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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #285

Welcome to the two-hundred and eighty-fifth 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 eighty-four.

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 learn what classic Carpenters song was originally written for a bank commercial!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). As I’ve promised, at 2,000 Twitter followers I’ll do a BONUS edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed during the week we hit 2,000. So go follow us (here‘s the link to our Twitter page again)! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

NOTE: There is some nudity (comic and photographic) in this piece, so if you don’t want to see stuff like that, skip this installment!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: A British comic strip celebrated D-Day by showing full front nudity of its female lead for the first time.

STATUS: False

Originally titled Jane’s Journal – Or the Diary of a Bright Young Thing, Jane was a comic strip by British writer/artist Norman Pett that appeared in the Daily Mirror for nearly thirty years!

Initially based on his wife, Pett drew much more attention to the strip when he began basing the character on noted nude model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter.

Here is Leighton-Porter, in the flesh…

Along with her pet dachsund, Fritz, Jane would get into all sorts of wacky hijinx that mostly involved her accidentally losing her clothes. By “her clothes,” of course, I mean her blouses and skirts – she’d almost always still be wearing a bra under her shirt.

When writer Don Freeman took over the strip, he began to give Jane actual serial adventures (although, of course, still finding plenty of opportunities for her to disrobe).

In any event, as the story goes, Jane finally showed it all on June 7, 1944, in honor of D-Day. Here is that strip…

In the Telegraph’s obituary for Leighton-Porter (who died in 2000), that’s how they tell the story, as well:

CHRISTABEL LEIGHTON-PORTER, who has died aged 87, was the model for the Daily Mirror’s wartime strip cartoon “Jane”; the character’s lightly-clad adventures with the Security Service were credited with maintaining the morale of the Forces and even, on the morning in 1944 when she first appeared nude, with inspiring the 36th Division to advance six miles through Normandy in a single day.

While it is almost certainly true that Pett and Freeman DID have a special strip to honor the Allied forces in Normandy, and said strip WAS most likely airlifted to the troops to boost morale, Jane had appeared fully nude a number of times before this time.

For instance, here’s a couple of 1943 strips…

So this seems pretty clearly to be an example of a strip being SO famous that people just gave it more importance than it really had.

Pett left the strip in 1948 (his assistant Michael Hubbard took over) and the strip finally ended in 1959, with Jane marrying her longtime beau.

Thanks to R.C. Harvey’s brilliant Rants and Raves column for the scoop (and the scans)!

COMIC LEGEND: Steve Englehart had an interesting farewell to Marvel in the original pages of Avengers #149.

STATUS: True

In 1976, Steve Englehart left Marvel Comics over a dispute with editorial. The particulars of the arguments do not really matter (suffice it to say that Englehart was not happy with Marvel), but I just wanted to show something that Scott Edelman (noted sci-fi writer/editor and former writer/editor for Marvel Comics) discovered when looking at some original art from Avengers #149, Englehart’s last full issue of Avengers (he co-scripted #150).

The end of the issue is the same as the normal issue, except for a text box. Scott helpfully circled it…

(click on image to enlarge)

Isn’t that funny?

The most amusing aspect to me is that Tom Orzechowski even LETTERED it, as though it was actually going to be included in the issue!

Scott also points out another interesting aspect of the original pages – if you look at the notes in the margins, it is the penciler of the issue, George Perez, complaining about various delays on Avengers issues that were making his life difficult at the time, deadline-wise (Perez was drawing a TON of comics back then).

Scott notes this is a “farewell,” but commenter Rob M. does bring up an interesting question of whether this is perhaps just an example of the general issues Englehart was having with Marvel editorial at the time and not literally a “farewell.” So I dunno for sure – it’s funny either way! Thanks so much to Scott Edelman for calling attention to this piece of comic book history! Check out his website here.

COMIC LEGEND: A comic book writer sued over comments another writer made over what his comic book work said about his mental state.

STATUS: True

Like the Flex Mentallo case last week, this is a story that I likely should have addressed in Comic Book Legends Revealed years ago.

As I featured recently in a Year of Cool Comics, Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo did a notable run in Adventure Comics starring the Spectre.

The comic was especially notable for how the Spectre would get poetic revenge upon the bad guys. Here are some examples…

Some pretty brutal stuff, eh?

In any event, in a 1979 interview in The Comics Journal by interviewer Gary Groth and interviewee Harlan Ellison, Groth asked if Ellison was following any comics, and Ellison began to talk about Fleisher’s Spectre run and this went off into a tangent about Fleisher’s prose work, as well). During the discussion of Fleisher’s writing, he referred to Fleisher using each of the following terms at one point or another:

crazy
certifiable
twisted
derange-o
bugfuck
lunatic

Naturally, Fleisher was not happy about this, and he sued Ellison, Groth and The Comics Journal for libel, seeking $2,000,000 in damages.

To succeed on a libel claim, Fleisher had to prove that Ellison had made defamatory comments, that he knew they were false (or at least had a reckless disregard for whether they were true or not) and the comments had to have caused an actual injury to the reputation of Fleisher.

Whether you believe the comments qualified or not (amusingly, Ellison at one point even said in the interview about one of his comments “that’s a libellous thing to say” – Ellison also said at trial, though, that he was meant “bugfuck crazy” as a compliment and that very well could be true as Ellison did tend to talk that way), when the case finally made its way in front of a jury in 1986, the jury found in favor of the defendants and that no libel occurred.

Still, it was a fascinating event in comic book history, and thanks to commenter Rob M for reminding me I really ought to spotlight it (he didn’t specify here, but here’s as good a place as any).

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics 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. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

As you likely know by now, in April of last year my book 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 all next week!

110 Comments

Great stuff this week. I just wish DC kept publishing that version of the Spectre and not what we have now.

Kevin, I agree. Dave Lapham’s recent Spectre book seemed to be going for the same brilliantly twisted spirit of that old run but missed the boat completely and just came off disgusting and tacky instead.

I thought Ellison’s remarks about Fleisher were in regards to his novel Captain Blood, not his work on The Spectre.

Schnitzy Pretzelpants

November 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

Gotta say, maybe it’s me but why can’t we bring back the kind of loungewear for women that is practical, comfortable, and so sheer you can see the curvature and beauty of a woman’s ass through it?

I’m going to see if my girlfriend agrees, and look for a number like Jane is wearing in the third panel of the first strip (no pun intended) shown.

I thought Ellison’s remarks about Fleisher were in regards to his novel Captain Blood, not his work on The Spectre.

They were in regards to his Spectre work and his novel work. But you’re right, I should mention that. I’ll go do that now.

Anyone familiar with British newspaper comic strips can point out many examples of nudity in various strips. The early seventies book, COMICS: ANATOMY OF A MASS MEDIUM even shows an example of GUN LAW, a UK newspaper adaptation of the US GUNSMOKE TV program, with a naked lady!

As far as the Fleischer suit, I recall Ellison at one point responding in print to several of the words on the list you printed by saying he meant them as a compliment!

Yeah, steve, he did say that he meant them as compliments. I’ll edit that in, too!

It would be nice to get a little more context for both the Englehart and the Ellison/Fleisher stories. What exactly motivated Englehart to include that note in his final issue? And including a few direct quotes from the Ellison interview would be helpful (if that is legally allowed, of course). I know that Ellison has often used “bugfuck” in a complementary manner, as “that is so wonderfully creative that you wonder where it came from”.

I think the only context we need for Englehart’s departure is that he was irked at Marvel editorial enough to stop working for them. The specifics don’t really matter. That Ellison said his comments were intended as complimentary is important to note, though, so I already edited that in.

It’s also interesting to note that the Fleisher libel case is what led to the end of the friendship between Harlan Ellison and Comics Journal founder Gary Groth.

To add to what booksteve said, I’ve been reading Titan’s reprints of the James Bond UK strip, and plenty of them feature nudity.

