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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #184

This is the one-hundred and eighty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and eighty-three.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Neil Gaiman was inspired by the Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” to create the main character in Sandman.

STATUS: False

Reader Rob wrote in the other day to ask:

Some people at my comic shop were discussing how Neil Gaiman said he got the idea to do the Morpheus incarnation of Sandman after listening to the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Is this true?

Well, Bob Dylan IS pretty awesome, so I would not be surprised if he influenced the creation of pretty much every comic character, but in this particular case, it is a fairly reasonable story that Gaiman might have taken some inspiration from the lyrics to Mr. Tambourine Man…

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.

That’s not hard to believe that it could be an influence for Sandman, the Master of Dreams, no?

However believable, it is not, in fact, true.

For the truth, I went to no other than Neil Gaiman himself, creator of The Sandman, who was gracious enough to give this reply when I asked if it was real or bogus:

Bogus, I’m afraid.

The Golden/Wagner/Bissette book “Prince of Stories” mentions the influence of the Lou Reed/ Velvet Underground song “I’m Set Free”, and you can find many songs referred to in the online annotations and the Hy Bender Sandman Companion, but there’s no Dylan in the mix.

The book Neil is referring to, by the way…

Well, there you go, Rob!

Thanks to Rob for the question and thanks so much to Neil for the quick reply!

COMIC LEGEND: The Fantastic Four’s mailman was featured in comics over a year before the Fantastic Four were!

STATUS: True

Reader Tony wrote in to ask:

Is it true that Willie Lumpkin was created before the Fantastic Four?

The answer to that, Tony, is basically yes.

For the sake of avoiding the qualifier, I phrased the legend differently (I’m sneaky that way).

Willie Lumpkin was definitely appearing in comics before the Fantastic Four were around, but it was not necessarily the same character who appeared later in the Fantastic Four.

Willie Lumpkin, the mailman for the Fantastic Four, first appeared in Fantastic Four #11, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

He has a funny bit about how he has the “special power” to wiggle his ears.

He soon became a popular background character in the book, and you’ll still see him in the comics today (he was just recently a major character in Paul Cornell’s interesting mini-series Fantastic Four: True Story).

In fact, Stan Lee even portrayed Willie himself in the first Fantastic Four movie…

However, Willie Lumpkin was ALSO the name of the titular star of a syndicated newspaper comic strip that Stan Lee did with the late, great Dan DeCarlo. It only lasted about a year in 1960.

Thanks to Ger Apeldoorn, of the amazing website, Those Fabuleous 50s, we can read a bunch of the Willie Lumpkin strips!

Apeldoorn even includes this interesting ad boasting about the popularity of the strip!

Here is a Sunday strip from November of 1960 (click to enlarge)…

Here is a week’s worth of strips from December of 1960 (click to enlarge)…

In one of the great interviews you’ll ever see, Roy Thomas talked to Stan Lee about many different topics back in 1998, and the strip came up…

Roy: In the early ’60s you had done that Willie Lumpkin newspaper strip. You used that name again for the mailman in Fantastic Four.

Stan: That was just for fun. Mel Lazarus had done a strip called Miss Peach, which used not panels but one long panel instead. I liked that idea very much, so when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate, asked me to do a strip, I came up with Barney’s Beat, which was about a New York City cop and all the characters on his patrol who he’d meet every day and there would be a gag. I did some samples with Dan DeCarlo, and I thought it was wonderful.

Harold said it was too “big city-ish” and they’re not going to care for it in the small towns because they don’t have cops on a beat out there. He wanted something that would appeal to the hinterland, something bucolic. He said, “You know what I want, Stan? I want a mailman! A friendly little mailman in a small town.” I don’t remember if I came up with the name Lumpkin or he did, but I hated it. I think I came up with the name as a joke and he said, “Yeah, that’s it! Good idea!”

It was the one strip in the world I didn’t think I was qualified to write, because I liked things that were hip and cutting-edge, cool and big city. I always wrote Seinfeld and that kind of thing. Here I’m writing about a mailman in a small town! Even though it was not my type of thing, it lasted for a couple of years. Unlike today, when I do the Spider-Man daily strip and never heard from the syndicate (I gotta call them a few times a year and say, “Are you guys aware that we’re still doing this?”), in those days Harold Anderson passed on every gag, looked at every panel, and I worked with him. He was a lovely man, but as an editor, he was a nightmare! [laughs]

So there ya go!

