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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #163

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This is the one-hundred and sixty-third 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 sixty-two. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: At one point, Crime Does Not Pay was selling five times as many copies as the highest sales Superman ever had


The other day, I received an interesting e-mail from a reader named Seth who asked:

For years I’ve seen talk about how Captain Marvel and Superman both sold a million copies per month during the 1940s and that was always treated as if not the tops close enough to being the tops for comics, but recently at a convention I saw an old copy of Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay and on the cover it said “more than 5,000,000 readers monthly”! That is way more than Superman and Captain Marvel was selling! Is that for real?

Like I said, it’s an interesting question, Seth, and as you’re right to be incredulous, because it is not, in fact, for real. At least not in the way you’re thinking (and I imagine many others would think).

First off, Crime Does Not Pay (the creation of Charlie Biro and Bob Wood – Wood, you might recall, tragically found himself the focus of a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed) WAS a very successful comic book. It was a modest hit right off the bat when it debuted in the early 1940s, but after the war it really took off, and by the late 1940s, it was selling, by most estimates, about a million copies a month, which is outstanding (and most likely, at the time, more than what Superman was selling and certainly, by the late 40s, more than what Captain Marvel was selling).

It was around this time that Crime Does Not Pay began boosting on its covers “More than 5,000,000 readers!”

Heck, later on that year, it went from 5,000,000 to 6,000,000!!

The trick is, as you might have already guessed, is that they don’t say 5,000,000 copies sold, only 5,000,000 readers. They came up with their numbers under the theory that for every copy of their comic that was purchased, it was passed around to at least six other people, so if they were selling one million copies, they actually had 6,000,000 readers.

It is highly doubtful that that was actually true (although, yes, the book surely did have more readers than just the purchasers of the comic themselves), and it is extremely doubtful that the good folks at Lev Gleason put much more thought into the market research than “I bet it’s about six times what we sell” and went with it.

So no, Seth, Crime Does Not Pay was never trouncing Superman in sales. In fact, while I don’t have the exact figures, I wouldn’t be surprised if Superman hung tough, comparatively, with Crime Does Not Pay in the sales charts of the late 1940s (not the Big Red Cheese, but the Big Blue Boyscout held strong well into the 1950s as the one superhero comic that kept selling big numbers).

By the by, it would be kinda interesting to see a modern comic use this approach, especially factoring in the theoretical “bootleg” downloads of new comics, the actual readership of each issue could easily be argued to be significantly higher than the actual issue’s sales!

I think someone should randomly come up with the multiplication for it, like, “Let’s say, ten times actual sales” and begin marketing!

“Uncanny X-Men – Read by 1,000,000 readers monthly!”

Go for it, Marvel and DC!

Thanks to Seth for the question!

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And despite the help Jim Shooter gave you, you didn’t spell VALIANT in all caps. Tsk. :)

Hehe, that WAS pretty funny of him, wasn’t it? :)

Here is one I heard a long time ago.
So the details are a bit fuzzy.

Anyway, back in the 90s when Marvel was “corporate raided”, the guy that stripped them out sold off their assets. Like raiders do.

One of the things he did as Marvel was going bankrupt was to sell ALL of the character’s copyrights to his own, different, company called “Marvel Characters Inc”.

And since then, any time Marvel has wanted to use any of its own characters, they have had to pay “Marvel Characters Inc” for the right to do so.

Is that true?

I feel like I’ve seen the Archie variant of that second Crime Does Not Pay cover. If I haven’t, I should have.

Wow, I’m surprised Nancy Reagan never pushed ‘Crime Does NOT Pay” into publication again during her reign of terror.

Is there some source that breaks down all the stuff Morrison’s ghostwritten/co-written for Millar over the years? I seem to recall hearing rumors about more than just that issue of Authority.

All of Aztek, apparently, according to the DC trade dress. :-D

Brian, I know that you must have a lot on your plate already, but the whole point of Wikipedia (in theory if not execution) is the availability of common but learned people to pool and share their knowledge. If you’ve found an error on the site and you can provide corrected information, you should. Waiting for someone else to come along and fix it isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

Otherwise, great info as always. Thanks.

So where’s “the rest of the story” on Pete Stanchek? Why was the story line changed and the whole gay thing eliminated? Was it a change of writer/editor, or did Shooter just decide on his own to drop that element?

Walter typed: “but the whole point of Wikipedia (in theory if not execution) is the availability of common but learned people to pool and share their knowledge.”

Well, I can’t speak about the theory, but the execution is laughable.

