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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #324

Welcome to the three hundredth and twenty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the surprising history behind Superman and his famous changes within phone booths! Plus, discover the interesting secrets behind Death of the Endless guest-starring in the Incredible Hulk. And did Stan Lee really create a Jungle Girl comic book just because an artist he wanted to hire drew women really well?

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-three.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Clark Kent has very rarely changed into Superman in a phone booth, including not once on the 1950s Superman TV series!

STATUS: True

I have written in the past about just how influential the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Superman, was on what we think of as the iconic take on the character of Superman (specifically, it is where “Truth, Justice and the American Way” became ingrained into the collective psyche). However, in a fascinating article I read recently by Steve Younis, of the Superman Homepage, the Superman TV series actually was NOT where our idea of Clark Kent changing into a phone booth comes from.

In fact, as Younis notes, in the 104 episodes of the TV series, Clark never changed into Superman in a phone booth in ANY of them!

And it wasn’t the comics or the comic strip, although Superman did, on occasion, use phone booths, but to an minuscule degree as compared to when he would change in the Daily Planet storeroom. Here’s a Superman comic strip from 1942 when he notes why it is a BAD place to change clothes…

He also occasionally used it on the radio series, but not frequently at all. In the history of Superman, it was almost always storage rooms where Clark changed, by a very large margin over other places (alleys, roofs and stairwells were all also popular).

Amazingly enough, what it really seems to down to is TWO different Fleischer Superman cartoons. One from 1941 and one from 1942.

Here, from 1941, the second Superman cartoon, “The Mechanical Monsters,” is Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth…

He does it again in a March 1942 cartoon.

And that’s pretty much it.

From those two usages in the cartoons, an iconic idea of Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth was developed, and it is clearly IS iconic, as it pops up constantly, particularly in parodies of the character (from Mad magazine to Underdog or even at DC itself, including in Bob Hope’s comic book). Heck, in the first Superman feature film, they even use a joke based on Clark looking for a phone booth but finding only the new phone booths that don’t have doors (a joke Gerry Conway used in Superman vs. Spider-Man).

The only reason the joke works, of course, is that it just an accepted fact that Clark Kent changes into Superman in phone booths. Since then, of course, Clark HAS changed into Superman in phone booths on a few occasions in film and TV, but they are all clearly meant as references back to the “iconic” way Clark did so – a way that he rarely actually did!

I find that utterly fascinating, that such a small usage of an idea can become so powerfully ingrained in our minds.

Thanks so much to Steve Younis for this interesting topic.

EDITED TO ADD: Commenter GreyDog noted that the phone booth changed is used on the cover of a 1974 issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. What is particularly interesting about that issue is what happens inside:

It’s even considered iconic BY OTHER COMIC BOOK CHARACTERS! Beyond the fact that that makes no sense, story-wise (if people knew where Clark Kent changed into Superman, why don’t they see Clark Kent duck into the phone booth?), it is amazing to see a comic book reference to the fame of the phone booth usage when he WASN’T using the phone booth to switch in the comics!!

COMIC LEGEND: Peter David was given permission to use Death in Incredible Hulk #418, with one interesting qualification.

STATUS: True

As a tie-in to our Comic Book Easter Egg month, let us talk about Incredible Hulk #418, where Rick Jones and Marlo Chandler get married.

First off, here’s a fun cameo throughout the issue, as artist Gary Frank drew writer Peter David as the minister of the wedding….

However, one of the most memorable moments (especially from the pile of people who have written in to me to suggest it this month) is this cameo of Death, from Sandman (Marlo had previously been essentially killed, but was later returned to life)…

As part of Easter Egg month, Peter David was nice enough to write in to give some interesting background about this famous easter egg. He first asked Neil Gaiman for permission to use Death, and Gaiman agreed.

Next, David went to Paul Levitz to clear it with him. Levitz signed off on it as well, but he had just one “condition” – no ankh. If you notice, the ankh is tucked under Death’s shirt.

Isn’t that a nice example of two comic book companies working together for a cool moment?

Thanks to Peter David for the information!

COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee was so impressed with Werner Roth’s sample “good girl” artwork that he not only hired Roth, but created a comic book just for Roth to draw!

STATUS: False (but only because of chronology issues)

From Werner Roth’s Wikipedia page…

Roth’s work began appearing in Marvel Comics, then known as Atlas Comics, in 1953. Stan Lee, the editor at Atlas, was impressed with Roth’s portfolio, particularly his drawings of women. According to Lee, “when you have a good artist like Werner Roth, you want to use him. So I took his samples to show [then-publisher] Martin Goodman. I suggested we should use Werner, even create a comic for him. Which we did, and that was how Lorna, the Jungle Girl was born.”

The quote is from Nicky Wright’s The Classic Era of American Comics.