Willie Lumpkin was around before the Fantastic Four, but you could argue that it is not really the SAME Willie Lumpkin from the Fantastic Four comics.

Thanks to Tony for the question, Ger for the amazing web resource (again, The Fabuleous 50s), Roy Thomas for the great interview (and heck, thanks to Roy Thomas for just generally being such an awesome historical resource – he’s a comic historian’s national treasure) and thanks to Stan Lee for the info!

COMIC LEGEND: The Transformers character Circuit Breaker was introduced in the pages of Secret Wars II so Marvel could gain the rights to the character.

STATUS: True

My good buddy John sent me a question a few weeks back:

Does Marvel own the character Circuit Breaker from the old Transformers comics, I think she also appeared in Secret Wars.

And the answer to this is yes.

This is basically the same exact thing as the deal with Death’s Head, as featured in a previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed.

Simply put, the way their licensing deal worked was that if Marvel introduced a new character in the pages of Transformers, Hasbro would own the character. However, if Marvel introduced the character in one of THEIR titles and THEN had said character appear in the licensed book, it would still be owned by Marvel, which is what Marvel did with Death’s Head and it is also what they did with Circuit Breaker.

Josie Beller was introduced in the pages of the Transformers, and slowly turned into Circuit Breaker, the anti-robot cyborg. However, she did not turn up as Circuit Breaker until AFTER she appeared in, all of all places, Secret Wars II.

The Beyonder and she had a little chat, and then it was off to the pages of Transformers where she battled those crazy robots until Marvel’s series ended…

Her appearance in Secret Wars II actually FOLLOWS her first appearance as Circuit Breaker in Transformers, continuity-wise, but publication-wise, her Secret Wars II appearance came first, which is why Marvel was in the clear (and the whole purpose of having her cameo in another comic before appearing in Transformers – to show that they had published Circuit Breaker in a comic BEFORE she appeared in a Transformers comic).

Since she is a Marvel character, she can’t be used in the Transformers comics or cartoons. Marvel could use her themselves if they felt like it, but they do not appear to be inclined to do so.

So there ya go!

Thanks for the question, John! And thanks to Per Degaton and all the good folks at The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe, for the scan from Secret Wars II!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com.

See you next week!

48 Comments

Tom Fitzpatrick

December 5, 2008 at 5:40 am

Kind of a waste of a character, to have gone to all that trouble to “own” the character, and then forget about using her/him.

No Vincente?

Yeah, she could be good foil for Machine Man or Jocasta, or the Vision.

I love how Stan retroactively claims that he basically invented the Seinfeld aesthetic of comedy. This would have been right round the time that he was introducing Percy Pinkerton, who Stan now claims was the first gay character in comics, too. Busy guy. And so forward-looking!

I love Stan, really I do; but at this point his résumé has been through more revisions than The Waste Land.

Random Stranger

December 5, 2008 at 7:15 am

“I love Stan, really I do; but at this point his résumé has been through more revisions than The Waste Land.”

I heard that Stan Lee actually said something once without hyperbole.

He quadrupled the alliteration to make up for it.

I recently re-read all of the original Transformers (in a series of hardcovers sold as “discount books”.). Circuit Breaker became part of a superhero team put together by a Tony Stark like character to challenge the Decepticons. CB was quite a loose canon though, as she was totally obcessed of ridding the earth of ALL robots, Decepticons and Autobots alike. She was a very unlikable character. Although she suffered much mental and physical tragedy, she garnered very little sympathy.

Matthew Johnson

December 5, 2008 at 8:12 am

To be fair to Stan, in the excerpt above he doesn’t say that he INVENTED Seinfeld-style comedy, just that it was his preferred genre: “It was the one strip in the world I didn’t think I was qualified to write, because I liked things that were hip and cutting-edge, cool and big city. I always wrote Seinfeld and that kind of thing.”

F-Troop featured the world’s best version of “Mr Tambourine Man”.

If I ever become a writer or artist for Marvel, I promised myself that I would use the character of Circuit Breaker. No one else is, so why not?

Brian! How could you discount the Willie Lumpkin strips as not being the same?

It’s clear they’re the story of his early days, before he headed off to New York to pursue his dream of being a big city mail man!