For example: I live in the Detroit area and listen to far too much Sports Talk Radio. We recently had a failed playoff run for the Detroit Pistons, and a successful one for the Red Wings. During each series, one show in particular was citing how the Wiki pages for the Detroit teams’ opposition were being altered on a regular (like every 5-10 minutes) basis. I’m not talking little changes, I’m talking about alterations to the team name, city, record, all for the sake of juvenile humor. I just cringe whenever I hear anyone cite Wiki as a source.

I think what Walter was suggesting was rather than complain about the wiki data not being updated, to get uyp and update it yourself and cite the appropriate article reference here on CBULR to establish the fact.

Usually once that sort of thing is done, it gets set in stone by the ever-present change review moderators.

You know, this column really got me thinking: when are you going to do the Grant Morrison alphabet of cool? From Animal Man to Zur En Arrh!

Is any material from Crime Does Not Pay and its ilk easily available anywhere? They’re something I’ve read so much about, but I’ve never ever seen them for sale anywhere, let alone read them. I don’t necessarily think they’ll be any good but they seem to this really cool, sleazy quality and they’re an important part of comics history. I wish there was a Showcase Presents/ Essential Crime Does Not Pay out there.

That’s a talking point for Wiki users: join us and please fix our crap. If my neighbor’s car was omitting noxious fume and I ask him to fix it, and he says, “go ahead, fix it yourself.” It’s like that. I have no obligation to fix errors, it’s yours.

So where’s “the rest of the story” on Pete Stanchek? Why was the story line changed and the whole gay thing eliminated? Was it a change of writer/editor, or did Shooter just decide on his own to drop that element?

I don’t think there’s any real story, just that Shooter left, so most of his ideas left with him.

He was going to revisit them in his Unity 2000 mini-series, apparently, but that never happened.

Sorry if it seems like I was busting on Wikipedia, I meant for it to be a praising of them! :)

Wikipedia has more errors than facts; as long as one recognizes this, it’s a fair start. In general, its pages are run by pissant pedants who lord their little fiefdoms and only allow the changes they want. I was threatened with a ban for editing my own entries, which to this day are full of egregious errors. Apparently I don’t know the truth about myself or my work, and I can’t cite another source to refute something for which they cannot provide a reference at all.

Yeah, I don’t feel like getting into the politics, so that’s why I don’t edit it.

I still dig it a lot! Wikipedia is a great resources, if you know how to use it correctly!

I knew Religimon sounded more like a Morrison idea than a Millar one…

“Wikipedia often gets a rough time from critics (by the by, they still haven’t changed the erroneous part on the entry for the Shield about him being preceded by Mr. America as a patriotic hero), ”

Wikipedia only works if readers participate and actively correct errors they find. Waiting for someone else to do it defeats the whole purpose.

Dedicating oneself to hunting down and correcting errors on Wikipedia sounds like a prescription for a wasted life.

That’s a talking point for Wiki users: join us and please fix our crap. If my neighbor’s car was omitting noxious fume and I ask him to fix it, and he says, “go ahead, fix it yourself.” It’s like that. I have no obligation to fix errors, it’s yours.
Bad analogy: Wikipedia isn’t your neighbor’s car, it’s your family car, and if you notice it’s out of gas when you drive it, it’s your turn to fill up…

As far as the “pass rate” used by CDNP, to some extent that still goes on:

* A number of newspapers use their circulation and sales figures as a total, then assume that each copy is read by more than one person

* Nielsen is challenged continually by the TV networks (and some cable outlets) for not counting viewers of programs in bars, college dorm rooms

* Arbitron has been busy for trying to get an accurate count of radio plays in public spaces for their ratings

Could CDNP substantiate their claim of a x6 pass-on rate? No, probably not, but compared with everyone else’s efforts it’s not altogether unexpected that they tried to come up with a fudge factor in the face of standard industry practices.

“Wikipedia has more errors than facts …”

Actually, a recent comparison between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britanica revealed a comparable percentage of errors.

Yes, there are Wikipedia vandals. No, they don’t single handedly destroy the whole concept. (The concept being that a collective storehouse of knowledge is better than a limited resource research.)

And, one should never devote their life to hunting down errors and fixing them. But, if you see an error, it doesn’t take long to fix it and cite it.


“Dedicating oneself to hunting down and correcting errors on Wikipedia sounds like a prescription for a wasted life.”

