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Comic Book Legends Revealed #301

Welcome to the three hundredth and 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 three hundred.

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 about a trio of legends involving the effect of jingles on popular music history (and in one case, popular CEREAL history)!

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Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The creation of World’s Fair Comics eventually led to dramatic change in both the Superman and Batman mythos.

STATUS: Effectively True

When National Comics first got started, they inherited two editors from the fellow that they took over the company from, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Those two editors were Vin Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth. Ellsworth, however, felt that there was no money to be made in comics, so he left to California to find work there. So when Action Comics #1 came out, Vin Sullivan was THE editor for National Comics. It was Sullivan, for instance, who actually decided to put Superman into the first issue of Action Comics.

And it was Sullivan who bought the first Batman feature for Detective Comics #27.

Sullivan was very creator-friendly. However, he also had a view toward “creators’ rights,” so when he came up with the idea of doing a comic book tie-in with the 1939 World’s Fair, he cut a deal with National to get a percentage of the sales of the comic.

Well, those royalties never seemed to exactly come to Sullivan, and when he discovered that World’s Fair Comics was going to continue in 1940 (without his involvement)…

Well, he just about had it and quit, later noting that he just did not want to be involved with people who were going to treat him like that.

So Whitney Ellsworth returned from California and become the new head editor for National Comics.

And soon after Ellsworth returned, he quickly established that National Comics was in charge of these characters, not Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel or Joe Shuster.

This became evident when Ellsworth made notable changes in Batman #1, decreeing that…

A. the Joker will not be killed off (having panels added to note that Joker survived his seemingly fatal fight with Batman in the issue) (see here for the Comic Book Legends Revealed installment dealing with that story).

and

B. that Batman will no longer use a gun or kill people.

Soon afterward, Ellsworth nixed Siegel’s idea of having Superman reveal his secret identity to Lois Lane (a story that also introduced an element from the planet Krypton that could kill Superman) (see here for the Comic Book Legends Revealed installment dealing with that story).

I cannot state to a certainty that Sullivan would have approved those stories, but he definitely was a much more laid-back editor (and as we saw, he already allowed Batman to kill people, so he didn’t seem to have a problem with it), so you would tend to believe he would have gone along with what his creative teams wanted. In which case…wow…talk about a change in history!!

Sullivan was hired by the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate to create a new comic book company. Sullivan left that company (Columbia Comics) after a few years when they were reluctant to introduce new series. He formed his own company, Magazine Entertainment, and stuck around until 1958, when he left comics for good (Magazine Entertainment, of course, had some issues with creator’s rights of its own, as noted in this installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed). Sullivan passed away in 1999.

In 1941, by the way, DC followed up their World’s Fair comics with a new series called World’s Best Comics…

which, instead of being an annual thing, became an ongoing series, with the second issue being retitled…

I think you know what happened with THAT comic.

COMIC LEGEND: Black Hand was originally intended to appear in Grant Morrison’s JLA: Classified storyline.

STATUS: True

During the JLA: Classified storyline that led into his Seven Soldiers project…

The Justice League vanish into a pocket universe (the “real world”) chasing a new super villain known as Black Death. Here are a few pages with him and the League trying to stop him…

Notice his style. Keeping notes like that? That’s very reminiscent of the original depiction of the Green Lantern villain, the Black Hand, who I featured in an installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed here.

That is not a coincidence, as Morrison was originally planning on USING Black Hand as the villain here, but when he learned that Geoff Johns had plans for the villain, both in Green Lantern: Rebirth…

and also the forthcoming follow-up series…

Morrison changed the character to a brand-new villain with the same M.O.

Morrison mentioned this in an interview for Newsarama that sadly is no longer online, so I can’t link you to it.

Thanks to reader Omar Karindu for suggesting this one!

COMIC LEGEND: Charles Addams’ Addams Family cartoon was used to diagnose lunacy.

STATUS: False

Beginning with his first Addams Family cartoon in the New Yorker in 1938, Charles Addams’ grotesque (but not evil) family became quite a sensation, ultimately leading to a TV series…

a movie series…

and even, currently, a Broadway musical!!

While they seem almost quaint nowadays, Addams’ cartoons were quite “on the edge” for their time (think of how the Simpsons was treated when it debuted, and that was just 21 years ago!).

Therefore, one popular story about the strip (repeated here at the neat website, Weird Tales):

Legend has it that one of his cartoons was used to gauge lunacy levels in asylum patients.

If you look into Addams, you’ll see that reference a lot, although often “allegedly” will be thrown in there, as well.

However, it was never even ALLEGEDLY used to gauge lunacy levels. Like the game of telephone, this story can be traced back to a singular source, which has been since mangled beyond recognition. You see, Wolcott Gibbs, the noted playwright, editor, humorist (etc. etc.) and also, friend of Addams (and drama critic for the New Yorker), wrote the introduction to Addams and Evil, a collection of Addams’ cartoons.