I guess I never really understood the notoriity of the Fleisher Spectre run. Maybe it was because I wasn’t exposed to it until the late 70’s or early 80’s, or because I never really considered the Spectre to be a “superhero”, so the whole “superhero that kills” thing didn’t really occur to me,, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I did read them. The stories, and art, themselves were, and are, great….but notorious?? Couldn’t see it, still can’t.

sackett, by today’s standards they’re pretty tame, but for the era I imagine they must have been pretty out there, especially for a mainstream book on the newstands.

[…] fun installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed.  And it’s even got a bit of cheesecake.  Well, hell, it’s […]

Brian, did you get my request in #284’s comments?

I’m so not familiar with this era Ellison and not at all of Fleisher and his Spectre work, but how did that interview lead into Ellison going on a long enough tangent that he got to fit all those words in about Fleisher?

Thanks, Brian.

By the way, isn’t odd to see the words “Harlan Ellison” and “lawsuit” in a story that doesn’t involve him accusing someone of plagiarism?

I’m so not familiar with this era Ellison and not at all of Fleisher and his Spectre work, but how did that interview lead into Ellison going on a long enough tangent that he got to fit all those words in about Fleisher?

It was just a normal, typical interview when Groth asked Ellison if he were following any comics recently, and that sent Ellison off into a tangent about Fleisher’s Spectre work (and then, Fleisher’s work in general).

Wow, those Jane strips are really great, cheeky stuff. Are they collected anywhere?
. . . strictly for artistic reasons of course!

Yep, the color drawing of Jane is the cover of a recent collection of Jane strips. You can find it on Amazon (Misadventures of Jane)!

Just to give another example of Ellison’s method of critique of others work, the following was related by JMS (who used Ellison as a co-writer for Babylon 5). This was said, IIRC, at Marcon, in Columbus, OH, when they had JMS as the guest of honor during the height of Babylon 5 fandom.

When JMS was a starting writer, he’d managed to strike up a letter-exchanging relationship of some sorts with Ellison. He sent some of his early stories to Ellison, for commentary, and advice on how to be successful.

Ellison’s reply was something along the line of:

“You’re writing crap. Don’t write crap.”

Having then known Ellison for a while, JMS took it as constructive criticism, and the rest is history.

I’m confused on the Engelhart story, in particular because Avengers #149 wasn’t Engelhart’s last issue. He wrote the new material in #150 and part of #151, which were supposed to be a single issue in which the Avengers would choose a new roster. Instead, #150 had a few pages of new story (written by Engelhart), followed by a reprint of Avengers #16; the story concluded and the new roster was announced in #151. The letters page in #151 explained that there was a deadline problem, resulting in the reprint. In the early 1990s, I posted something in a Usenet newsgroup (kids, go ask your parents what Usenet was), in a thread on “What comic were you most disappointed in?”, and mentioned Avengers #150. I received an email from Steve Engelhart, explaining his side of the story – according to him, he wasn’t late, but the deadline issue was manufactured by Jim Shooter and/or Gerry Conway as an excuse to boot him from the book. Shooter and Conway wrote the rest of #151, and Conway became the regular writer with #152. George Perez’s marginal note would seem to support Marvel’s side. But it seems odd that Engelhart would write a kiss-off to Marvel at the end of #149, when he was still on the book for #150 and presumably expected to continue beyond that.

Yes , the jane strip is collected . i saw a copy at a used bookstore . i believe that the cover is first picture Brian posted.

I love this column but in the future could you throw a “NSFW” warning when you’re gonna post potentially not-safe-for-work photos?

It’s pretty tame, sure, but I’m reading the column while on a break in a corporate office and should someone walk past my desk… yeah.

Otherwise, another great column.

I wish Ellison would call me a name. What an honor.

“I love this column but in the future could you throw a “NSFW” warning when you’re gonna post potentially not-safe-for-work photos?”

…You forgot to add a pair of [whine][/whine] tags there, kid.

“In the early 1990s, I posted something in a Usenet newsgroup (kids, go ask your parents what Usenet was)”

…Ah yes, usenet. In the days before “Eternal September” hit thanks to AOHell, the newsgroups were the best place to disseminate information/rumors, share opinions – provided they didn’t go contrary to those of the net.gods like Tyg or Chuqi the Hutt – and even interact with those pros who could take criticism when it was given honestly and without malice. Steve was one of our regulars, as was PAD and Kurt Busiek. These days, usenet is an emaciated skeleton of what it was even just three years ago, thanks to most of the cable ISPs dropping their own free usenet servers “to help curb piracy”. I pop on from time to time, but since the pay servers refuse to police their paying trolls and spammers, the signal-to-noise ratio is so dismal that good conversation is a rarity even amongst groups that still retain high levels of trafic; rec.arts.tv.drwho averages about 400 posts a day still, but about half that traffic consists of the same three or four trolls polluting the group with seeming impunity.

I love this column but in the future could you throw a “NSFW” warning when you’re gonna post potentially not-safe-for-work photos?

It’s pretty tame, sure, but I’m reading the column while on a break in a corporate office and should someone walk past my desk… yeah.

Did you not think

NOTE: There is some nudity (comic and photographic) in this piece, so if you don’t want to see stuff like that, skip this installment!

was clear enough? ;)

@Basara549 . Back in the pre-web days, I was on a mailing list with JMS, and he related that story to me as part of an anecdote to make me feel better after not getting into Grad School for writing (gave it to me as the best bit of advice for a writer, and that Grad School’s don’t look for writers who write sellable stuff).

I’m confused on the Engelhart story, in particular because Avengers #149 wasn’t Engelhart’s last issue. He wrote the new material in #150 and part of #151, which were supposed to be a single issue in which the Avengers would choose a new roster. Instead, #150 had a few pages of new story (written by Engelhart), followed by a reprint of Avengers #16; the story concluded and the new roster was announced in #151. The letters page in #151 explained that there was a deadline problem, resulting in the reprint. In the early 1990s, I posted something in a Usenet newsgroup (kids, go ask your parents what Usenet was), in a thread on “What comic were you most disappointed in?”, and mentioned Avengers #150. I received an email from Steve Engelhart, explaining his side of the story – according to him, he wasn’t late, but the deadline issue was manufactured by Jim Shooter and/or Gerry Conway as an excuse to boot him from the book. Shooter and Conway wrote the rest of #151, and Conway became the regular writer with #152. George Perez’s marginal note would seem to support Marvel’s side. But it seems odd that Engelhart would write a kiss-off to Marvel at the end of #149, when he was still on the book for #150 and presumably expected to continue beyond that.

Yeah, that’s a very fair question, Rob. It could be Englehart having issues with editorial even before he was taken off of the book. So you’re right, it might not be a “farewell” message to editorial but rather just a plain ol’ “stick it in your ear” message to editorial. I will make a note of that!

SO…JMS took his advice, and CONTINUES to write crap……
Sorry….but I find his stuff unreadable….

We got boobies! This so makes up for the Squirrel Girl horror of two weeks back.

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

November 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm

@bbb

My guess is, you probably haven’t read the Book of Lost Souls, The Twelve, Silver Surfer: Requiem, Midnight Nation, Rising Stars, Bullet Points, Supreme Power and Thor?

Regarding Jane, I vaguely remember a BBC tv show of Jane, shown around 6pm when I was a nipper. Had the blond bombshell from Dempsey & Makepeace in the title role.
Don’t think we ever got to see too much flesh, though. Dammit ;-)

The novel in question was called Chasing Hairy, and it was pretty out there (I’m being careful of my language – I don’t have Ellison’s money or stubborn attitude to defend a lawsuit). I was a young subscriber to The Comics Journal at the time, and had loved the Spectre series. I definitely read the comment as positive, but I was familiar with Ellison and his particular form of praise.