One of the readers from my blog sent me another batch of strips. I also have ahuge amount of background in formation on the strip (and Stan Lee’s other newspaper strip enterprises). But it cost me abundle in photocopycosts, so I am aving those fror when soemeone asks me to do the prface for the inevitable but well-deserved collection. My opinion about the strip is, that it was pretty much a failure for it’s first year. It wasn’t until the last months that Lee found the right angle for the strip, as the month of dailies I shared should show. For more Stan Lee rareties, I referr you to the upcoming issue of Hogan’s Alley, which will have an article (not by me) about Lee and deCarlo’s first newspaper strip, thei aborted pick-up run of My Friend Irma in 1952.

I think Stan is trying to say that he always wrote Seinfeld-ish stuff, not taking credit for the aesthetic or stylistic values in it, just to link it to something more up-to-date so people will know what he’s talking about. I don’t see him attempting to take credit for anything in that sentence.

Not only does it appear that Lummpkin appeared first, bust wasn’t Glenville the name of the tiny town where all of Johny Storm’s solo adventures in Strange Tales took place?

Circuit Breaker was the fore-runner of the scantily-clad “bad girl” craze of the 90′s. If she didn’t return then, I’d say she should stay away.

Such a shame. Circuit Breaker is such a great character. Marvel should use her in an Exiles story about an earth with giant robots if nothing else. Simon Furman had previously pitched a series called Techno X with her and some other humans from the Transformers series but I guess those others are owned by Hasbro now.

http://www.seibertron.com/transformers/news/techno-x-what-might-have-been-the-neo-knights-afte/5912/

and check out the great image
http://www.wildfur.net/images/TECHNOX.jpg

Thanks for the vintage DeCarlo art!!

This column has recently taken the place of the esteemed Lying in the Gutters as my favorite comic column. Great work!

Random Stranger:
The thing that made Stan Lee great was that the hyperbole was actually true sometimes.

I’d kill to see someone tackle Circuit Breaker again. Maybe add some edgy psycho-drama by having her (in reality) be a former Stark employee who was injured somehow by Sentinels, only it messed up her mind so badly she believes it was giant warring robots from space and that she worked for a nonexistent guy named Blackrock (who was clearly a Stark clone, anyway). And, true to her previous appearances, she hates ALL robots and makes no differentiation between good and evil… so if she’s fighting Ultron, then Aaron Stack had better stay away or he’s in big trouble.

There’s an awful lot of potential here that’s just been wasted since the first Transformers series ended.

“Willie Lumpkin was definitely appearing in comics before the Fantastic Four were around, but it was not necessarily the same character who appeared later in the Fantastic Four.”

For what it’s worth, back in Marvel Comics Presents #18 (1989), Glenn Hardling and Richard Howell did a Willie Lumpkin story (a “Christmas Carol” riff) establishing that the one from the strip and the FF version were the same guy.

Circuit Breaker could be a cool villain for Iron Man. There are others she could fight like Machine Man, Vision, or other technology based heroes but taking on Iron Man would give her better, er, exposure.

When the premiere episode of Seinfeld was broadcast one reviewer wrote “This is pure early 60s Stan Lee!”

Those “Willie Lumpkin” strips were published in Marvel Age Magazine,as I recall.

(If this wasn’t mentioned,I’m mentioning it now.)

“F-Troop featured the world’s best version of “Mr Tambourine Man”.”

…And as I’m reading this, the 2nd “Wrongo Starr” episode is playing on my Movie Server. Go figure :-P

Kind of a waste of a character, to have gone to all that trouble to “own” the character, and then forget about using her/him.

My guess (based on absolutely nothing) is that Marvel hoped Circuit Breaker would become such an integral part of the Transformers mythos that Hasbro would have no choice to include her in the toyline, the cartoon, etc. The chance of that happening wasn’t great, but it existed, and as this urban legend shows, it cost Marvel nothing to ensure they maintained the rights.

Omar, re:Glenville-
Yep, Glenville is where Johnny’s solo stories took place, but that’s more to do with Jerry Siegel writing those stories. Glenville was Jerry and Joe Shuster’s home town, home of the Glenville High Torch newspaper. Kind of a round about connection, that.

I read that either in Men of Tomorow or The Krypton Compendium.

