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Comic Book Legends Revealed #239

Welcome to the two-hundred and thirty-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 two hundred and thirty-eight.

Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed where we learn the secret origin of “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)!”

Since it is Christmas-time, the time of gift giving, it calls to mind the concept of “re-gifting” (reusing a gift you’ve been given as a gift to someone else) – and that, in effect, is the theme for this week’s legends! After the last two installments about Walt Simonson re-packaging two unpublished comics (John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, respectively) into totally different comics, this week has three legends ALL about re-purposing comics!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Marv Wolfman and Steve Ditko re-did a fill-in issue for Godzilla as a brand-new Dragon-related character.

STATUS: True

In 1977, Marvel Comics licensed the use of Godzilla for an ongoing comic series.

Like their other licensed purchases of the late 1970s, though, the book did not sell too well, and by 1979, it was canceled…

However, before the book was canceled, Marvel produced a fill-in issue of the title, which was common for the time, as books would have completed issues “in the can,” ready to slot in if a book was late (often these books would be drawn by older artists, who tended to be faster – guys like Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, George Tuska, etc.).

Well, as we have seen the last two installments of Comic Book Legends Revealed, Marvel definitely did not waste anything back then, so the Godzilla fill-in by Marv Wolfman and Steve Ditko, ended up appearing in the pages of the re-launched Marvel Spotlight in 1980 as Dragon Lord, about a fellow who can control dragons.

Honestly, the comic translates pretty well.

Here’s the ending…

I particularly love the bit where they basically cut Godzilla out of the page and have that be “disappearing from our time.” That was pretty darn clever, all things considered.

Amusingly enough, while this is a bit less certain, it sure does seem like the dragon stand-in for the Godzilla character is a lot like Droom, a Godzilla-like monster from Tales to Astonish #9 (Ditko worked on that issue, but not that story – Don Heck drew the Droom story, and Jack Kirby did the cover)…

Dan Slott and Christos Gage would bring Dragon Lord out of his almost thirty year long stay in limbo when they had him join The 50-State Initiative in 2007 (Avengers: Initiative #8).

Sadly, his tenure was cut short, as he died the next issue…

In issue #12, Slott and Gage do a nice callback to the Marvel Spotlight story, showing his family from that issue…

Not a bad life (and death) for a re-purposed character!

COMIC LEGEND: P. Craig Russell’s Robin 3000 series was originally created as a Tom Swift revamp.

STATUS: True

Our own Pol Rua reminded me of this a couple of weeks ago, so here it is…

In 1992, DC Comics released a two-part, prestige format series called Robin 3000, by P. Craig Russell and Byron Preiss.

It was, naturally enough, about Robin in the year 3000.

Tom Wayne, nephew of Bruce Wayne the 20th, helps save Earth from a race of despotic aliens.

The series was quite good (Russell is amazing, after all), but it did not really feel much like a Batman/Robin tale.

Here, for example, are a few sample pages…

Good stuff, but not a very Bat-like book.

And that was because it was originally intended to be a Tom Swift series!

Tom Swift was created in 1910, as a series of science fiction young adult novels starring the titular character, who would invent devices and use science to help save the day.

The original series of novels ran from 1910 to 1941.

Another series of novels, ostensibly Tom Swift JR. now, ran from 1954 to 1971, and was arguably just as influential as the original run.

The character was purchased by Simon and Schuster in the 1980s, who have owned the character ever since.

It was during the 1980s, that the project that became Robin 3000 originally came into being, as Tom Swift 3000!

P. Craig Russell explains the situation thusly:

It was around ’85 or ’86 that publisher/packager Byron Preiss approached me with the idea of a book for young teenagers based on the old Tom Swift series of books updated (all the way to the year 3000) and presented as a series of graphic novellas. He was producing it for Simon and Schuster, the publishing house that also had the rights to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books which they were planning to relaunch. Tom Swift would tie in with an eye to the comics market. Oboy, Simon and Schuster! I was impressed. Now, most of my friends in Kent were in or associated with the English department at Kent State University. My being published by companies like First, Pacific, or Eclipse meant nothing to them. Marvel had a certain cachet. But Simon and Schuster? Eyebrows were raised. I admit it was a part of the seduction like being asked to the dance by one of the ‘cool’ kids… you hardly know the person but everyone else is so impressed. Anyway, after just having finished adaptations of works by the likes of Maeterlinck, Kipling, and Wilde I thought it would be fun to draw a space opera with all the sorts of hardware and futuristic backgrounds I had not drawn since Killraven. A lark. “You know…for kids.”