As for the JMS story, there’s at least one essay by Ellison where he writes about how he advises young authors and people who ask him questions like “where do you get your story ideas?” I’m not sure what collections it might be in (Ellison does not have much up on the internet by his own choice), but it is a good essay that is brutal in its honesty about writing being work. In it’s own way, it’s a more vulgarity laden early version of the argument that Malcolm Gladwell recently made about an expert needing 10,000 hours of practice to get skilled at anything.

Death by gorillas.

The most horrific death of all.

Brian – the “NSFW” warning in the article itself (before the cut) is perfectly clear, but that only helps if you’re accessing it from the blog itself. If you happen to click the article link from the front page of CBR, there are no warnings. Just would have been a nice heads-up for those of us who do a little comic-blogging when on break at work.

Good article, though, as usual. :)

Great column.

It is amazing how much the ideal female shape has changed over the last 67 years. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter is probably not a figure model for a “racy” comic strip in 2010. It is a shame the legend is false, since it makes a great story.

You have made me insanely curious about the details of the Englehart-Shooter feud. I know Shooter had a reputation for alienating talent with his strong editorial hand (not unlike DC over the past decade), but Englehart was a star at the time, wasn’t he? Isn’t it roughly akin to the current Marvel alienating Ed Brubaker?

Is the Fleisher-Aparo SPECTRE collected anywhere? It always looks fantastic, but I have never read it.

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

November 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm

@Dean

“Is the Fleisher-Aparo SPECTRE collected anywhere?”

It sure is.

http://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=19349844

Had to take a look for it, but Fleisher’s “Chasing Hairy” A Novel of Sexual Terror was re-printed in 2007. My old copy of it is long gone but it still came to mind when I saw the movie “In the Company of Men” a few years ago.

Dean, there was a tpb released a few years ago called “Wrath of the Spectre”. It reprints the entire Fleisher – Aparo run (Adventure 431-440) plus 3 additional stories that weren’t used in the 70’s – they first appeared in a 1988 Baxter mini that reprinted the Adventure stories, also called Wrath of the Spectre.

From what I’ve read of Ellison, bugfuck would be a compliment…

One thing that wasn’t mentioned in re the Ellison/Fleisher suit was that it led to Fantagraphics publishing the “Anything Goes” mini (6 issues, I think) to help raise money for the lawsuit. Lots of cool creators in that, including a Flaming Carrot story in issue 1, and in one of the issues, Alan Moore and Don Simpson’s “In Pictopia”, a wonderful little homage to old comics and how they’re “bulldozed” over by modern, “realistic” takes on old characters. Y’know, like what Moore did… :)

Re that nudie strip: if I’m reading it right (the DDay strip repro isn’t the best), there WAS full frontal on DDay. But there HAD been full frontal before that. But wouldn’t that still be a true, based on your wording? Your “false” seems to be based on the part of the story that the “only” time she’d been fully nude was DDay.

And there’s a story there where you say the strip started based on the guy’s wife, then it was later based on a nude model. Some extracurricular activity going on there?

Englehart seems to have had his problems with Marvel editorial over the years. He also started using the pen name of Jonathan Harkness at the end of his Fantastic Four run due to creative differences with Tom DeFalco I believe. The weird thing is in FF#333 (his last issue), he has Alica and Franklin come visit his home and address him by his pen name of “Mr Harkness”.. Franklin asks him to write a story to let everyone know his Dad is really a good guy. “Harkness” just shrugs him off with “I’ll try but it may take a better man than I am to straighten out this mess.”

Is there any truth to the story that Jim Shooter pretty much goaded Fleischer into suing and backed him throughout the lawsuit because he had it in for Gary Groth and wanted to bury TCJ, but when the lawsuit didn’t achieve the desired result Fleischer became persona non grata at Marvel?

Oops… Meant “Fleisher,” not “Fleischer.”

@Jim Kosmicki

I was going by my memories of thirty years ago, but I could have sworn I was right.

I bought those Spectre comics and Comics Journal off the rack and remember the whole controversy

Now that you remind me, I do remember reading Chasing Hairy, but I also remember reading a novel called Captain Blood and I can’t untangle the two in my mind. I googled it, and of course the top answer was my comment from above. I can’t wade through 10,000 references to the Errol Flynn movie to find it.

(Damn, internet! You scary!)

Help me, folks. What am I misremembering?

Either way, both books predated American Psycho by at least a decade, and were just as nasty.

If my novel ever gets published please feel free everybody to call it, and me, bugfuck crazy.

Random observations:

First off, to satisfy Harlan’s ninja network, we should note that “Harlan Ellison” is a registered trademark of the Kilimanjaro Corporation, all rights reserved. (I’m serious; it really is.)

I think I’d be more embarrassed at work to be seen looking at the might of Orka the Killer Whale and his terrible Death-Punch than a fuzzy black & white reproduction of Jane.

I knew the legend was false in that being the first naked Jane, wish I could remember where I saw a reprint of the first occasion. I think it may have a long, long time ago in The Comics Journal, to connect the two legends in this installment.

The transcript of the libel trial between Fleisher and Ellison/Groth was published in The Comics Journal. It was disclosed at the time (which I believe was back in the early 80’s) that Chris Claremont was making in the six figures for his work on X-Men — an amount that stunned me back then. I thought comic book writers and artists were hardly paid anything at all!

how did that interview lead into Ellison going on a long enough tangent that he got to fit all those words in about Fleisher?

The interview is reprinted in The Comics Journal 6: The Writers, which is a decent enough read, though most of the interviewees may not be of interest to the kids these days.

It was also the catalyst for another round of Ellison/Groth litigation hijinx, which is always good for a laugh. And by laugh, I mean an eyeroll and a groan and a vague feeling of embarrassment for all involved.

If you happen to click the article link from the front page of CBR, there are no warnings. Just would have been a nice heads-up for those of us who do a little comic-blogging when on break at work.

If you click on the article link from the front page of CBR, the disclaimer is still at the beginning of the piece, right? Before you get to any nudity, no?

The Crazed Spruce

November 6, 2010 at 12:17 am

Man, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a good Harlan Ellison story. (My favourite is how he was fired from Disney on his first day after telling a dirty joke in the caffeteria during lunch. Or maybe how he claimed that James Cameron stole the idea for The Terminator from a couple of episodes of The Outer Limits that he wrote. Say, they’d both make great “Movie Legends Revealed”, don’cha think?)

I remember reading that Harlan Ellison interview in the Comics Journal way back when. It was a long interview and, as I recall, he took down a few targets in that one.

If you click from the front page of CBR, the brief description of the piece has as the first sentence words to the effect “did a comic strip have FULL FRONTAL NUDITY on DDay?”

It’s like the letters page I read in a Sin City book. A retailer complained that there was no content warning for the SEX AND VIOLENCE one shot.

jeez guys.

“Did you not think

NOTE: There is some nudity (comic and photographic) in this piece, so if you don’t want to see stuff like that, skip this installment!

was clear enough?”

Sorry, I have to agree with the other Aaron.

No, it’s NOT enough. By the time you see that warning, it’s too late. We’ve already loaded the images, which can be problematic – regardless if we’ve scrolled down far enough to actually see them. At home, I could care less. But I too was reading this article on break at work.

Surely a warning in the description / link to the article wouldn’t be much trouble. It could potentially save a number of your readers some problems. I realize the description said “did a comic strip have full frontal nudity..” That’s not the same as actually SHOWING nudity.

The Spectre was indeed startlingly shocking back in the day–way more than the Punisher would be a few years later. And it’s to Fleisher’s credit that it’s become integral to the character, as pretty much every subsequent variation takes this as the nature of the Ghostly Guardian (even in the Brave and Bold cartoon, where Professor Milo is turned into cheese and eaten by his mutated rats [and I do like Mark Hamill’s Spectre voice]).

