.”
Great quote, no?
First off, please note (as commenter Jack Fear noted, and I probably should mention) that the editor most likely only meant that you can’t SAY “masturbate” in comics. I don’t doubt that the editor phrased it to Gaiman this way, though. So yeah, it is more the word than the action, but it’s funny either way, right? I’d also imagine that things have changed since the late 80s/early 90s, and such a position is likely no longer the case at DC, but it is amusing to note that, for a time, apparently it was the case.
Reader Lyle suggested I cover this one, by the by. He asked:
I heard a rumor that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman got censored once by the DC editors, and this was over the fact that he mentioned masturbation in an issue, and was explained by the editor: “There is no masturbation in the DC universe.” For all I know you covered this already, but still wondered if this were true.
There ya go, Lyle!
Thanks to Lyle for the suggestion, and thanks to Michael Berry and Neil Gaiman for the information!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: John Byrne snuck a drawing of a penis into an issue of Fantastic Four
Reader Steve Requin had an urban legend involving John Byrne’s classic Fantastic Four issue, #258 (the Doom spotlight issue)…
I don’t have the comic anymore but I remember reading the French-Canadian version as a kid (English is my 2nd language), and I distinctly remember seeing the shape of a penis on one panel. In the scene, Dr Doom assigned Hauptmann (one of his science guy) to the task of attempting to duplicate the means by which Doom had once gained the powers of the Silver Surfer. Hauptmann notified Doom that he had completed the process and welcomed him to try it out. Doom instead grabbed Hauptmann and told him that he deserved the honor himself. Doom locked Hauptmann inside the chamber and activated it, ignoring Hauptmann’s screams. Raw energy poured forth into Hauptmann. Hauptmann’s body gets bulkier, his clothes burns off, and just before he is reduced to a skeleton, you can see the silhouette of his naked body, including his penis.
So, did I dream that or did he really drew it?
Before I get to this scene in question, let me mention how it reminds me of the “nudity” books back in the 80s/early 90s, when the Bronze Age back issue market was nuts. This was during a time when people were searching for silly stuff like, “2nd Appearance of Cable” or “Hobgoblin’s first appearance WITH the tattoo.” Well, one of the things people would also look for, to the point where it would actually appear in price guides, was “nudity.”
By “nudity,” it simply met that there would be something that would appear to maybe be a nipple, or something like that. There was an early issue of Infinity, Inc. where the JSA die, and one of the JSA (Wonder Woman, perhaps? I do not recall) is in the morgue, and you maybe/kinda/sorta see a nipple.
Another one was Uncanny X-Men #245, the Invasion parody issue…
Pretty funny, eh?
But that’s what people were doing back then, while they weren’t searching for the issue where Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men or when Skyman died or Danny Chase’s first appearance. Okay…maybe not Danny Chase’s first appearance – everyone has limits, right?
Back to Steve’s question!
Well, Steve, while you did not dream it, per se, as the scene as you remember DID occur in the comic book, it just did not result in the silhouetted penis as you recall.
Here is the scene, including a detailed look at the panel Steve is specifically referring to:
There’s just not a penis in that panel, silhouetted or otherwise. Byrne does put two black blobs (symbolizing the energy effect) on the crotch, but they’re only there to obscure the crotch, not to form the silhouette of a penis.
I’ll allow, though, that having ANYthing there can certainly lead to a question of the intent – I just don’t think that there was intent for it to be a penis (nor do I think it looks like it in actuality – the blob on the left is on the guy’s LEG, for crying out loud!).
So if the legend is “John Byrne snuck a drawing of a penis into an issue of Fantastic Four,” my answer would be – False.
Hope this helps, Steve! Thanks for writing in!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: An issue of New X-Men snuck the word “sex” into the issue on practically every page of the comic.
Sneaking the word “sex” into comics is not a new thing.
Heck, current Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada, did it himself in 1994, with the cover to the second issue of Ninjak (see for yourself below):
But New X-Men #118 takes the cake, by far – there are at least EIGHTEEN instances of the word “sex” being snuck into the comic (and perhaps a couple that we have not found – or were there but were edited out).
Years after the fact, artist Ethan Van Sciver mentioned that he came up with the idea because he was kinda irked at Marvel at the time for whatever reason, and thought it’d be fun to do a little mischief. He was not alone – at least one of his three inkers that issue helped him out (hmmm…perhaps one of the other inkers was told to eliminate said “sex” usage if he saw it?), as did the colorist for the issue.
The end result is a barrel full of subliminal fun!!
I was all set to go through the comic and scan each instance, but luckily for me, Peter Luzifer at Uncannyxmen.net did it for me, almost six years ago! Thanks, Peter!
Here are a few of the panels (they were done one per page):
Thanks to Ethan Van Sciver for the information behind the panels, and thanks again to Peter Luzifer for his excellent work identifying each panel!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for all this week’s covers!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
See you next week!
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