Werner Roth was, indeed, a wonderful artist for drawing women. That is why when Atlas ran out of work for him in the late 1950s (he and many others), he found regular work drawing romance comics for DC until the mid-60s, when Stan Lee lured him back to Marvel to take over X-Men after Jack Kirby left (initially using the pseudonym Jay Gavin).

And it is true (well, I believe it, at least) that Stan Lee DID create a new book, Lorna the Jungle Queen, for Roth to draw in 1953 (particularly since it was about 10 years after most other jungle girl comics had fallen by the wayside).

However, Roth had been working for Atlas for THREE YEARS before Lorna came around. His debut came in 1950 with an issue of Venus…

And he had an extended run on Apache Kid…

So no, Lee did not hire Roth and then create a comic for him right on the spot.

Check out this post on Pat Curley’s Silver Age Comics site to see some of Roth’s Lorna artwork. It is definitely top notch stuff.

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!

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! 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!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Legends Revealed, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at legendsrevealed.com.

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!

97 Comments

I loved that Incredible Hulk Wedding issue.

And of course the gift from Death was priceless.

*sigh* I miss Rick and Marlo.

My suspicion is that Mad Magazine had a lot to do with the Phonebooth change becoming as iconic as it did…I bet he did it more there (with any one of a hundred different possible gags) at least an order of magnitude more often than in ‘official’ versions…

Is that Venus issue’s title the first comics allusion to Euripides’ famous quotation?

Back when that issue of Hulk came out, I recognized Death instantly, however It took me embarrassingly long to get the whole “Brush with Death” pun. [hangs head in shame]

Took me a long time too Glitchy. I knew it had to mean something but it took multiple readings to figure it out.

I wonder if this is a case of the parody setting the tone – -Jay Ward was certainly aware of the Fleischers — and he had Underdog demolish every phone booth in the city when he changed.

Seems like it’s cool to denigrate the comics of the 90′s now, but there was some really good stuff that came out in that decade, it wasn’t all Rob Liefeld, scrtchy lines and pockets all over everyone’s uniform. Of the good work that was released in the 90′s, Peter David was the writer for a lot of it. So anyway, kudos to PAD.

Yeah, Chris and Jeff, I think you’re spot on – the parodies of the Fleischer cartoons definitely helped. I added that into the piece. Thanks!

Captain America is wearing his costume AND a tux! Classy!

And why is the Thing wearing a helmet?

Daniel O'Dreams

July 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

Always loved the, “better take off before that Thanos creep shows up…” line.
” He keeps following me around like a little puppy and it weirds me out.”

My guess about the phone booth is it was such an appealing image for the marketing related to Superman and that’s how it got into the collective psyche. Just a guess.

Rick Jones’ bachelor party and wedding are highlights of my comic book reading experience. I was a guest at a con with Peter David once and we discussed them in the hospitality room. The fun thing about those issues is the work he had to do securing permission from the editors of the various books in terms of using their characters. As can be seen, the Fantastic Four and Avengers editors were game.

The highlight of the bachelor party issue was when the adult films are being shown. Someone asks Captain America why he’s looking down and he says, “It’s nothing. Just something in my eye.” Great stuff.

And why is the Thing wearing a helmet?

You’re better off not knowing.

And why is the Thing wearing a helmet?

In an earlier issue of the Fantastic Four, the original team wound up fighting the New Fantastic Four, from 1989. That was the team of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider. During the fight, Logan loses control and slices Ben in the face, scratching him pretty good. Ben wound up wearing a bucket on his head to hide his disfigurement, before putting on a special helmet. Shortly after, Logan would lose his Adamantium and by 1995, Ben would stop wearing the mask. The scars went away after “Onslaught” and “Heroes Reborn”.

Like Brian said…

Tonebone – at that point in the comics, Ben had been injured by Wolverine and wore the helmet to hide the scars.

Point of order: Ben wasn’t really trying to hide the scars. He’s not exactly a pin-up model. Wolvie’s claws stripped away some of his rocky hide, exposing vulnerable flesh. The helmet protected him, to an extent. Even then, he mentioned that blows to the face from the Hulk or whomever hurt him.

I’m a little scared that I know that.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard an episode of the Superman radio show, but stuck in my brain is a soundbite of an announcer-voiced guy saying, “Into a nearby phone booth…” Anybody know where that might be from?

@Dan Trudeau: that’s definitely the funniest part of the bachelor party. I also like the image of one of the guys of the Pantheon on top of Silver Surfer’s board with a punch bowl on his head singing “Surfin’ USA”.

Never thought I’d write a sentence like that in my life. I love comics :-)

I think you may be right, Mutt. That particular phrasing is iconic enough that it made it into what’s probably my favorite Jonathan Lethem story ever, which goes like this (in full):

Gregor Samsa ducked into a nearby phone booth. “This looks,” he said, “like a job for a gigantic insect.”