The Fleisher suit was indirectly responsible for turning me on to Ellison, since the first TCJ I bought had one of his reprinted LA Weekly columns, an arrangement he’d made with Groth about offsetting his portion of the court costs (and still a bone of contention between the men; the whole thing was and is a hornet’s nest of recrimination). I was aware of Ellison and had read some of his short stories, but came to enjoy his “essays” more than his fiction. All of which culminated a few years back when Harlan phoned me one morning to call me a “f**king idiot” (or thereabouts) concerning a question I’d written him, having years before gleaned his address from a postcard Groth scanned into the Blood & Thunder pages of the Journal. Say what you will about any of them, but the entertainment value has always been great.

Oh, right, I should point out that Harlan calling to cuss you out like that is, according to Cliff Meth at least, a significant compliment, which is how I took it.

I was in my late teens when I read that TCJ issue with Ellison. I was already a big fan of both Fleisher and Ellison but that interview motivated me to seek out even more Fleisher work than I had in my collection. I imagine a lot more people did the same so it may have been beneficial to Fleisher !

Back then,The Comics Journal loved its notoriety, or at least it seemed to me. I don’t have those issues any more but I seem to remember Joe Staton insulting Roy Thomas without any fuss. Can anyone remember that?

Is the point of the D-Day/Jane myth that people think they celebrated D-Day with the nude strip on the very day D-Day happened? Wasn’t D-Day a secret mission and not publicly known until after it occurred? Wouldn’t that in itself make the legend false? At most it’d be a coincidence.

kisskissbangbang

November 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

Dean, I have an old fanzine (Conversation by Bill Waldroop) from 1976 with a long Englehart interview that addresses his (first) departure from Marvel, and it doesn’t mention Shooter at all. At the time it was conducted (May 1976), Archie Goodwin was editor-in-chief, having taken over from Gerry Conway after his 3-week tenure. It’s Conway that Englehart fingers as the villain.

In brief: according to Englehart, the 3 previous editors-in-chief, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman, had retained editor status for their own books when they stepped down, and had a certain number of books guaranteed them. This began creating a rift between the freelancers like Englehart and the editors. Englehart had already left Captain America for two black and white magazines, Starlord and Thor the Mighty, which then fell through, and couldn’t get Cap back because of Kirby coming on. He was given Skull the Slayer and Super-Villain Team-Up to make up for it, and still had Dr. Strange and Avengers, but was still unhappy, especially about doing Skull. He was also frustrated because he was supposed to do The Prisoner, which kept getting delayed because of licensing problems. Then Conway became the new head editor.

Conway called Englehart and told him he was taking Avengers for himself. Englehart told him, “Eff it, I quit.” Conway replied, “If that’s the way you feel about it…” Conway also took Englehart’s plots for the next several issues. Englehart called Stan, who said, “I stand behind my editor.” Englehart then called DC and was welcomed with open arms by Jenette Kahn, who had just taken over.

Englehart goes on to say that when Conway stepped down, after only 3 weeks, he somehow was guaranteed 8 books, later dropped to 6 or so after considerable protest. To give him that much work, and to fill the quotas the other previous editors had, Archie had to reluctantly take books away from the freelancers, who included Gerber, Moench, Mantlo, Claremont and McGregor. Englehart says twice this put McGregor out on the street. (I should add that Englehart, like many others, says Goodwin was the nicest guy in the field and did not want to do this). The freelancers threatened a writer’s strike, Stan threatened to fire them all, and they backed down. At the same time, Stan reportedly said that all verbal contracts were worth the paper they were written on, and the editor/writers, who had verbal agreements for more work than their contracts gave them, decided to give up a few of their books, so the freelancers could get by (except for McGregor).

Dean, that last paragraph got away from Englehart in particular, but I thought it provided context for what happened to Englehart. And as you can see, though Shooter came to Marvel shortly after this, he was not involved at all (though if I’m not mistaken, he was the one who ended the writer/editor combination which started the problems).

(And I can’t resist adding Englehart’s comments that a) Conway also alienated Starlin and made him leave (but gives no details), and b) Conway created Spectacular Spider-Man for himself after Stan wouldn’t let him take Amazing back from Len Wein, because sales had gone up after Conway left the book.)

I’m sure Conway has his own side of the story, and perhaps this all boils down to “he said, she said”. But there were a lot of changes at Marvel around this time, moving it from a more freewheeling, writer-dominated place to a more corporate, editor-dominated one, and this might shed some light on exactly what they were.
Hope you found it of interest, Dean.

It was certainly of interest to me! Thanks for that info, kisskissbangbang!

Is the point of the D-Day/Jane myth that people think they celebrated D-Day with the nude strip on the very day D-Day happened?

No, the next day, when D-Day was reported, is when the strip appeared. It is very likely that Pett and Freeman DID have a strip ready for whenever the invasion took place (which everyone knew WAS going to happen – just a matter of when and from where). People just misremember it as containing the first nudity in the strip.

Surely a warning in the description / link to the article wouldn’t be much trouble. It could potentially save a number of your readers some problems. I realize the description said “did a comic strip have full frontal nudity..” That’s not the same as actually SHOWING nudity.

The description says “full frontal nudity.” If you’re clicking on things that tell you “did a comic have full frontal nudity?” and are surprised that there is full frontal nudity, then while I am actually sorry if it made things weird for you at work, I can’t say that I feel like you weren’t reasonably warned (and how big are your screens that the first piece of nudity shows up on the screen at the same time that the disclaimer does? There’s a pretty sizable gap between the warning and the first piece of nudity).

This could all be avoided if women were just disembodied heads floating around.

Or, if people grew up a little.

Or, if they used their worktime to work.

Or, if they elected to use their workbreaks to stand up and get out of their cubes and leave the damn computer alone for five minutes.

I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d be willing to wager that out of the four the floating disembodied ladyhead thing is probably the most likely to happen.

Layne, I’m intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

@ kisskissbangbang:

Thanks. That is great info. I find the transition from from Marvel being Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a handful of others to the corporate company that Jim Shooter ran to be fascinating. No one comes off as being 100% right.

[…] this is going to get into my dreams somehow tonight. Thanks, Comic Book Legends Revealed. […]

@kisskissbangbang

Thanks for the info. I’m a huge Englehart fan and am fascinated by comic politics (currently reading Stan lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comicbook, and this is perfectly in character.)

>Conway called Englehart and told him he was taking Avengers for himself. Englehart told him, “Eff it, I quit.”

A similar thing happened again around Avengers 300! Englehart was messed around and finally left. he gave the FF a shot, and in my opinion the 12 issues he wrote were the greatest run since the best of Lee and Kirby. Yes, I said 12 issues: 304-311, 313, 320-321, and Annual 20. The rest were ruined by editorial interference, from forcing absurd plots at short notice to reversing key events to even re-writing all the text. A real train wreck.

Arvin asked “how did that interview lead into Ellison going on a long enough tangent that he got to fit all those words in about Fleisher?”

Comics Journal interviews are very, very long, and Groth doesn’t edit them. Some of them must be 15,000 words.

Chris, two things- first,Englehart wasn’t writing Avengers around Avengers 300, he was writing West Coast Avengers.
Second, Englehart’s FF run drove readers away. And the treatment of the female characters was basically misogynistic. Sharon was so traumatized by her rape that she couldn’t even touch a man to save Johnny’s life and Crystal was basically portrayed as a selfish slut. And one of the plots that editorial vetoed involved revealing that Franklin mind-controlled Alicia into having sex with Johnny and marrying him, which is just squicky.

Hah, I wasn’t aware there was such nudity in British comics strips (as opposed to comic books, which are self contained) especially back in the 40’s! Not that I mind- I think we Americans are way too prudish about things like nudity or sex, as if the mere act of watching some will immediately turn you into a dangerous pervert.

As for Englehart, I disagree- the context REALLY matters here: we might be seeing a wronged man give the finger to those who abused him, OR we could be seeing a jerk’s reaction to not getting his way. Leaves a different impression on the reader.

