"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
This is the one-hundred and seventy-sixth 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 seventy-five. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The writers of New Mutants had to re-write a finished comic book at the last moment because Marvel decided not to publish the original story, which involved a gay student killing himself.
In 2003, Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir debuted their new Marvel series, New Mutants, which introduced brand new teenage mutant students of Xavier’s, while using the slightly older original members of the New Mutants (primarily Dani Moonstar) as their mentors.
Another of the New Mutants, Xi’an “Shan” Coy Manh, was also an instructor at Xavier’s, and in a plot designed for issue #8, parents of students at Xavier’s would complain when Shan is seen kissing another woman during Parent’s Day.
One of the students, Victor Borkowski (Anole) would protest his parents’ outrage by revealing that he was, in fact, gay himself!
His parents would not react kindly to this, and when he turned to his two best friends (Josh and Julian) for support, they would shun him as well, leading to him killing himself in the next issue.
Josh and Julian, respetively
Besides being a powerful message about what intolerance can do to people, the storyline was designed to redeem a character who was introduced in the first storyline. Josh Foley was a mutant-hater who realized he was a mutant himself. Ostracized by his jerk friends, Josh is taken in at Xavier’s, and slowly began redeeming himself. Still, he clearly did not the best outlook on life (as seen by him being best buds with a jerk like Julian), and when he learns his friend Victor is gay, he shuns him. It is Josh who discovers Victor’s dead body, and it is the major impetus in Josh becoming a good guy. It would also cement Julian’s character as being a true jerk.
In any event, the two issues were written, drawn, colored, etc. – then a snag happened.
I’ll let DeFilippis & Weir describe what happened next:
Everyone at Marvel liked the story, and loved the suicide story.
A key player in the story was Northstar, the first openly gay superhero at Marvel and still Marvel’s highest profile homosexual. As a fellow teacher at the school, he would be the one to comment on Shan’s struggle with the parents’ reaction to her. He would also be the one to bring his own haughty point of view to the notion of a kid killing himself over being rejected when at a school for outcasts.
We finish up Issue 12, and are starting to hear rumblings from Marvel. Issues 8 & 9 are drawn, Issue 8 is colored and lettered and going to the printer. But there’s finally a new guy at Marvel to replace Bill Jemas. And his mandate is to be less controversial. So a gay student killing himself is not a story he wants to see in his young-reader friendly book. Now, we can’t blame them for that – if they want the book young-reader friendly, a suicide story isn’t right for it. It’s simply bad timing – their definition of the book is changing after a story is already all but done.
So ideas are sent to us for ways to soft-pedal this story. Can we eliminate the lesbian kiss that sets off the parents? (The answer there is no, because without it, the story has no starting point) Can we not show the kiss, maybe have it happen off panel? (we tell them that’s a cop-out, so they opt to show it in silhouette only) Can Northstar never mention he’s gay? (This one threw us off, because he’s been out of the closet for a decade). Eventually we seem to defuse the situation (by silhouetting the kiss – the other stuff didn’t happen, thankfully), and go about our business.
So we head home for Thanksgiving, and get the news – the issue has been stopped at the printer’s. It was printed, but they don’t know if they’re going to distribute it. Marvel is deciding what to do.
We put in a call to our editor. Then one to Quesada. Then one to the publisher. No-one can tell us what happens next.
This mystery lasts from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We have a family trip with my family to Italy. Before leaving, we try to get answers. Nothing.
So we go to Italy after Christmas. And we’re there through the New Year. And on New Year’s Eve, we have a conference call with our editor. They’re pulping the issue, and skipping Issue 9 entirely. They’ll publish Issue 10 as Issue 8 and so on. We point out that in Issue 10 Josh has switched cliques and kids are reacting to a suicide. Maybe we can try something else.
So we convince them to let us write a new story, set during the Parents Week backdrop we’d had for the suicide story. We’d write it based on the artwork we had from Issue 8 & 9, and piece together a script to cover Josh’s transition and David and Josh making peace. Then we’d excise the suicide references from previous scripts, and put in new pages there.