I should have taken it as an omen when, shortly before I was ready to begin, my model broke his arm. I found someone else and got all my research photos. There was a short series of delays, I forget why, and by the time I was back to it my original model had his cast off and I started over, feeling embarrassed having to tell the other person I wouldn’t be using him after all. I had never worked on a project in which the script was being re-written in the course of drawing it. I also had never had to deal, albeit second hand, with such a hands-on art director as I had at S & S. I would send in pages to Byron who would take them to S & S, and then relay to me the needed changes. The most notorious came at the coloring stage.

(I’ve snipped the digression)

Back to the discussion…

So… it was finally finished, 58 pages and a cover designed by Steranko (an 8 by 11 xerox layout that looked like he tossed it off in a matter of minutes and was absolutely spot-on in its dynamics and composition. I followed it exactly). Nothing happened. It was slated for S & S’s Spring schedule. It was slated for S & S’s Fall schedule. It was slated for Spring. Then Fall. Finally it was slated for bupkis! S & S was not going to be publishing graphic novels.

Lesson #2: Just When You Think You’ve Covered Everything IN The Contract. Theres always a provision about the return of original artwork, usually within 60 to 90 days of publication. This is what I had in my contract with Byron. But what happens if they don’t publish? There it sits, in the publisher’s (or producer’s) drawer. We (Star*Reach and I) asked for it back… no dice.

Finally, some five years later, Byron took it over to DC Comics and pitched it as an Elseworlds book. Tom would be re-incarnated as Robin in the year 3000 and new material would be added to incorporate Batman and bracket the story. And why is this guy running around who is now called Robin but is not dressed like him? Um… ’cause he’s undercover… yeah, that’s it, he’s undercover, thats the ticket. So I called back my ‘Tom’ model, now married, a daddy, and a good 25 pounds heavier and drew the new 18 pages and produced a new cover for the second volume—my Wally Wood/EC Comics/Sci-Fi homage.

And thats how a sweet little sci-fi nostalgia romp became Robin 3000.

Pretty cool, huh?

Thanks to François Peneaud’s awesome P. Craig Russell fan site for the quote, P. Craig Russell for being so helpful with the information, and my pal Pol for reminding me of this one! I had meant to feature this, like, literally four years ago and I never got around to it!

COMIC LEGEND: The illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf was originally going to be an original graphic novel by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson.

STATUS: False

Speaking of older legend ideas, the following was suggested by a reader (I’m afraid I’ve lost the name of the reader – Blogger is not very good at searching comments) over four years ago…

I’ve heard that King and Wrightson’s Cycle of the Werewolf was originally intended to be a graphic novel, but got scaled back to an illustrated prose novel before publication.

Cycle of the Werewolf was a 1984 short novel by Stephen King, with illustrations by Bernie Wrightson.

Here’s one of the illustrations by Wrightson (man, Ditko, Russell and now Wrightson – the theme should be “amazing comic book artists!”)…

Cycle of the Werewolf DID have an odd genesis, but it was not a re-worked graphic novel.

Wrightson, as you might know, is a great horror artist, and he certainly can draw a mean werewolf. Here are a few covers by Wrightson with werewolves on them…

So in the early 1980s, Wrightson was hired to draw a series of werewolf pin-ups for use in a calendar.

King was attached to the project to write short vignettes for each month, with each one being a sort of “chapter” in one story.

However, after King began working on the project, he began to write too much and it soon became clear that it was not going to work as a calendar. Naturally, no one is going to turn down a new Stephen King book, especially one with great illustrations by Bernie Wrightson, so the calendar idea was dropped and it became a novella, Cycle of the Werewolf.

Thanks for the suggestion, reader from four years ago whose name I have forgotten!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

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

As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!

Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you next week!

Merry Christmas, everybody!

38 Comments

There’s a spot where you obviously meant to include pages from Robin 3000, but nothing’s there.

How odd. How about now?

Yep, there they are.

Anyone else notice how Droom the giant dragon is wearing underpants? LOL!

Bill he must have gone to the same shop that Fin Fang Foom does…..

The snipped Russell digression sounds interesting and probably would have been better to include as original content rather than using half of a Marvel comic. The phrasing of the Cycle of the Werewolf legend is also off and the title’s wrong in the concluding sentence.

Rumor #3 right now says “The illustrated novella was originally going to be an original graphic novel by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson.” It seems there should be a title in there somewhere, unless this is the only illustrated novella ever produced. “The illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf was originally…” etc.

It seems there should be a title in there somewhere, unless this is the only illustrated novella ever produced.

Thanks! Fixed it!

So the fictitious author of the Tom Swift books had a fictitious son who wrote the later series? That’s cool.
(For those who don’t know, Swift was created by Edward Strattemeyer [hope I got that name right] who also created the Hardy Boys as ‘Franklin W Dixon’ and Nancy Drew as ‘Caroline Keene’, as well as a great many other series, most of which have been forgotten. From what I’ve read, he would write the first book in each series himself to introduce the characters and set the style, and then sometimes plot the next one or two [in a version of the Marvel Method for novels] and then hand the series over to a team of ghost-writers. A strange way to publish books, but very successfull.)

