O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
This is the one-hundred and eighty-ninth 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-eight.
COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby based the face of Etrigan the Demon on a mask from an old Prince Valiant story by Hal Foster.
Faithful reader John McDonagh is always good for some neat-o comic book legends, and this week is no different!
John wrote in about the amazing origins of the visual look for Etrigan the Demon.
Let’s refresh everyone on our particulars here.
First off, we have The Demon, a neat book Jack Kirby did for DC during the 1970s about a demon (hence the name) named Etrigan who was summoned by Merlin to help out in the last days of Camelot. When that didn’t work out so well, Merlin turned Etrigan into a human named Jason Blood and Etrigan was trapped as Blood for centuries until Blood came across a poem that allowed him to change into Etrigan.
The poem was:
Change! Change, O form of man!
Release the might from fleshy mire!
Boil the blood in heart of fire!
Gone! Gone! — the form of man —
Rise, the Demon Etrigan!!
So that’s the Demon.
Here he is, in all his splendor, from his (fairly short-lived – 16 issues) 1972 DC series.
Okay, now Hal Foster was one of the most popular comic strip artists of the 20th Century.
He first came into prominence in the world of comics with his work on the 1929 Tarzan comic strip. Hal Foster was such a fresh visionary artist that soon he (well, he or Alex Raymond) was the most copied artist in comics, as artists would swipe from him constantly.
From a previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, here is a famous (infamous?) Hal Foster swipe by Bob Kane…
In the late 30s, Foster wanted to work on his own comics, so he created Prince Valiant, an extremely popular epic historical adventure that still remains in newspapers today (Foster retired from the strip in 1971 and passed away a decade later).
In one storyline fairly early on in the series run, Prince Valiant had to come up with a disguise. So he killed a goose and skinned it, using its skin and its various body parts to create a mask that looks like, well, a demon!
What KIND of demon, you ask?
Well, let’s take a look!
From a helpful poster on the DrawingBoard forums named Cobblepot (here is his post), here are some of the drawings from the storyline (from the later paperback collected editions of Prince Valiant that were done in the 1950s with writer Max Krell simplifying the text)…
Pretty funny, huh?
Kirby never hid the fact that he took the look from Foster – he was quite open about it. It was basically an homage from one comic book great to another, possibly as a tribute to the fact that Foster was just ending his run on Prince Valiant when Kirby began the Demon.
Thanks to John for the suggestion and thanks to Cobblepot for the scans!!
COMIC LEGEND: Outside of guest appearances in comics, Silver Surfer was once reserved for only Stan Lee to write.
Reader Arthur asked:
I’ve heard before that, for many years, it was at least a tradition or unwritten rule at Marvel that only Stan Lee could write a Silver Surfer series. Obviously, that eventually changed, but was it ever true?
Although a creation of his co-writer, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee quickly took a liking to the Silver Surfer, the noble former herald of Galactus who lost his ability to fly through space as a result of defying the mighty Galactus on behalf of the people of Earth.
So, in a rather odd turn of events, although it was Kirby who created the Surfer, it was Lee who became the main voice when it came to the Surfer, which, as you might imagine, was not exactly a WELCOME turn of events by Kirby.
To wit, Kirby had his own ideas about the Surfer (including the Surfer’s origins) and these did not necessarily match those of Stan Lee’s. In fact, the two were polar opposites when it came to the genesis of Surfer, as Kirby felt that the Surfer was completely alien (I believe Kirby figured that Galactus just created Surfer out of thin air) and that it was the goodness of Alicia Masters that CREATED humanity in a being devoid of it. Lee, on the other hand, felt that the Surfer was only RE-DISCOVERING the humanity already within his soul.
In any event, the point became moot when it was announced that there was going to be a new Silver Surfer series in the great Marvel expansion of 1968. The kicker? Lee would write it and JOHN BUSCEMA would draw it!
Kirby found out about this after it had already been decided. As you might very well imagine, he was displeased. Especially as the first issue contained Surfer’s origin, as told by Stan Lee, in which Surfer was specifically a human (or human-looking) who gave up his humanity to save his planet (and the love of his life) from Galactus.
The Lee series was not an extremely successful series, and in one last piece of silliness, Lee actually had Kirby come back and draw the last issue of the series (with Herb Trimpe doing the cover!), which was intended to be a revamp for the book, but instead was the last issue (the possible revamp was cover in this past installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed).