Exactly. Of course, the very concept of a collective knowledge repository means that no one person should be doing that. Some people do a little here and there, some people do more, some people do nothing. A closer analogy is littering. You don’t have to go around picking up every piece of trash you see, but if you come across something pick it up. At the very least don’t throw your garbage on the ground like the wiki-vandals. If everyone works together the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts.

Now lets all hold hands and read wikipedia entries on obscure superheroes together!

The Pete being gay thing was supposed to be revealed after Unity. But when Massarky stole the company away from Shooter, Massarky nixed the idea partly because he didn’t want a main character to be gay and party because both Massarky and Layton were *very* petty people.

Bert Duckwall

July 12, 2008 at 5:26 pm

I always thought there was something missing from the Harbinger storyline. When Chris went off with Torque and had the baby Magnus, it seemed like Sting did not care if his girl was banging any other dude. Also there was no chemistry there with Chris and Torque. It would be interesting if this stuff was resolved with the new VALIANT.

Love the littering analogy (and even the family car one). It’s not like anyone here suggested that people should be out there looking for errors; just that they should fix the ones they see! If you’re never using Wikipedia (I use it a lot myself) then of course you’d never fix any data there. But if you are using it, do your part! Why’s that such a hard concept for some people to get?

I fixed a mistake in the Wiki entry for the Secret Six when I was writing a blog post about them awhile back. It took me a couple of minutes to do, and then I went on my way.

Love that second cover of CDNP. The dialogue alone is priceless. A woman getting bitch slapped, with the promise of a cat-fight to follow? Did Hugh Heffner ever write for that title?

Speaking of ghostwriting, has CBULR ever tackled the subject of Fire From Heaven? Both issues are credited to Alan Moore, but neither issue really reads as his work. Some sources claim that FFH #2 was actually written by Warren Ellis. Does anyone know?

I am embarrassed to say that the only time I remember fixing something in Wikipedia had to do with the alternate earth that the Captain Marvel homage Captain Thunder lived on in Superman. So, didn’t take too long, but I can’t exactly claim it was well spent.

Oh wait, actually that’s not true. I think I also corrected some really embarrassing inaccuracies in the entry on Arthur Miller. That makes me feel a little better.


July 13, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Wow, I thought the Morrison/Millar one had a lot more evidence – I’m pretty sure I’ve read interviews with both of them (separately) talking about it before, possibly here on CBR.
Morrison said in one that ‘Religimon’ should’ve been a dead give away, and Millar was also unhappy with his name being put on an issue he didn’t write, preferring the ‘Millar Experience’ as well.

Urban Legend: Frank Miller was paid $1 million up front to do Dark Knight Strikes Again, then did it badly on purpose just because he could.

That’s not me being snarky, by the way: it’s something I’ve actually heard repeated…

Little known fact: Morrison not only ghost-writes for Millar, Morrison actually IS Millar (Millar being a people-friendly, more coherent meme of Morrison’s.)

Re: The pass-along rate.

This is pretty much standard practice when talking up the advertising rates. Four-to-six times the sales is what you tell prospective advertisers — especially if you don’t have an audited circulation. And since the advertising agencies all know this, non-audited publications had better multiply by six, because the agency will certainly divide by six!


July 14, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Urban Legend: Frank Miller was paid $1 million up front to do Dark Knight Strikes Again, then did it badly on purpose just because he could.

That’s not me being snarky, by the way: it’s something I’ve actually heard repeated…

That sounds a bit subjective to me – an an outright lie… lots of people would be reading the book, by doing a bad job on purpose he’d be damaging his own name.

it was more along the lines of “I’m Frank Miller, I can write a bad Batman and people will not only still buy IT, they’ll still buy Sin City because I’m great.” That his name was so great, any damage caused by doing a bad book would be minor at best.

Besides, Cronin never said we could only suggest CBULs we expected to be true. It’s just something I heard…

While it’s not you being snarky, I think it’s pretty obvious that you’re repeating other people’s snark. And it’s not like there would be any way Brian could get Miller or anyone connected to the project to admit it, if it was true.

it’s snark several generations removed: the guy who said it was entirely sincere, which I think means either he or someone further up the chain missed the sarcasm…

If you look at the issue of Harbinger where Tork dies, he does tell him he loves him, another subtle hint of him being gay.

I don’t think it’s any urban legend that Miller has reached the stage where he can do pretty much whatever he wants and still sell loads, and that as a result of this Miller creates the comics he wants to read rather than the ones he thinks anyone else might want to read.