So that Marvel Spotlight had a Dragon Lord drawn by Ditko? The next year’s Fantastic Four Annual also had a character known as ‘Dragon Lord’ in a story drawn by Ditko. Was there any connection, or was simply coincidence? I know the Fantastic Four character didn’t resemble this one much. Does anyone know if he ever appeared again? At the end of the story he had domesticated Dragon Man and had taken him away with him to his world, but I know that a few years later, Dragon Man was back on Earth and back to his old self. I always wondered what happened to Dragon Lord Ral Dorn and how Dragon Man ended up back on Earth. At the end of the annual, they asked readers to write in if they wanted to see more Dragon Lord stories, so I’m assuming they were probably considering it as a possible series.

It’s kind of amusing that anytime the character’s name comes up in Robin 3000 (“Tom Wayne”, “Mr. Wayne”, etc.), it’s tinier than the rest of the text, as if it were replacing something else.

strangely, i knew Cycle was begun as a calendar. cool info on Dragon Lord, though.

Was there any connection, or was simply coincidence?

Well, perhaps Ditko remembered the name, but otherwise, no, just a coincidence.

Tom Swift is probably best known today for lending his name to the Thomas A. Swift Electronic Rifle, or taser, for short. The inventor thought the cops should have non-fatal zappers just like his boyhood hero. (Alas, it turns out that tasers kill people too, but the cops like them anyway)

[…] Regifting | Brian Cronin investigates two comic book legends that involve regifting of a sort. […]

Funny, I actually own that Marvel Spotlight on Dragon Lord (1980). Of course, had I known 95% of it would be published for free right here on CBR 29 years later, I would’ve saved 40 cents and waited. (Ha!)

Oh, and “Droom! The Living Lizard” — WTF? “Living”? As opposed to the regular DEAD kind?

What next: “Brad, The Breathing Man”..?

Behold!

/AS

And Happy Holidays to you, annoying Posting Bot! :P

I noticed that too with “Tom Wayne” appearing in smaller font than everything else – as if it was originally lettered with a shorter name like, oh…, Robin…???

Maybe I’m being dense here, but did they not only re-use the canned Godzilla story, but create the new Dragon Lord character to make use of it? I’m having a hard time picturing if the the Dragon Lord character was in the original Godzilla story somehow, or if that part was completely tacked on for Spotlight.

I can’t believe no one has mentioned Tom Swifties, the old humor form.

“I’m missing one yellow flower,” Tom said, lackadaisically.

@ Matt Bird: I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a taser jolt to a bullet. They never bother to report all the times that a cop shoots a guy with a taser and he lives, or all the times a cop shoots someone with a gun who then dies.

i’ve read somewhere in a book that kinda annotates all of King’s work from that point that the Trash Can Man from The Stand was suposed to be a character at Marvel, but either King backed out, or Marvel backed out, so Trash became a character in the Stand. I don’t know how true that is, though.

OH man, they mentioned the great concept that was ‘The Initiative.’ Boy, was that the most pointless concept of all time. One team for each of the fifty states.

I can’t wait for the Urban Legend in a few years about Civil War: “Was it intentionally bad?’ ‘Did they actually not have an ending when the first issue came out?’

Until then, let’s try to pick up the pieces.

It’s funny: I own both issues of “Robin 3000″ but can’t remember one thing about them, other than that I didn’t like them. That reaction wouldn’t be from the Russell artwork – big fan! – but looking at the pages scanned here, I assume it was because I was expecting a stronger tie to the Batman genre. Or, you know, any real tie at all! ;-) At least now I know WHY it was such a crappy marriage of concepts.

I was going to ask if comics were the only medium that has this history of re-purposing unused material in new ways, but then I remembered “The Menagerie” 2-parter in the original “Star Trek” TV series.

I would love to see a real Tom Swift series! (BTW, I’ve missed the Doc Savage comic so far – is it any good?)
This isn’t quite the same thing, but one of my favourite “secret origins” is that Machine Man got his start in Marvel’s years-after-the-fact adaptation of 2001. Kind of like Killraven. Speaking of which, I think I read that some Killraven stories got repurposed as Planet Of The Apes, or vice versa.

Ah, the tangled world of licensed characters…

@comixkid2099: do you happen to know the name of that book withthe Stephen King annotations offhand? I’d love to check it out some time.

I had kind of the same reaction as Kimota94 when I read Robin 3000. Thought it was okay, but not memorable. The funny thing is that it probably would have been a more satisfying book if they had just published it as a standalone sci-fi book, but it probably wouldn’t have sold a fifth of what it did without the Batman connection.

That is some sweet Steve Ditko artwork. It would have been very cool if it had been published as an actual Godzilla story. I mean, Godzilla by Ditko! In any case, the revamped story looks cool. I’ll have to track down that Marvel Spotlight issue.