In it, Gibbs jokes that Addams’ cartoons should be used to diagnose incipient lunacy in patients. The theory being that if you think you can explain certain Addams pictures, the lunacy is no longer incipient.

This clear joke has somehow been transformed over the years into first A. a serious suggestion and B. an actual claim.

It is not.

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!

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 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, 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!

36 Comments

So glad we got Johns’s disgusting necrophiliac version instead.

“However, it was never even ALLEGEDLY used to gauge lunacy levels.”

Doesn’t the legend itself allege just that.

Just referring to the original statement.

The art by McGuinness totally suggests Black Hand, as well. In several panels, you can see the martini glass forming the bottom part of his insignia.

Gotta love the coloring on that first World’s fair cover. Hello, blond Superman!

Brian, can you do some research into whatever happened to DC’s character “Moon Maiden”? She appeared in a JLA Annual around the time Marvel had “The Sentry” created, and she had The Sentry’s (and Justice Leaguer Triumph’s) M.O. of being retconned back into continuity, but other than a one- or two-panel appearance in JLA/Avengers, we’ve never seen her since.

I really enjoyed her concept and much like Tomorrow Woman, I would have liked to see her more.

My favorite Addams Family trivia – Blossom Rock, who played Grandmama on the TV show, was Jeanette McDonald’s older sister.

Unfortunately I think you answered your own question, Squasha. Nobody’s really used her since. I’d be surprised if there were any reason they couldn’t, though.

Great line-up this week! (But it always freaks me out when you edit the column on the fly… hahahaha! :) ) I was really happy when DC reprinted the World’s Fair comics in an Archives volume.

I found the JLA Classified pages confusing on the first read through. I dunno, maybe it was in trying to follow the reduced image or comin in the middle of the sequence, but I first read the notes as being written by the woman, being spied upon by Superman (with here again, gone again glasses). The face on the poison fume made it seem like it was sentient (it is a comic book you know…) Quite a head trip that way.

It’s so cute that they would re-title a comic in the second issue. Nowadays, they’d just make “World’s Best” a one-shot and “World’s Finest” a #1.

I had the exact same problem, Keith. That storytelling style is what Jim Shooter called “coy” when he critiqued my early work (I was briefly–VERY briefly and unpublished–a penciller for Marvel back in ’81). It was a no-no back then.

Schnitzy Pretzlepants

February 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm

“I had the exact same problem, Keith. That storytelling style is what Jim Shooter called “coy” when he critiqued my early work (I was briefly–VERY briefly and unpublished–a penciller for Marvel back in ’81). It was a no-no back then.”

Bet you’ve got some interesting stories you could tell, indeed.

I looked back over the panels above, and I do like the economy of them.

I think from a narrative point of view they really are simply missing one panel – and that’s Black Hand (or Death) leaving the bar after putting his diary away.

For me the main confusion is that it isn’t clear that it’s Clark and NOT Black Death (or Hand) knocking the drink over.

The rest of it works for me, but I found it confusing to thinking – initially – that it seemed like the guy that poisoned her drink would then knock it over. Mind you I do see that they established that Black Hand (or Death) is wearing gloves.

Didn’t ONE of the Addams cartoons drive someone (Addams himself?) insane? Something about a bat carrying a baby away to eat?? I remember hearing something about that…

Any chance you’re coming out with a second book? I really love the first one.

I found it very difficult to follow the story in the pages shown here.

It’s only becomes clear that it’s Clark knocking over the drink when one takes in account Morrison’s portrayal of Kal-El’s Clark act: that he saves people by pretending to be an overgrown klutz.

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

February 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Those JLA pages aren’t so hard to read if you simply follow the details. Hell, I’d say that’s the essence of reading comic books.

I think it was only one particular Addamms cartoon that was supposed to be used; this one: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/12/03/books/YAGO600SPAN.jpg

Maybe I am missing something, but the Johns and Morrison takes on Black Hand do not seem wildly incompatible.

Actually, The “Ultramarine Corps” storyline was a nice prologue to everything Morrison did in the DCU for the next several years in terms of his work with Batman and Superman as well as being a prologue for Seven Soldiers.

ParanoidObsessive

February 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm

“I think you know what happened with THAT comic.”

Why no, Brian – whatever DID happen with that comic? Was it important or something?

:-)

I am such a fan of the Addams Family…thanks for including them.

Who was Sullivan going to get a cut of money FOR, from the World’s Fair comic? I’m a little unclear. It seems from what else you’re saying, it’d be for the creators involved, but I think I could read it that he was getting a cut of money for HIMSELF. Maybe I’m just dum.

