Comic Book Legends Revealed #287
Welcome to the two-hundred and eighty-seventh 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-six.
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 Ballroom Dancing Legends Revealed to learn if it is really true that Fred Astaire’s will says that he can never be portrayed in a film!
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COMIC LEGEND: An ethnic slur accidentally made its way into an issue of Wolverine.
I really couldn’t believe it when it occurred to me the other day that I am all the way up to installment #287 and I never featured this one. This is something I should have featured on installment, like, I dunno, #14.
In any event, the year was 1998. Chris Claremont had just finished a short, but memorable, run on Wolverine and Marvel was mostly looking for people to tread water until they figured out the next direction for the book (it eventually ended up being Erik Larsen taking over). Writer Todd DeZago was brought in to write a few issues. He signed up for three issues. He plotted all three and had scripted the first two, but he took issue with some notable changes to his last plot by editorial, so he decided not to script his third issue, Wolverine #131.
So a young Brian K. Vaughan was brought in to script the issue. Naturally, as you might imagine, things were getting quite rushed at this point. In any event, at one point in the comic, Vaughan scripts a sequence where Viper (then married to Wolverine) is recapping recent events in the title. Vaughan refers to Sabretooth as “the assassin Sabretooth.”
However, the editor crossed out assassin and chose to use the word “killer” instead. So here is how the page was intended to look…
The problem was that when the editor crossed out assassin and wrote killer in the margin, it was not exactly clear what he had written. So when the letterer came to that point in the script, he wrote down what he thought he saw, not even knowing what he was writing, so it came out as…
And, again, the book was being done in a hurry, so no one caught the slur until the book has already been sent out to retailers as preview copies. Marvel quickly recalled the book and fixed the mistake.
No one got into any noticeable trouble and everyone went on with their business, just adding one more book the annals of “rare recalled comics” for collectors out there.
Todd DeZago made an interesting point about perhaps the saddest part of the story…
[M]any people told me that they didn’t even know what the word meant–we may have inadvertently re-introduced a hateful word back into a culture that had forgotten it…
Thanks to RecalledComics.com and Todd DeZago for the quote!
COMIC LEGEND: Otto Binder and C.C. Beck teamed up to create a new hero called Captain Shazam for a new comic book company in the late 1960s.
Last week I wrote about Myron Fass’ Captain Marvel series, which, after it went out of business, was soon met by Marvel introducing their OWN Captain Marvel, so as to secure the trademark for themselves.
1967 nearly met ANOTHER notable addition to the Captain Marvel discussion, with the introduction of…Captain Shazam!
You see, a small book publishing company, Milson Publishing, decided to try their hand at making comic books, so they launched their own comic book line called Lightning Comics. They hired comic book legends Otto Binder and C.C. Beck be the stars behind their new line.
Beck, as you know, was the co-creator of Captain Marvel for Fawcett, and Otto Binder was probably the most famous Captain Marvel writer.
The pair got together for a new outlandish and offbeat character known as Fatman…
Binder also wrote a Captain Marvel knock-off known as Super Green Beret (little kid turns into Super Green Beret to go over to Vietnam to kill the bad guys in a comic with more than a little racist overtones)….
However, the most anticipated part of Lightning Comics (hell, their slogan was a Captain Marvel-esque lightning bolt, for crying out loud!) was a brand new hero by Binder and Beck called, of all things, Captain Shazam!!
Here is the absolutely insane house ad announcing the new hero…
How insane of an ad is that?!?
Sadly, Lightning Comics went out of business before the comic ever came out. In fact, I don’t know if they ever actually got past the basic plotting stages. They DID have a premise, though. I bet you want to hear it, don’t you?
Here goes – six agents are killed. The agents’ names are Simmons, Harvey, Anderson, etc. until you spell out SHAZAM. They are then all combined into Steve Thomas, Agent Six…also known as…CAPTAIN SHAZAM!!!
I dunno about you, but that sure does sound like a turned-on super swinger to me!!
Sadly, the comic will only ever appear in our dreams and/or nightmares.
Also, what the heck is “tuff,” anyways?!?!?