Anyway, as always, a great column. Keep up the good work.

Please un-snip the P. Craig Russell digression. It was getting into the most interesting part of the whole article.

The “Should I take evasive action?” from the third page of Robin looks just like Russell himself. Since he mentions drawing from models, I wonder if he used himself as a model for the character.

Back in the ’80s, when Simon and Schuster got the rights to Tom Swift, they put out a third series of books that I guess starred Tom Swift III. It didn’t last very long.

IIRC the old horror movie from the 80’s called SILVER BULLET was based on Kings’ CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF. I think Gary Busey and Corey Haim was in it? I just remember ROTFLOL at the part when a townsperson attacked a werewolf with a baseball bat! :-D

With apologies to Brian, for Jeremy Bear here’s the snipped digression:

“Speaking of coloring, let me digress for a moment. I learned some valuable lessons on this project. One was never to be rushed into inferior work. Early on, after a number of pages had been inked Byron told me he needed a couple pages colored immediately for a presentation, at a book fair or what I’m no longer sure, but he needed them almost over night. He sent me photostats of two pages that I was to color on. Coloring on photo paper is notoriously difficult and Michael T. Gilbert and I had evolved an elaborate system of air brushing and frisket paper overlays to successfully deal with it. But now there was no time for such an approach. I hadn’t even begun to think of what color schemes I would be using and I hadn’t the several day ‘warmup’ in which one finds their coloring ‘legs’. I told Byron I didn’t think I could do it justice under the circumstances but he assured me it made no difference, the important thing was that we have something, anything to show. I produced it and it looked as smeary and uninspired as you might imagine. I sent it off. Days later, I was imformed that S & S had serious reservations about my coloring the book. All previous examples of my coloring seemed to count for naught in the face of these two photostat pages. Lesson-people will only see what is immediately in front of them so don’t let yourself be bullied into producing less than your best… for whatever reason.

But back to the coloring on the book. As I was ready to start I told Byron I intended to color Tom’s hair brown. I’d done enough blonds and wanted some variety (I’d even been called on it in some review—too many blonds). Byron said that was fine with him, he didn’t want any “blond-haired small toothed nazis”(!). I still remember holding the phone out and looking at it. Blond-haired small tooth nazis? Well, there goes the state of Minnesota. I let it pass. But we both got our comeuppence when, after completing the coloring and sending it in we were informed that Tom Swift had to be a blond. The art director hath spoken. Has anyone ever tried to repaint watercolor? I had to go in with a tiny brush dipped in bleach and slowly leech out the brown color and then go back in with a pale yellow. Yes, Tom Swift IS a bleach blond.

I no longer remember all the revisions, but towards the end an odd thing happened to me. I was working on the climactic battle, a scene which to this day I’m proud of only because it was so complicated in its action, choreographing many characters engaged in actions both individual and simultaneous. Just figuring it all out and making it flow from panel to panel was a real challenge. But I started to feel a pressure in my head—like when you are underwater. Budding hypochondriac that I was, I was convinced that it was high blood pressure and a stroke was imminent. Went to the Doctor. Blood pressure was fine. She told me not to work so hard. Gave me sedatives. I achieved a very smooth inking line.”

I always thought Robin 3000 was a really, really off Elseworlds book. But as soon as you mentioned Tom Swift it made perfect sense. It truly is strange how much manages to get reused in comicdom.

“OH man, they mentioned the great concept that was ‘The Initiative.’ Boy, was that the most pointless concept of all time. One team for each of the fifty states.”

Actually it is a rather fun to read comic that has revived the careers of multiple lesser Marvel characters as well as served as a great book to introduce new characters and if they don’t take off? Meh we just get a “new class” of recruits. The logic behind dropping characters is built into the book’s concept. Plus the writers themselves worked the idea of having fifty teams into the book by having the pressure of graduating enough heroes to quickly fill out all those teams being an ongoing subplot.

I’m with “Anonymous”…

Avengers, The Initiative is actually the only Avengers book I’m reading at the moment…

onion3000: Thank you

[…] after the main feature — after reading in Brian Cronin’s Comic Book Legends feature (read it here) that the issue was first intended as a fill-in for Marvel’s Godzilla series. When Godzilla […]

Am I the only one who would like to see Dragon Lord’s teenaged son follow through with his promise and become AWESOME? Ah, yet another sad fan wishing he worked in the industry so that he could do pitches.

“For those who don’t know, Swift was created by Edward Strattemeyer [hope I got that name right] who also created the Hardy Boys as ‘Franklin W Dixon’ and Nancy Drew as ‘Caroline Keene’, as well as a great many other series, most of which have been forgotten.”

Holy Moley! The guy’s a legend! He’s like the Stan Lee of YA fiction.

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