So that’s what we do. We spend New Years Eve in Venice not enjoying the city or the night, but instead taking apart two of our scripts and making one Frankenstein-like construct of dead script-parts. The result is what was ultimately published as Issue 8.
While that is unfortunate, in a way, it almost had a happy ending.
First of all, Anole turned out to be a real fan-favorite, and he has been appearing in the books more and more regularly since then, which wouldn’t have happened if he was, you know, dead.
In addition, Julian became a popular character, too. Look! He even got to make time with Wolverine’s clone!
If they had turned him into a homophobic jerk, that likely would not have occurred.
So while it is definitely a pain what they had to go through, it ALMOST worked out for the best.
Thanks to Jonathan Nathan for suggesting this one, and of course, thanks to Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir for the information. Check out their website here.
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: There was a popular song in the 60s of a guy whistling a song about Batman.
STATUS: False (at least in the way we look at it)
Talk about serendipity!
Okay, so last week I featured the story of a Jan and Dean album about Batman, so a reader named Rudy wrote in to ask the following:
I was just reading your column about the Jan & Dean Batman album, and that reminds me of another mid-1960s Batman-related song. I don’t recall the name of the guy, but it was a guy whistling about Batman. That’s all I recall – can you find out anything about it? Thanks!
Well, Rudy, you remember correctly, just not in the way you’re thinking.
Whistling Jack Smith had a hit song in 1967 with the tune “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” an all whistling song which reached the Top Twenty on the Billboard singles charts.
However, the term “Batman” in this instance is not, in fact, referring to the superhero.
According to the Random House Unabriged Dictionary (courtesy of dictionary.com), a batman is:
a soldier assigned to an officer as a servant.
So here, in the song, the singer is referring to being the batman for Kaiser Bill.
The song is a reference to a popular military song in Germany during World War I, where the soldier who is the batman to Kaiser Wilhelm was able to avoid having to serve in combat.
The serendipitous part of this to me is not just that the Jan and Dean legend prompted Rudy’s e-mail. but just yesterday, in the pages of Trinity, the DC Universe is currently dealing with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman vanishing as if they never existed.
So some characters (who still remember Batman vaguely) run into Alfred, who is an archeologist in this universe. And when a character mentions Batman, Alfred gives the “officer’s servant” defintion!
That’s a pretty cool coincidence!!
Here’s a YouTube performance of Whistling Jack Smith (which apparently is a stage name for someone – no one seems to be sure who, as the guy in the video apparently is just lip syncing the whistling)
Thanks to Rudy for the question and thanks to various music sites for the info! And thanks to Kurt Busiek for making it all serendipitous!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jor-El was not named in the comic books until 1945, and it was not even in the pages of Superman or Action Comics!
Two things should be cleared up first.
1. In the pages of Action Comics #1, a scientist is said to be sending his child to Earth to survive the destruction of his planet.
2. In the Superman comic strip, in 1939, Jor-El is first named. He also popped up in an episode of the Superman radio show.
So Jor-El was named period right after Superman appeared, and it was courtesy of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
However, while Krypton got a mention in Superman #1, Jor-El would not be named in the Superman comic book for a DECADE!! Specifically, with the Tenth Anniversary issue of Superman, the famous Superman #53, which details, as you can see on the cover, the origin of Superman.
Soon afterward, the classic Superman #61 was released, which is where SUPERMAN learns of his heritage for the first time (it’s also the first appearance of green kryptonite in the comic books).
Man, it doesn’t even merit the cover of the issue? Harsh!
In any event, surprisingly, while Jor-El was not named in the Superman comics until 1948, he appeared in More Fun Comics #101, a full three years earlier, in the first appearance of Superboy in 1945!
Note that Superboy not only did not get the cover, he did not even merit a MENTION on the cover!
Here’s the page from the issue…
Thanks to John McDonagh, who, I just noticed, sent me this one EXACTLY two years ago today! Even trippier!!!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next week!
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