I have never understood the point of The Spectre as a killer of murderers. It just doesn’t make sense: note how in some of those cases he arrives mere MOMENTS after the murder, which means he could arrived sooner and SAVED THE VICTIM’S LIFE. But nooo, killing them in a horrible way is more important, right? Besides aren’t this people going to Hell anyway, where they would be tortured for eternity? I’ve seen stories try to justify the acts but it always feels like the host of the Spectre just feels entitled to satisfy *himself* with the killings, since he believes himself to be an actual Agent of God (even if he literally is, the choices are made by him, not God.) I know that this is all an excuse so we can go “OOOH Look how he got punished!” and if that’s all you want well OK, that’s what horror is for in the first place. But for a SUPERHERO who is actually powered by God? It just feels waaay stupid.

kisskissbangbang

November 7, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thanks guys; your comments are appreciated.

Since there seems to be some interest in this transitional period for comics companies, I thought I might throw out a couple of other tidbits from the interview that touched on creator’s rights.

Englehart says that when he and Starlin listed themselves as co-creators on Master of Kung Fu, Roy came to them and said they couldn’t do it because he didn’t want them to come back in twenty years and use it as evidence they’d created the series and sue for the rights. (Incidentally , Englehart left the book because he didn’t want to do 2 Shang-Chi books after they started the black & white Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.) Steve further states that though he had no plans to do so, if he had occasion to use Shang-Chi at DC, he’d do it, was half-inclined to keep his name, and thought he might enjoy a lawsuit about whether the creator or the company had the rights to the character. (He did, of course, bring Mantis into a JLA story, but changed her name to Willow.)

On the other hand, he admitted that for The Shroud in Super-Villain Team-Up, “I just ripped off the Batman’s origin cold, I mean COLD! I could care less that it happened to be a character that was operated by another company..” He goes on to say Conway wanted it changed, and that some of the Squadron Supeme stuff in the Avengers was changed, mentioning the logos and the satellite HQ as examples (the latter was changed to a spaceship). This stance on the Shroud seems a little inconsistent to me, not to say cavalier, and I wonder how he’d have felt as Shang-Chi’s co-creator if someone at DC had ripped him off cold.

Englehart also says that Jenette Kahn, DC publisher at that time, was instituting a merchandise policy which gave the creator of anything they could merchandise 20% off the top. The interviewer says that if Marvel did that, Gerber could retire off Howard the Duck; Tom Orzechowski then asks, what if Bob Kane says, Well, look, you guys, I own 20%? Orz, as they call him, then comments he’s got as good a case as Siegel & Shuster, especially since Bill Finger’s dead. This makes me wonder why Kane didn’t do just that; was he satisfied with getting sole credit on the splash pages, and credit on the art, even when it was done by Dick Sprang? In any event, all this shows that Siegel & Shuster’s suit was prompting a lot of thought among creators at the time

A few other miscellaneous bits: Englehart says that for the last two years Stan was listed as Editor, Roy actually was, and that when Roy became official editor, he, like Stan, concentrated on publisher stuff, leaving Steve de facto editor at Marvel for the first 6 months of ’72, till he went freelance.

He also says, at second-hand, that just before he left, Stan told a writer’s meeting that changes to the characters were making them too hard to merchandise, and that he wanted (Steve says this is a direct quote) “the illusion of progress”. This may be the first expression of the corporate attitude we now know better as “the illusion of change”.

Englehart was told by Jenette Kahn that John Buscema also made overtures to DC at this time, though Englehart says he doesn’t know if that was because of Conway, who wanted to replace Perez with Buscema on Conway’s Avengers. Jenette offered him more money and Superman. Buscema told Stan about the offer, and though Stan couldn’t offer him more money, he cleared up whatever problems Buscema was having, and Buscema decided to stay.

If Englehart had stayed on Dr. Strange, he would have finished the occult history of America story Wolfman had to take over & retconned, then done a 4-part Dr. Strange vs. Fu Manchu story, with Shang-Chi bouncing between the two of them. At DC, he was originally going to do Swamp Thing (!), a magician character to make up for losing Dr. Strange (Dr. Fate if possible, a new character otherwise), and a new character called Zodiac with Frank Brunner, involving flying saucers, the secret of the pyramids and similar stuff. In addition, he was doing a 3-part JLA story involving the Manhunters and a 3-part Batman story, and would stay on both books if all went well. Obviously, the first 3 somehow fell by the wayside; but while the Manhunters story did begin his JLA run, he doesn’t describe his 3-part Batman story, so it’s not clear how that maps onto the 8 issues of Detective he did. He does say he wants to do the Joker, Two-Face and Dr. Hugo Strange, but while the others showed up in the Detective run, he didn’t do Two-Face until a couple of years ago.

I fear this may be the longest post in CBR history, so I’ll wrap this up; but I think I’ve covered almost everything anyone would be curious about, with the exception of Englehart’s comments about his view of the Batman. That’s more off-topic than the political stuff, but I’ll post on it later if anyone’s interested and Brian doesn’t mind. Thanks again for your kind indulgence.

kisskissbangbang

November 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

Oops, didn’t make clear above that Tom Orzechowski, a letterer (and a fine, flashy, inventive one), sat in on the interview and made occasional comments. My bad.

I’d like to see Englehart’s Batman views.

Blimey, what kind of workplaces do people have? We’re talking tiny little illustrations that fall heavily on the side of coy. Let’s see an HR department give someone hell for a 70-year-old cartoon.

Brian, thanks for another intriguing column, I appreciate the free entertainment. And KissKiss, cheers for the extra stuff. I’d like to hear Englehart’s views on Batman too.

funkygreenjerusalem

November 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm

The description says “full frontal nudity.” If you’re clicking on things that tell you “did a comic have full frontal nudity?” and are surprised that there is full frontal nudity, then while I am actually sorry if it made things weird for you at work, I can’t say that I feel like you weren’t reasonably warned (and how big are your screens that the first piece of nudity shows up on the screen at the same time that the disclaimer does? There’s a pretty sizable gap between the warning and the first piece of nudity).

I’m really annoyed about this as well, Brian.

If you have a warning about nudity, I expect a lot more nudity – not some tame 50’s nudes!

I agree with Funkygreen!

Kisskissbangbang –

Thanks for the backstage information.

I never liked Conway as a writer (and I tend to see Conway, Wolfman, and Wein as the Three Mediocres – with a few exceptions like Wolfman’s Titans). Interesting that he also seems to be the bad guy of Englehart’s story.

Sijo –

Hey, the Spectre works for the Christian God, that does lots of contraditory, hard-to-understand things in the Bible. It’s a given that he’ll have the same style as his boss.

@ Martin Gray:

Blimey, what kind of workplaces do people have? We’re talking tiny little illustrations that fall heavily on the side of coy. Let’s see an HR department give someone hell for a 70-year-old cartoon.

Americans love to over-correct. When I was a kid, it was not uncommon to see both wet bars and Playboy centerfolds in offices. Today, it is exactly the opposite environment on both counts.

@ Rene:

I never liked Conway as a writer (and I tend to see Conway, Wolfman, and Wein as the Three Mediocres – with a few exceptions like Wolfman’s Titans).

That strikes me as overly harsh on all three counts. Len Wein has a fantastic track record at creating A-list characters. Wolverine has joined Spider-Man at the top of the Marvel heap. Storm is arguably the most popular female Marvel. Swamp Thing has enjoyed a good, long run.

Oh, and he edited WATCHMEN, which seems like a bigger deal now that we know the mercurial nature of Alan Moore.

Wolfman created great ensembles on both TOMB OF DRACULA and NEW TEEN TITANS. The first BLADE film helped restore comic cinema after its Schumaker induced coma. His core Titans have become the definitive line-up for that team.

Gerry Conway may not be a personal favorite, but his Spider-Man work was ground breaking. He also created the Punisher.

They are really the last group of creators to really expand the Big Two universes as opposed to re-hashing old concepts.