Wasn’t it Sheldon “Scribbly” Mayer who pointed Sullivan towards Superman? Sullivan apparently gave the ok, but I do believe that he wouldn’t have SEEN the feature without Mayer’s input.

And doesn’t this whole legend prove that Batman was originally NOT supposed to have Robin, and wasn’t aimed at kids? :) (That was nowhere near as funny as funky’s comment last week. I’ve lost my funny sense.)

Black Death appears so little in that JLA story, it seems that it could have been done with Black Hand. I agree that it’s a little hard to follow what’s going on (in that whole 3 parter, actually, it wasn’t until the Knight and Squire mini that I understood what Squire’s powers are), but we did get Knight and Squire out of the deal, so AWESOME! I’m wondering if maybe (part of) the reason that the panels are small is because maybe it was a last minute thing to definitely NOT use Black Hand.

That Addams Family one is pretty cool. I was going to ask if the Addams Family was the first cartoon related multi media thing, where the artist’s name was the big draw, but I don’t think so. Then again… WAS the Addams Family the first cartoon related project to prominently feature the artists’ name as part of the feature? (If you can understand my mangled syntax.) I can think of other things, like Outcault’s Buster Brown, or the guy who did the Brownies, where the cartoon became a multi media sensation, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head where the ARTIST’S name was prominent. (Although I wonder how many people realized that Chas. Addams WAS an artist once the TV show started…)

We may have Ellsworth to thank for some very good decisions regarding Batman, but we also have him to blame for having to tolerate decades of stories where Lois Lane couldn’t figure Superman’s secret id despite the fact he worked with her wearing just glasses as a disguise. :D Still very interesting trivia, thanks.

That JLA panel sequence was both very interesting visually and also confusing to follow. It’s still better than the a-poster-each-page approach though.

Man, wasn’t Black Hand a hammy villain? And who exactly was he talking to, the readers? But I second the notion that that version is MUCH better than Johns’.

Chas. Addams rocked, and those Addams Family comics ain’t “quaint”…

The Addams Family are still hysterical. I love Charles Addams work.

Sijo, yes, Black Hand in his debut broke the fourth wall and talked to readers–John Broome did that in several stories back in the Silver Age.

But I beg to differ on Lois: She’s the only person who did figure out Clark’s identity back in the day, she just couldn’t prove it.

“Figuring out” and “officially knowing” are two different things. Especially when she kept trying to prove Clark was Superman based on the absurd notion that he would have to MARRY her then! (even as a kid I found that logic very odd.) Though admittedly those stories were funny, in their own madcap, not-really-a-Superman-story kind of way. :)

Oh and didn’t Lana Lang “figure” it too? Same deal…

@ Sijo: The Jerry Siegel script where Superman revealed his identity to Lois pretty unambiguous, as I recall. Clark and Lois were trapped in a cave-in and rapidly running out of oxygen. The only way Clark could rescue Lois was to use his super powers in front of her to dig them out. I believe that at the end, that Lois even agreed to help keep Clark’s secret. Keep in mind that this story was written in 1940. Two years into Superman’s history. That would have changed things quite a bit for the character, no?

I’d love to look into an alternate universe where Vin Sullivan stayed at National/DC and see what changes were wrought.

I think Morrison used those 16-panel grids in that sequence in order to give it a claustrophobic feeling and gives a sense that the infant universe of Qwewq (Which is supposed to represent our universe) is too small to contain the greatness of the JLA members, who are never fully shown.

That was largely my interpretation, Shagamu. The imagination is more confined in Qwewq– the panels aren’t even large enough to allow for the potential fullness of Qwewq’s inhabitants, while in the DCU the panels are wider and more dynamic.

“It’s only becomes clear that it’s Clark knocking over the drink when one takes in account Morrison’s portrayal of Kal-El’s Clark act: that he saves people by pretending to be an overgrown klutz.”

I haven’t read that comic book, but I think it’d be easier to figure out if you had the entire comic in your hands and not just those panels.

Especially the next page, which opens with four panels across the top stating:

Superman – “He poisoned some poor woman’s drink, just for fun.”

Flash – “So let’s take him! Ten minutes in this place could be hours in real time.”

Wonder Woman – “We can’t use our usual techniques here in the infant universe of qwewq, Wallace…you know that.”

Superman – “She’s right. It’s important that we use our powers precisely and discreetly.”

Those references to Vin Sullivan at Magazine Entertainment should be to changed to Magazine Enterprises.

Funny to see “The Addams Family Holiday” painting in this column, as I’m sitting in front of the original as I type this. (We have it on display at the Penn State library where I work).

[...] New Yorker cartoons were used to gauge sanity, or lack thereof, in asylums. A good story, though it isn’t true. Still it’s close enough to Addams’ humour that it comes as no surprise that the wacky TV show [...]

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