INTERVIEW: DiDio & Lee on "Dark Knight 3," Vertigo's Future & DC's Evolving Readership
Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-first 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 fifty.
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 to find out just what kind of censoring that Pat Boone did to Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”!
This week is a special theme week – all legends relating to one of my all-time favorite comic book writers, Roger Stern!
COMIC LEGEND: X-Men vs. Avengers had to be re-written because they changed the ending at the last moment!
Back in 2007, reader Mike wrote in the comments:
An Urban Legends that has bothered me for years, and about which there doesn’t seem to be much info out there. (It dates from an era before the net, and there was much less fan press out there.) I’m hopping you can help me run it down:
The X-MEN vs. AVENGERS mini series, what the heck happened at the end? It was a four issue book, and the first three issues by Roger Stern and Marc Silvestri were great— then in the last issue, totally different creative team, and a hard left turn in the plot and direction. It reads like a last-minute Editorial Change-Up, and it’s a train wreck of an unsatisfying, bewildering ending. Does anybody out there know the story behind the scenes on this?
As you recall, X-Men vs. the Avengers was a mini-series written by Roger Stern and drawn by Marc Silvestri.
It involved the Avengers fighting the X-Men over Magneto.
The big reveal in the last issue would be that Magneto was back to being a super-villain (in other words, no more “conflicted anti-hero” or whatever).
However, before the series ended, the higher-ups at Marvel decided that such a story was not a good idea, so Tom DeFalco was tapped to write the NEW ending to the series, which has the status quo basically staying the same (Keith Pollard also took over on art for #4, but that was more about Silvestri getting “promoted” to the regular artist on Uncanny X-Men than anything else).
So there ya go, Mike!
COMIC LEGEND: Roger Stern stopped writing Captain America because Jim Shooter came up with a “no more three-part stories” rule.
Roger Stern and John Byrne had a great run on Captain America in the early 1980s, but sadly their run was cut short after less than TEN issues!
But boy were those nine issues awesome.
In any event, for years the story has been that they left the book because first Stern quit because Marvel had instituted a “no three-issue long stories” policy, and he and Byrne had already submitted (and had approved) a three-issue story arc involving the Red Skull.
So Stern quit and after being offered the book himself, Byrne quit the book, as well, in solidarity.
That’s how I always knew the story (and surely the whole “Stern quit the book over an argument with the Cap editor and then Byrne was offered the book and chose to leave instead in solidarity” part is absolutely true), and that was how I was going to run the story in Comic Book Legends YEARS ago.
But just as I was going to run it back then, I saw Roger Stern mention on his forum that he was doing an interview that would reveal a different twist into the story. I then promptly forgot to ever run the piece again. Well, now that’s corrected.
In a wonderful interview with George Khoury (the phrase “wonderful interview” and “George Khoury” tend to go hand in hand, don’t they?), Stern details, in his words, why he left the book…
George Khoury: Can you explain why John and you left Cap after #255?
Roger Stern: That gets a little complicated. Marvel was starting to crack the whip on deadlines, and all the editors were under pressure to get their books on time. I’d had some stomach trouble midway through our run on Cap, and John was about to get married, and Jim Salicrup was understandably worried that we would fall further behind. I thought we could pull ahead in just a matter of weeks – my digestion was already back to normal, and I knew that John’s work ethic was as strong as mine – and to prove it, I sat down and plotted the next three issues straight through. Jim was still uneasy about the deadlines, and so he decided to schedule a fill-in by another writer. I pointed out that we already had a fill-in underway; Frank Miller was drawing a stand-alone Cap story that I was going to script. (It eventually saw print in Marvel Fanfare.)
“By the Dawn’s Early Light!” featured in Captain America #247 by Stern, John Byrne, and Joe Rubinstein. The first issue with Rog and his collaborators in their short-lived classic Captain America run.
In those days before royalties, Marvel had what was called a “continuity bonus.” If you wrote or drew six consecutive issues, you got a bonus. And so on for the next six, and the next. A fill-in before issue #258 would set all of our bonuses back.
But beyond that, I was worried about losing sales momentum on the series. We’d been working hard to build up the readership, and I knew from my days as an editor that fill-ins usually cost you readers.
Back during those early days of the Direct Market, when the greatest percentage of sales still came from the newsstand, it was a given that sales would dip after each fill-in. It could take a book’s regular creative team as much as three issues to get the readership back up to the pre-fill-in level.
Well, I couldn’t persuade Jim not to schedule a fill-in. And, looking back, if I had been in his shoes, I might have done the same thing. But I wasn’t in his shoes. I was the freelancer, and I didn’t like the way we were being treated.
I’d worked with Jim a long time and I really didn’t want to come to loggerheads with him. So, I took back all three plots, tore up the vouchers, and stepped away from the book. I figured, better to leave Cap on an up note with the 40th anniversary issue.
Ultimately, my take is that neither man is “wrong,” and it was likely a combination of the two events, but in Stern’s case, he specifically felt that the “broken string” reason was his main reason. It might be that had he agreed on THAT point that he would have still quit over the “no three issue stories” deal (which we do know WAS a short-lived edict at Marvel Comics during the early 80s), but his main reason was the one that he stated. And, as Byrne recalls, it WAS that Stern had a disagreement with the Cap editor and quit, which is what Stern says – just a slight variation as to the origin of the argument that directly led to Stern quitting.
Thanks to John Trumbull for reminding me to feature this one! And thanks to George Khoury and Roger Stern for the information!
COMIC LEGEND: DC did an Earth Day comic in conjunction with the U.S. Government.
Reader Shawn wrote in about this one (he actually got the info from Roger Stern himself! Go Shawn!).
Back in 1991, DC released a one-shot called Superman For Earth…
It was a weird book in that it was not heavily promoted and quickly disappeared from the collective comic book consciousness.
It was so odd that Shawn figured that it must have been one of those books that DC “had” to put out, because of a deal that they made with the government to promote environmentalism, as the book was all about that topic – it was even printed on recycled paper (a novel idea at the time)!
However, as it turned out, it was actually pretty much the opposite!
As it turned out, Jenette Kahn wanted to do a Superman book to tie in with Earth Day (a lot of people love to tie in with Earth Day).
And that was the original name for the project – Superman: Earth Day.
So DC began work on the project, giving Stern the first crack at it as he was the senior Superman writer on staff at the time.
But then they discovered that the Earth Day Network (the folks who oversee the use of the name, Earth Day) actually wanted a sizable amount of money to license “Earth Day” for the comic, so DC quickly changed their approach, re-named the comic and basically shuffled it to the back burner, which is where it remained.
It was released, eventually sold out and is currently out of print.
It’s too bad, too, as it’s a nice little story by Stern and his former Superman cohort, Kerry Gammill.
Thanks to Shawn for the suggestion (and the legwork)! And, of course, thanks to Roger Stern for the information!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, last 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…
See you all next week!
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