Some people stretch it one further to label the comics “bad” or even “intentionally bad”, but the former is subjective and the latter is obviously nonsense. Personally I really enjoyed TDKSA

As far as the quality of Miller’s work, well…

Recently the ads have gone up for THE SPIRIT, Miller’s first solo credited directing job. The ads feature the principal actresses in the film, and the release date:

Christmas of 2008.

Unfortunately, that’s not a good sign. Many studios will release a film on Christmas in large part because of the rules for films being submitted for consideration by MPAA for an Oscar, that it be screened for seven days in New York and Los Angeles (the last day on the calendar to accomplish this being Christmas). This is done in the hopes that a second release later in the year after the Oscar noms are handed out will generate interrest that turns into good BO, enough to cover the fact that without said push they have a real turkey on their hands.

Sometimes a release on Christmas is made out of contractual obligation to try and get that nomination, done for a film on behalf of an artiste that is chasing Oscar any way possible. In those cases, the studios will make a big play about “Special Showings” in NY and LA for that week before the film disappears for good like Atlantis (or Miami post-global warming).

The fact that THE SPIRIT got pushed ahead from original announced release dates in February of 2009 (a relatively safe time for comic films, if one looks at how GHOST RIDER and DAREDEVIL did on their premieres) to Christmas is a good sing that we have a bad film. All the talk about wanting to avoid opening close to WATCHMEN is probably a smokescreen to try and distract people from the evidence.

Miller the graphic novelist, that can be discussed until the bar closes thanks to a good brawl; Miller the film maker, the evidence is looking pretty slim…

Surely if they’re releasing a film at Christmas to take advantage of positive press from the Oscars that means they think the film is good enough to get or at least be nominated for an Oscar – which should be a good sign shouldn’t it?

Would that they could predict and assure quality ahead of time with such precision, Dan. If they could, the whole tactic described above would be unnecessary…

When a film gets released in order to try for Oscar consideration, one of two things may be in play:

a) The studio thinks it has maybe one good component out of the mess that if recognized by the Academy might make the film a draw. They may feel that the director or one actor is likely to get a nod, not so much for their work here as for recognition of other achievements. (Case in point, Martin Scorsese getting his Oscar for THE DEPARTED, as opposed to some of his better works earlier in his career.) Or they may feel the film has some chance based on popular feelings for the subject or a theme; sometimes it works (DREAMGIRLS getting eight noms after an Xmas release, though not for Best Picture) but more often it doesn’t (ANGELA’S ASHES the biggest most recent example).

b) The studio knows it has no chance, releases the film then anyway, and hopes that between recent notice at the time of release followed quickly by a ‘For Your Consideration’ campaign that maybe, Lord willing, something may result. And if they have talent that is anxious for recognition, the studio throwing that talent a bone like this keeps that person happy, or at least willing to give the studio first look at their next (hopefully better) project.

In the cynical realm of film distribution, trying to take advantage of the Oscar rules as an excuse to dump bad product is not out of the question. The films with a better chance come awards season will come out earlier, usually between Halloween and Thanksgiving, which is when there’s more audience to go after. Christmas is pretty much a loss at the BO and comes right before the new set of books gets started in Accounts Receivable, so releasing a film then is low risk.

In a better world, Dan, a Christmas release would be an actual present; sadly, it’s more like coal in the stocking…

Yeah, it’s common knowledge that all films relaeased on Christmas weekend are stinkers. Just look at The Exorcist, The Pianist, and Cold Mountain.

Oh sill me! How could I forget these classics released on Christmas, which happened to shared the same date as ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM, THE BUCKET LIST, BLACK CHRISTMAS (twice), THE NEW WORLD, RUMOR HAS IT…, WOLF CREEK, THE INTRUDER, DARKNESS, FAT ALBERT, ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and other such works of quality ad nauseum?

“Apparently I don’t know the truth about myself or my work, and I can’t cite another source to refute something for which they cannot provide a reference at all.”

Um, who are you and what are these inaccuracies?

Shooter wrote a gay character? But… but… what about Mystique and Destiny nixed as Nightcrawler’s biological parents under Shooter’s EiC-reign, as detailed in a previous installment?


There’s gay and then there’s transsexual… and the times are also important.

[…] reference to “Religimon” from Mark Millar’s The Authority, from an issue that was ghost-written by Morrison himself? It’s a goofy little adventure, but I like it – if only because it demonstrates that […]

[…] Look, you reprobates, Wacker is just trying to honor the time-tested and respectable accounting methods of his comic industry forefathers: Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #163 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources […]

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