Thanks to commenter Atomic Kommie Comics (whose website is here) for telling me the story behind Captain Shazam!
COMIC LEGEND: After losing their distributor and being forced to cut their line of comics dramatically to stay in business, Atlas/Marvel Comics worked almost entirely off of inventory for about a year.
Way back in Comic Book Legends Revealed #10 (which is right around when I should have done that Wolverine story), I told you folks about how Marvel Comics (then Atlas Comics) decided to stop distributing their comics by themselves and instead signed with American News Company, who then almost immediately went out of business.
In order to keep his company from being driven out of business, Atlas President Martin Goodman was forced to take a deal with Independent News, which was part of the same company that owned DC Comics!
The deal with Independent (which began in June 1957) was fairly onerous, leaving Atlas/Marvel with only eight monthly titles (Goodman quickly re-worked that to allowing roughly sixteen bi-monthly titles), causing the cancellation of a great number of titles, and keeping Atlas/Marvel from expanding into new genres for years.
A side effect of the instant stoppage of all of these comics was that Atlas/Marvel Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee now had over 1,500 pages of comic pages and roughly 20% of the titles he was going to use those pages for.
So, as the story goes, Lee just used up this inventory until late 1958, causing pretty much all of Marvel’s artists to lose their jobs. Heck, Jack Kirby basically told a variation of this story to explain the state of Atlas/Marvel when he began working there in late 1958.
Now, it is certainly true that many artists lost work due to this change. Of course they did, how could they not?
However, what’s important to note is the following two things:
1. If you just suddenly stop, those 1,500 or so pages are not all going to be FINISHED stories, many of them will be UNfinished stories, so right there, you need artists TO finish them and
2. Those 1,500 or so pages were split amongst Marvel’s many different genres. The problem is that, after the cancellation of so many of their titles, they no longer HAD as many titles in every genre. So the pages were not distributed equally between the genres.
As a result, Marvel has a surplus of science fiction inventory (because they had fewer science fiction titles), so it is true that science fiction stories were still being used from that inventory of pages all the way up until 1959!!!
However, other genres were more plentiful, and as a result, needed new stories sooner.
We can tell when new stories were produced due to the job numbers (the little codes on the front pages of comics of the time – check it out on this late-50s issue of Strange Tales…
Job numbers were assigned in chronological order, not by when they were published but by when the jobs were assigned (this would lead to amusing situations where occasionally an artist would finish a years-old inventory story that was still in its script stages, so the artist would get credit for a story assigned before he was even WORKING at the company!). The job numbers for the inventory stories began with the letter prefaces of L, M and O (N skipped because it looks too similar to M). The first job numbers assigned after the change in distributors were P.
The first P’s showed up as soon as September 1957, with Patsy and Hedy #56.
And if it was being published in September, then that means that they were most likely assigning the stories in July of 1957, barely a month after their new distribution deal began.
Two Gun Kid #40 followed later that month…
and Kid Colt Outlaw #77 and Gunsmoke Western #45 followed soon after….
then Wyatt Earp #16…
Then slowly the other lines (first the humor comics, then the romance and military comics and then finally, the science fiction comics). Roughly 100 new job numbers were assigned in 1957 going into 1958, and then 20 or so job numbers using the preface S. There was not a LOT of work available, but there WAS new work being done (and all by the same small group of artists – Dick Ayers, Dan DeCarlo, Al Hartley, Joe Maneely, Jack Keller and sometimes Morris Weiss).
So while yes, on a number of Atlas/Marvel titles, it was quite awhile until the inventory was used up, it was FAR from the case at Atlas/Marvel as a whole (the T-series of job numbers, by the way, is when Marvel finally got all caught up, so they dramatically expanded the job numbers, and the artists who worked on them – this is when guys like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko got involved).
Thanks to Thomas G. Lammers’ brilliantly researched piece on the subject in Alter Ego #49 for the exact dates and issues that marked the end of the inventory. You rock, Thomas!
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 email@example.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are BRAND NEW legends never published on the blog!).
The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it (Christmas is coming soon – good time to buy my book as a present!), you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next week!