Hah! If you guys think Jane was racy, you should have seen Romeo Brown by James (Jim) Holdaway. Romeo had women falling all over him ALL the time – great stories too. After Romeo Brown (in the Daily Mirror), which was written by Peter O’Donell, Jim went on to the newspaper strip for O’Donell’s Modesty Blaise character. Finding Romeo Brown reprints ain’t easy, though all the Modesty Blaise stories are available. Sadly, Jim Holdaway died in 1970 of a heart attack. To my mind, he stands alongside Frank Bellamy as one of our best strip artists.

@ Dean:

In my oppinion, Wein has a history of creating characters that are cyphers to be later developed by better creators into household names. Think Swamp Thing and you think Alan Moore. Think the New X-Men and you think Claremont, Cockrum, and Byrne.

Conway is the one I least like of the three, his Spider-Man work had been groundbreaking in both good and bad ways, IMO. The Punisher was also a cypher as created by Conway, but arguably the character has remained a cypher, so you can’t hold that against him.

I’ll concede the point about Wolfman. In New Teen Titans and Tomb of Dracula he really created some classic comics. His track record with established characters is a mediocre one, at best (Superman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Nova – all his non-Titans, non-Dracula work has that readable-but-nothing-special characteristic).

When you get a score of comics from the Three Mediocres’ time at Marvel and then get a score of comics from the later creators under Jim Shooter, I think there is a quantum leap of quality in the Shooter years. But that is only my oppinion, of course.

Len Wein’s Swamp Thing was anything but a cipher. Alan Moore’s spectacular later work notwithstanding. His JLA run was also a welcome relief after a long period of dullness.

Brian, I think there is a disconnect in our thought processes here.

First of all, CBR has always been completely work safe in my experience. It’s one of a handful of sites I feel like I can trust in this regard. I had a certain amount of faith that an article here could DISCUSS the presence of nudity without actually showing it, taking that SFW track record into account.

Furthermore in your repsonse to me you question how large our screens are that the images show on the same screen as your warning. The images do NOT show on the screen at the same time and I did not mean to imply that they did. The problem isn’t merely that the images are displayed – the problem is that the images were loaded to begin with.

I hope you don’t take these comments as knee-jerk whining. This is genuine concern
from someone who has enjoyed your column for a very long time.

Heh, Len Wein’s Swamp Thing…

Alan Moore said it all when he refered to the character as “the Silver Surfer covered in moss.”

I don’t think Len Wein was bad… as in really bad (though his work on Thor came close to really bad). He was often very readable. Just nothing special.

Well, Moore’s entitled to his opinion, but I’d pick Wein’s Swampie over the Surfer any day.

Wolfman created great ensembles on both TOMB OF DRACULA and NEW TEEN TITANS. The first BLADE film helped restore comic cinema after its Schumaker induced coma. His core Titans have become the definitive line-up for that team.

Yes, and I think that has been to the detriment of the franchise. I think the success of the New Teen Titans was a fluke, a large part of which had to do with Wolfman’s art and the fact that it felt and looked, at least on first impressions on the surface, more like a Marvel comic than a DC comic, which attracted a lot of Marvel fans. I think over a long enough timeline, people started to recognize the true quality of the book and the sales figures started to level off to anemic levels. People often say this was because Perez left or because Wolfman became a worse writer, but I think it’s more because people started to realize the flaws in Wolfman’s writing and bailed, leaving only diehard fans behind.

A big problem with Wolfman, which touches on what Rene was getting at, is that he’s not good with established characters. If you look at his Teen Titans run for example, it’s established characters that tend to get the short end of the stick most often. Most of the true badass performances are reserved for Deathstroke and Starfire and other characters of his creation. As a Deathstroke showcase, New Teen Titans is a wonderful book. He later tried to do the same with Danny Chase, shoving him down the readers’ throats too at the expense of established characters. When readers didn’t take to the character, Wolfman would remain in denial and often complain in interviews for years that Chase was indeed a wonderful character and it was readers’ faults for not being able to get him. Another example of an established character getting the short end of the stick for one of Wolfman’s creations is when he jobbed Batman out to Deathstroke, having Deathstroke trounce him with ease.

It’s a shame, because if DC could stop holding on to past glory and admit to themselves that New Teen Titans outrageous success was a fluke, they could stop revisiting a failed formula and really bring greatness to that franchise.

Also, I never read Wolfman’s Tomb of Dracula, but since almost all the characters there were created by him, I truly believe it’s probably his best work because he surely treated them all very well and he made sure they were portrayed exceptionally.

As someone who thinks Wolfman did great work on the early Titans–ditto, of course, Perez–I’d hardly classify it’s success as a fluke. It did go a long way down near the end of the run, but he’s hardly the only writer to run out of steam on a long tenure on a book (I liked Gerry Conway’s JLA run a lot–more than I’d have expected to–but when he introduced the Detroit League, oy!).

T., you’ve been pushing this “Why People Read Teen Titans for a While and Then Stopped” theory for years but I’m sorry… As someone who read the run when it was current (something you have admitted with pride that you did not do), it just does not wash for me and never will.

There were a lot of reasons why Wolfman’s Titans ran out of gas: the Perez issue is very real, as is the problem of the split audience that came with the introduction of the Baxter book. Also, the fact that after COIE, there were so many interesting things happening around the DC Universe and TNTT just got outpaced.

It’s true that Wolfman later lost himself in self-indulgence and started making every other story “A Very Special Issue” and there is some veracity to the notion that it got way too emo. But that was not ALWAYS the tone of the book.

Okay, fluke was a strong word. Bu I do believe that much of it’s early success had more to do with the potential people saw in the series, and it did have a lot of potential, more than what it actually achieved. And I believe the longer the series went on and people saw it was never going to achieve that potential, the more they checked out.

There were a lot of reasons why Wolfman’s Titans ran out of gas: the Perez issue is very real,

But that to me is more of a sign of a flaw of the book. If the artist’s departure can kill the success of a book that badly, something is wrong with the book. That means people were already on the cusp of leaving and were just looking for an excuse, one last thing, to push them off. There’s no way they could be totally satisfied and then all just bail at the moment of the art change. It wasn’t like the artists used as replacements for Perez sucked or anything. You had freaking Eduardo Barretto! His stuff was gorgeous! And Tom Grummet has always been solid in my book. For comparison, look over at Uncanny X-Men. After Byrne left X-Men had runs by Smith, John Romita Jr, and Silvestri, and it still thrived. Good artists all, but I don’t think any of them are significantly better than Barretto or Grummet.

I also read New Teen Titans as it was coming out. What I enjoyed was the mix of favourite and new characters, the busy subplotting, the wonderfully detailed, clean art and the feeling of freshness. There was a synergy between creators on top form, and their characters.

It had nothing to do with my feeling there was any potential that would be tapped as time went on – it was great from the get-out. Yes, the series lost its way (I packed in after Titans Hunt) for a number of reasons which have been mentioned, but how many series do sustain that initial magic for many years?

Please, T, just accept that NTT was a very well-crafted comic that we readers enjoyed. No complicated theories necessary.

kisskissbangbang

November 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

By popular demand…

These comments on Batman by Steve Englehart were made before his run on Detective and immediately after his departure from Marvel. (He had previously written “Night of the Stalker”, the famous nonspeaking Batman story.) While I summarized his other remarks, these are short enough that I’ll go to full quotes.

“Boy, there’s so much you could do with Batman…I’ve been waiting for 35 years to see some good Batman, and I’m only 29…”

He then talks about his approach to Cap briefly: “Let’s find out what it would be like to really be this guy. So that’s exactly the same approach I’d take with Batman…”

“What would it be like to be completely driven like that? To have sworn vengeance by your bedside at the age of eight and just spend your whole life, you know…He’s not a fascist and he’s not insane, he’s still a hero. But he’s as much of a fascist and as much of a madman as he can be and still not be over that boundary. He’s just driven. New York City by any other name, Gotham City, whatever…is his city, the whole city! He roams the rooftops, he doesn’t allow crime to go on there. He’s this really intense, darknight guy. But it’s also weird that he dresses up like a bat and hangs around in the night.”