This was right about the time that Kirby left Marvel for DC Comics.
Although the book was canceled, Lee still had a great affinity for the character, and wanted him used sparsely.
Roy Thomas used the Surfer to great effect in a two-part storyline in Sub-Mariner in 1971 where the Surfer, Namor and the Hulk team up (the Titans Three, as it were).
The reader response to the issue was great enough that Thomas decided to launch a new ongoing team series about these heroes, however, Lee nixed the idea, because he did not want Surfer appearing in an ongoing series written by someone other than Lee.
So Dr. Strange was put in place of the Surfer, and the rest of that title is, as they say, history.
Although, when Steve Englehart took over the Defenders from Thomas, he was given permission to have the Surfer guest-star, at least, and the Surfer appeared in a number of early Defenders issues (I’d say about 4-5 of the first dozen issues).
For the next decade plus, the only Surfer comics were whenever Stan Lee could find the time to do one-off tales, like the 1978 Graphic Novel re-uniting Lee and Kirby on the character for a re-telling of the Surfer’s first story (sans the FF)…
And a 1982 one-shot with art by John Byrne (this issue tied in with a recent Comic Book Legends Revealed installment here).
The 1990 graphic novel, Silver Surfer: The Enslavers (by Lee and Keith Pollard), was originally meant also to be an early 1980s story, but was delayed a goodly amount of years.
Finally, though, in 1987, the higher-ups at Marvel determined that a Silver Surfer ongoing could be a success now, and since Stan Lee was not going to be writing an ongoing title in 1987 (and perhaps Marvel would not WANT him to), the Lee rule was broken, and Steve Englehart became the first writer other than Stan Lee to write the Silver Surfer on a regular basis (Englehart’s run got off to an odd start itself, as well, as seen in this previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed).
So there you go, Arthur!
Thanks to Arthur (who has a great comic book name “Arthur Adams”) for the question and thanks to Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart for explaining the “Stan Lee Silver Surfer Rule” a number of times in past interviews!
COMIC LEGEND: There was never an explanation in the comics as to why Jughead had an “S” on his sweater.
Okay, so first I do a Comic Book Legends Revealed on Jughead’s beanie where I casually mention that the “S” on his sweater has not been explained.
Well, now, for the third week in a row, we’re going to take a look at Jughead and specifically that statement, as while Archie Comics might not currently feel as though there is an “official” explanation for the “S” on Jughead’s sweater (a ret-con, if you would), there HAVE been actual explanations in the comics themselves!
Reader Bill wrote in to tell me about one such story, from the most recent Jughead series:
[O]ne of the issues focused on Jughead having a session with a therapist/hypnotist who was helping him discover the secret of the “S” which even he had forgotten long ago. They delved deeper and deeper into Jughead’s past until just before the end of the story, Jughead gives her the throwaway line, “It stands for “Stan” or “Smitty” or some long-lost relative” who was the first member of Jughead’s family who was obsessed with food, and passed the obsession on down through Jughead’s family. Still no real explanation as to why he would continue to immortalize the hereditary proclivity on his outerwear, however.
In the comments section, commenter zundian wrote:
The “S” on Jughead’s shirt stands for Sweater. Someone asked him during one of those “future Jughead” stories back in the late ’80s. Apparently it’s not that well known of a story, because later writers have tried to make it more of a mystery.
The best post on the topic, though, was from the nifty comic blog, I Was Ben, where Steven wrote about an old Jughead story drawn by Samm Schwartz where Jughead explains why he wears an “S”:
I like “S!” It’s a warm friendly letter! We suit each other! We’re like, y’know….compatible! “S” stands for sandwich, steak, shrimp…all kinds of goodies!
Check out the link above to see the actual page where the line came from!
So there you go – while you can certainly understand why Archie Comics would prefer “it’s a mystery!” to either one of these three explanations, they do exist!
Thanks to Bill, zundian and Steven for the information! If anyone else has seen an Archie Comic story where they ALSO explain the “S”, let me know and I’ll add it in!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers! I just noticed that I’ve been leaving their “thank you” out of the last few months’ worth of columns! There was one week where I used no covers so, well, with no covers it seemed silly to thank them for that week’s covers, but I must have forgotten to put them back in the next week! My sincerest apologies! The Grand Comic Book Database rules!
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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