Back when Sandman first started, Neil said, visually, Morpheus was based on former Bauhaus lead vocalist Peter Murphy( i think with a bit of the Cure’s Robert Smiths crazy ass hair thrown in for extra gothness…even though both say they were never goth)

Circuit Breaker would make a great iron man enemy. I would love to see her in avengers inititive also. The team she joins are the neo-knights. Guess what., marvel owns them to! They are a super hero team of mutants. (even transformers had mutants.) In a transformers letter page marvel said a mini-series for the neo-knights was in the works but it never got made.

Jerry Siegel grew up in Cleveland. He did go to Glenville High School. And he did write some early Torch stories. This is recounted in Men of Tomorrow, which is always worth a plug.

Not sure the Neo knights ever got an appearance outside TFs so they must be hasbro property.

Circuit Breaker, for all her charms, is burdened with a terrible name and an awful costume. Let her R.I.P.

I DON’T love Stan. And that strip was putrid. DeCarlo’s a master good girl artist, although in that promo, it looks like Willie is enjoying unnatural relations with that auto.

Stan = Funky Flashman. Nuff Said! Face Front, True Believers!

Marvel’s Transformers book was a great. It’s the first Marvel book I ever picked up that I can remember.

Didn’t Circuit Breaker die in the end of Simon Furman’s original Transformers run, in the final battle against Unicron when she tried to use her powers to stop him? It’s been years and years since I last read that issue, so my recollection of it is kinda hazy.

…not that this has ever stopped anyone from resurrecting a character.

Some people can’t pass up an opportunity to dump on Stan Lee, it seems, even if it is for bogus and/or marginal reasons.

Jeez.

I wish Simon Furman died in battle with Unicron. He is a hack writer. Circuit Breaker would be a good addition to the Thunderbolts. Don’t you agree, KW?

Clearly “You’re all POST OFFICE, m’boy!” needs to reenter the public lexicon; as any old person can tell you, it was the original “spongeworthy.”

Wow. I totally forgot Circuit Breaker even existed. I have fond memories of an issue of Transformers I got off a friend as a kid, with no cover, that was the issue Unicron turned up to eat Cybertron and some other one where Prime was sad Ratchet had died. Who would have thought we could get so emotionally invested in robots? But yeah, I always thought the idea of a team of sort of superhumans fighting Transformers was sort of cool.

This is one of my favorite features of any blog online…love Bronze/Silver Age comics and obscure info about them. However, I can no longer visit the site without using adblockers. It totally locks up. I have no idea which ad it is, and I really don’t care to find out either. I’m just blocking them all now. I like to support sites I enjoy by visiting their advertisers but I can no longer do it for anything on CBR.

BTW, was that an accidental inclusion of “urban” back into the archive/thread link, because it’s make my new link to the archive (made since “urban” was dropped) stop working.

Sorry, Basara, that was because I discovered that a bunch of people who linked to it in the past were now not getting it, and I figured more people linked to it BEFORE I changed it than AFTER (as it is a recent change), so i went with the older links.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

Stan Lee & I worked on a book project a few years go. Surprisingly, he was very down to earth & unassuming, very different in person than his professional persona.

Bob Budiansky was always a much better writer than Simon Furman. Budiansky’s dialogue was wordy, but his plots were always interesting (Shockwave takes over from Megatron; Blaster & Goldbug on the run from Grimlock, etc.).

I still don’t see why Claremont’s X-men was seen as a benchmark series, but Larry Hama’s G.I.Joe and Budiasky’s Transformers were considered ‘kiddy’ books. The latter two got me into comics, and I still re-read them every few years or so. They really do hold up :)

It’s all kinds of awesome to find out that the Velvet Underground had an influence in the creation of the Sandman.

Thanks Brian.

I like to think that those strips are Willie’s stories before he moved to the big city and started delivering to teh Baxter Building. =0D
I’d love to read the story someone mentioned that links the two.

Brian, you’ve got to spin werehawk’s earlier post here into something for an Urban Legend. Something like, “Marvel intended to do more with the Neo Knights that were introduced in Transformers”.

Coincidentally, I watched G.I. Joe the movie and was wondering if there was a greater, more super-hero-based purpose for introducing “Cobra-La”, but so far Wikipedia is telling me that it was just a push by Hasbro to introduce a background for Serpentor.

I remember “Willie Lumpkin” comics in Marvel Age, too. Though, by then, I think he was full-on Fantastic Four Lumpkin with the mustache and everything.

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