“And then the kind of adventures I’d want to do..again, it’s like what I was saying about Fu Manchu [ Englehart previously said Doug Moench wanted to write him realistically, while Englehart wanted to embrace his pulpishness], I like playing off the stuff…the kind of adventures I’d want to do is the real 50’s–not the giant typewriters, that kind of stuff–but the real 50’s outrageous superhero and supervillain stuff..but always at night. Batman’s whole world is insane. All the good villains in Batman are crazy or the atmosphere around them is. And I just want to do a superhero, but a superhero who is in a sort of insane, brooding pulp novel-type world. It was the kind of thing I was trying to get into in Super-Villain Team-Up, like a pulp novel with everything taking place at midnight…The Shroud was The Batman. That’s who I wanted to do, and who knew I’d be doing the real guy?”

He says a bit about SVTU, that he couldn’t get the atmosphere he wanted for the Shroud from the artwork, though he otherwise liked Herb Trimpe’s stuff.

“In any event, that’s what I want to do with Batman–a real pulp-style character. They never caught it with The Shadow as far as I was concerned. Again, The Shadow had all this great potential and he was never written with any atmosphere at all. Just a guy in black with blazing six-guns. But nothing to suggest lurkiness and darkness and that whole pulp feeling. So I want to do that, and yet up against The Joker, Two-Face, Dr. Hugo Strange–I gotta do Dr. Strange again–but like all these weird guys with weird schemes…the Yellow Peril all over again, not Fu Manchu in this case, but that whole schtick of just paranoia to the hilt. Guys coming out of the darknes with…with thousands of drug-crazed fiends at their backs…That kind of stuff. And I was running this down to Walt Simonson, and he says, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I wanna do with The Batman too!”

“I’d really like to write Batman. I’d just…I’m not lacking in self-confidence, and I just know I could do a really interesting Batman, which he hasn’t been in a long time.”

He’s asked, what about Superman, and replies, “He’s one of the few stereotypes I’d just as soon stay a stereotype…’cause I don’t know what in the fuck to do with him. He would be great if he were real, but he’s such an institution that it would really be like changing things a lot–where with Batman, I don’t feel that way–Batman is not the institution Superman is, ’cause he’s always had a different feel about him…”(He comments about Superman being tied to the Daily Planet and Lois and Steve Lombard.) “You can still take Batman anywhere. I don’t want to revamp him–no, I do want to revamp him–It’s like I want to extrapolate on Batman.I’m not going to change what he is, just make him a lot realer…and yet put him up against these fantastic insane menaces and stuff…..I never at all considered asking to do Superman, ’cause I’d just as soon let him stay the way he is. I’d rather concentrate on Batman.”

I put that last paragraph in because, aside from his contrasting of Batman’s and Superman’s images at the time, I find it interesting that the idea of writing Superman seems to intimidate a guy who says he’s “not lacking in self-confidence”. Maybe that’s why it took a Brit like Alan Moore to do interesting stories with the Silver Age Superman, because he had more distance on him… or even a Canadian like Byrne to revamp him at the time. (Just idle speculation…)

Well, that’s it. Hope you guys enjoyed it; thanks for asking.

@ T.:

First, I will concede the several points. The initial appeal of NTT was that it was Marvel book in DC clothing. That, over time, a generation of writers came of age believing Wolfman’s style was the DC house style. Also, it is pretty clear to me that this has pulled the DC line away from its essential nature and made it worse.

Also, you raise an interesting issue about Wolfman’s treatment about existing characters in contrast with his own. Dick Grayson is the obvious exception, but the other legacy Titans fared substantially worse.

As to why the NTT faded, I can only speak to myself, but George Perez leaving was a factor. Perez was credited as co-plotter and the stories did change without him. They were less action-oriented and more soap operatic. Moreover, Wolfman stayed long enough that he lost interest in the core premise of the series. He did not want to tell stories about teenagers. To be honest, I don’t think he understood Gen X any better than Bob Haney understood Baby Boomers. It is hard to explain, but those characters started to sound like more like my parents than my friends by the time the “Teen” was dropped.

However, Chris Claremont’s X-MEN went through a very similar process, but Marvel managed to refresh the title with new artists.

T: Well, yeah… As much as the loss of Perez (both as artist and co-plotter) was a blow to established paradigm that readers loved, it’s not as if the sales dropped off as soon as Perez left in 1985. I don’t have any exact figures, but at least from my personal memory, the period I remember a lot of people stop caring was around 1988/89. That’s still almost a decade-long run of popularity that could hardly be summed up as “a failed formula.”

You might have a point about Wolfman’s seeming disinterest in established characters, though; I know one of the things that drove me away was the increased emphasis on new characters that I thought were pretty lame at the expense of the old standbys.

Brian, I think there is a disconnect in our thought processes here.

First of all, CBR has always been completely work safe in my experience. It’s one of a handful of sites I feel like I can trust in this regard. I had a certain amount of faith that an article here could DISCUSS the presence of nudity without actually showing it, taking that SFW track record into account.

Furthermore in your repsonse to me you question how large our screens are that the images show on the same screen as your warning. The images do NOT show on the screen at the same time and I did not mean to imply that they did. The problem isn’t merely that the images are displayed – the problem is that the images were loaded to begin with.

I hope you don’t take these comments as knee-jerk whining. This is genuine concern
from someone who has enjoyed your column for a very long time.

Don’t worry, Aaron, I don’t take it as whining. I get that you are genuinely concerned.

That said, CBR has never been what you would call “work safe.” I’ve done pieces on Lost Girls, Eurotica and more (plus prior legends that included nudity). I’m always going to mention the nudity in the description of a Comic Book Legends piece when it’s linked there, but that’s really the gist of the warnings I’ve given on the front page (and that’s consistent with other CBR stuff, like their Lost Girls coverage).

So if you see a piece mention “nudity” in the future, presume that it will, indeed, feature nudity!

I too read NEW TEEN TITANS when it came out (a few years late here in Brazil).

The Wolfman/Perez stories were awesome. The non-Perez stories… a few were awful, most were okay. But there was a huge difference. That makes me believe Perez’s co-plotting was a huge part of what made the comic tick. As a comparision, the quality of Uncanny X-Men fluctuated, but never so abruptly. I think Dave Cockrum’s second run suffered from being “not-Byrne”, but by the time other artists came aboard, the comic had found its way again.

I had the same feeling about Stan Lee’s efforts on Dr. Strange post-Ditko–Lee just couldn’t seem to make it work without him.

I may not agree with T. on everything, but I think he is right about Wolfman having some sort of “weak hero” fetish, strangely enough. I didn’t realize it until T. pointed out. But now, whenever I re-read Wolfman’s old stories, I can’t help but notice it.

There is a balancing act when writing superhero stories (particularly Marvel’s). Usually, the hero is beaten by the villain, and then he turns the table and prevails. Wolfman has a variation of it that makes the hero look like a wuss. Perfect example: Wolfman’s run on Daredevil, followed immediately by Jim Shooter’s.

In Wolfman’s story, DD is beaten by Bullseye and trapped on a (silly) deathtrap. He escapes (of couse), but he never manages to track down Bullseye. Then he fights Mister Hyde and Cobra for a couple of issues, and is beaten again several times, always managing to escape just barely. Finally, Daredevil foils Hyde’s plan, when Hyde is about to drink some super-formula that would make him even stronger. After all the beatings DD took, the “turn back the table” is anti-climatic. It lasts one page, with just the one panel with DD breaking the vial and taking Hyde out by surprise.

End result: a lot of DD being beaten up in 3 or 4 issues, and a single page of DD triumphant, in a too quick victory. And throughout all this, Foggy Nelson’s fiancee is away, kidnapped, and DD is unable to find anything of value about it, compounding the feeling of DD as incompetent hero.

Jim Shooter comes along and shows how you do it right. Daredevil has a battle royale with Bullseye in a TV studio. DD is at a disadvantage because his radar sense is not working, and is almost killed. But then he finds inner reserves of determination and will and turns the table on Bullseye, and beats the villain on live TV in several satisfying pages.

@Rene

I suddenly want to read Shooter’s Daredevil run… That collected in any TPBs?

@ Kisskissbangbang:

I put that last paragraph in because, aside from his contrasting of Batman’s and Superman’s images at the time, I find it interesting that the idea of writing Superman seems to intimidate a guy who says he’s “not lacking in self-confidence”. Maybe that’s why it took a Brit like Alan Moore to do interesting stories with the Silver Age Superman, because he had more distance on him… or even a Canadian like Byrne to revamp him at the time. (Just idle speculation…)

Great information, but I reached a sightly different conclusion.

In the late-60s, Batman was purportedly on the verge of cancellation. The character was revitalized and transformed into arguably the most popular superhero over the course of three seminal runs. Each looked to early Batman stories and introduced a sensibility from outside comics to them.

First, O’Neil and Adams drew heavily from the Hammer Horror reinventions of the Universal monster series. Suddenly, there were women in diaphanous nightgowns, an ersatz vampire in the form of Ra’s al Ghul, an ersatz werewolf in the form of Man-Bat and a tone that owed a lot to horror. Then, Englehart and Rogers drew heavily on the same early comics and (as you mentioned) the tradition of the pulps. Finally, Frank Miller looked back yet again to the earliest Batman adventures and blended in a heavy dose of ’70s crime drama (i.e. SERPICO, DIRTY HARRY and THE GODFATHER).

None of the half dozen Superman revamps have ever done that. They all look to combine elements of various adaptations of the Superman story itself. They rarely look to Siegel-Shuster (or even the Mort Weisinger) comics, nor beyond old superhero stories. Byrne was primarily influenced by the color seasons of the George Reeves TV series and the Donner-Reeve films. Geoff Johns wrote SECRET ORIGIN with a clear eye toward the Donner-Reeve films and the Bruce Timm animated series. Even Alan Moore and Grant Morrison were drawing almost exclusively from Weisinger comics.

In short, there is no fresh air coming into the room with the lone exception of SMALLVILLE and its teen soap influences. Without fresh air, the franchise is slowly withering.

What is amazing is that the vast majority of revamps are done in the (failed) Superman style instead of the (unbelievably successful) Batman style. The Perez revamp of Wonder Woman deleted elements from Marston, rather than expanding upon his foundation. GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH and FLASH: REBIRTH are drawn exclusively from old comics. Every new edition of the JLA is drawn Len Wein (or whomever), but without reference to other influences. Teen Titans can only reference the Wolfman-Perez years.

That is not to say Marvel is so much better, but they do at least tend to borrow from fresher comics.

Derek,

I’m pretty sure that the Shooter run on Daredevil has not been collected, but should appear when (if?) Marvel releases the 6th volume in the Essential Daredevil series. (Note: Part of Wolfman’s run is in volume 4.) I think there were 3 years between 4 & 5, and vol. 5 just came out last February, so…

But the question is, if you’re going to borrow from outside of the comics field for a revamp, where do you look for inspiration?

That is a very risky gamble. Batman is (after the fact) one of the easy ones. Crime movies and pulp are obvious sources. Where do you look for material that may be of use for the other DC heroes?

Green Lantern would be the easiest: science fiction literature. The others? Not so sure. Well, okay, Wonder Woman is easy too. George Perez actually did it: go back to the source of Greek Myth and borrow the hell out of it.

But when people look to Matrix and martial arts movies or whatever is hot this week as inspiration for a new Superman, I don’t think it’s a good idea, you know?

Brian,

Great column this week! (Or had you noticed from all the comments?) :)

As I’ve mentioned before (okay, quite a while ago), I always access CBLR through my bookmark of this index: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/category/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed/, which of course doesn’t list the subjects at all. However, I have absolutely no issue with your warning at the top of the actual page and checking in from work on a break (or while my computer is otherwise occupied and I have to let other programs run, but I digress). Seems if anyone’s concerned about the images being stored in the temporary internet files could just delete them immediately rather than waiting for whatever default is set up (I have mine delete when I close my browser anyway, but that’s me). I understand that my fellow readers are concerned about it, I just really don’t understand why. (Is some pornazi coming by and checking everyone’s internet cache? Ooops, what about the history?) Ah well.

The Fleisher/Aparo “Spectre” run is a guilty pleasure, and really is just an injection of pre-code horror on the super-hero stage in an era when the Comics Code Authority was starting to relax its maniacal grip on the industry: as a kid I thought it was funny in a gross sense, though I always understood people not getting it or even getting it but simply not liking it, regardless of any opinion of Fleisher’s skills as a writer.

And as much as I love Englehart’s work, the end note on Avengers #149 was rather childish. Which makes me wonder more about the work environment a Marvel at the time, when fans were first becoming professionals, the bullpen was a bit of a club, and the corporate structure – always there, of course – started asserting itself more stringently and consistently. That would make for a fascinating book…

@ Rene:

I love movies, but their long run of driving the pop cultural bus ended about 10 years ago. THE MATRIX was probably the last time a movie really injected something new into the culture. Even then, it was “borrowing” quite a bit THE INVISIBLES.

Right now, the bleeding edge is TV with its dramas that build to a planned resolution over several seasons. I would love to see someone attempt to revamp a third-tier property (i.e. Hawkman) with a series of mini-series building to a conclusion. It would have been a perfect way to do ULTIMATE X-MEN with 8 mini-series across the four years of High School. One take would be the “Student Edition” and then it would be followed by the “Teacher’s Edition”. The teachers would not know about the personal dramas of the students and the students wouldn’t know about the problems facing the faculty. It would all build toward Graduation.

The Siegel-Shuster Superman was largely concerned with real-life issues. How about doing LAW & ORDER at the Daily Planet? Take a real life story ripped from the headlines and show how Superman would handle it. Without resorting to fantasy, how does Superman fix the BP oil spill? Or how does he solve the problems of people losing their homes? Stuff like that.

The funny thing is that the Matrix movies borrowed heavily from Superman too.

Oh good lord, yes. The ending of the first Matrix and the big fight in the third one were straight out of the Donner Superman flicks.

Dean,

I am a huge fan of TV shows. I think my collection of DVD sets has surpassed 110.

If there is one thing I’d like see comics copying TV shows is in the discipline and structure of the good TV shows. Shows with ensemble casts like OZ, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, and L WORD manage to feature episodes that: a) feature discrete-but-interconnecting storylines about every main character. b) feature an overall theme to the episode. c) advance the bigger storyline of that season.

Now, the obvious difficulty is how could you squeeze all that there is in one episode of a TV show that lasts for 45-55 minutes into one issue of a comic with 22 pages?

Of course, some Marvel/DC comics today seem to take, say, 8 22-page issues to tell stories that used to be told in 4 or 5 17-page issues. In some ways that’s better (when you need more room to relate something, it’s there) and in other ways… it seems padded at worst, inefficient at best and either way I’ve felt a little cheated on those issues or series. [I don’t think it’s a wide-spread problem, but if I were regularly reading monthlies I’d take more notice of the writers/teams doing that and avoid them.]

I can’t believe no one’s talked about this yet.

“Orka The Killer Whale”? Really, Steve? REALLY?
Actually, one of my favorite things in 70s comics is when they tried to seize on some zeitgeist from elsewhere in popular culture, because it was almost always hilarious. :)

And Harlan Ellison’s mouth got him in trouble? Yeah, THERE’s a “stop-the-presses” for ya. ;)

[…] George Perez, and not the writer, as Perez has honed lateness to perfection in his later years, original artwork from #149 has notes from Perez complaining about the delays on the book and how they were affecting […]

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