Great stuff, Brian. The Superman phone booth myth is fascinating. Has any other character been so closely associated with something that he did so rarely?

Wow, that Apache Kid cover is amazing!

Another ham-handed Peter David “joke” that’s just sooooo funny.

Peter David gets a lot of crap for his proclivity towards puns, but I’ll be damned if that “brush with death” doesn’t crack me up…

I guess I’m just a sucker for puns, too…

@syon: Well, a lot of people and/or characters are associated with lines that they never actually said. “Play it again, Sam.” … “Beam me up, Scotty.” … “Just the facts, ma’am.” … “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

@Mutt: I have been listening to a lot of Adventures of Superman radio series episodes, but I don’t recall him changing clothes in a phone booth in any of them. You can download a few years worth from http://www.archive.org

BTW, DC made fun of the phone booth trope themselves in http://crossover.bureau42.com/zsupesfunt.html
Great cover, but the story was silly even by the standards of the time.

Great stuff, Brian. The Superman phone booth myth is fascinating. Has any other character been so closely associated with something that he did so rarely?

Sure. Just look at Hank Pym.

Yeah, Bob, which is part of why I think that the parody idea presented earlier is most likely the “correct” answer as to why the phone booth became so established. People parodied the Fleischer cartoons so much that it was just a given that they made the events of the cartoon become an indelible image when we think of Superman.

My problem with Peter David’s jokes is that they depend on a “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” to the reader. They’re gags that the reader would get, but are meaningless to the characters in the story. That, to me, makes them fall flat. I enjoy characters with a sense of humor within the story, but I’m rarely amused by gags that break the fourth wall.

Brian, check out the cover for Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, v. 1, #162:

http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Superman%27s_Pal,_Jimmy_Olsen_Vol_1_162

They were using Superman and phone booths in 1974.

Right, GreyDog, but that’s the point – that cover works because “obviously, Superman changes in phone booths,” which he didn’t actually do in the comics (with any regularity, that is). So why, by 1974, was it ingrained in our minds that that is where Superman changes? For instance, he changes in a phone booth in the ill-fated mid-60s musical version of Superman, so obviously it was considered an “iconic” thing by that point. And it is interesting to see all of that iconic value derive from really just two high profile examples of Superman changing in a phone booth.

Just in the interest of adorability, I present exhibit Z: A portrait of the buttler as a young Superman.

http://theidiolect.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/243093_10150206217304889_842674888_6703795_524459_o.jpg

That would be around 1978, I’d say.

That is, indeed, adorable.

i really like PAD’s gags. Just my opinion tho’.

Bob:”@syon: Well, a lot of people and/or characters are associated with lines that they never actually said. “Play it again, Sam.” … “Beam me up, Scotty.” … “Just the facts, ma’am.” … “Elementary, my dear Watson.”’

Except those (barring Sherlock Holmes) are instances of characters being identified with things that they did not do, a slightly different situation. The Sherlock Holmes “elementary” quote is a case of adaptive osmosis, as the quote was used extensively in the Rathbone films, just not in the ACD canon.

buttler:”Sure. Just look at Hank Pym.”

Yeah, that seems like a good example. The original story pretty clearly indicated that that was the first and only time that Hank struck Jan, yet people seem to think that it was an ongoing occurrence.

Peter David had so much hair then.

I had absolutely no idea what that brush meant until it was explained in the comments. I just assumed it had something to do with Death in Sandman.

Okay, there’s Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, Outlaw Kid, Ringo Kid, Kid Colt, and now it seems there was also an Apache Kid? I get the impression Marvel’s West was populated almost entirely by kids.

Joe S. Walker

July 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I think comics would be better off today if there had been editors who simply refused to let people indulge themselves in this manner.

Lorna the Jungle Queen was a surprisingly damngood title, from start to finish.

Mike Loughlin

July 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I didn’t get “brush w/ death” at first, either. luckily, they explained it in the letters page soon after.

I love that Quicksilver played the piano at the wedding. He had just learned how in a memorable scene from a then-recent issue of X-Factor. I’m not a huge continuity proponent, but I do enjoy little moments like that.

Good example of nepotistic continuity there.

Gary Frank should have stylized Peter David some more. He made him look a little too photorealistic, which kind of makes him extra creepy looking compared to everyone else.

Also, I usually think David gets too much flack for his puns, but that one is indeed very forced.

ParanoidObsessive

July 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm

>>> I get the impression Marvel’s West was populated almost entirely by kids.

In Marvel’s defense, it seems like there were quite a few “Kids” running around in the real Old West (Billy the Kid, the Sundance Kid, plus, there really WAS a real-life Apache Kid), and it’s sort of become standard to invent new outlaw nicknames by just tossing “Kid” onto a place-name (like The ‘Frisco Kid).

The well-known but seldom used Superman phrase “Up, up, and away!” did come from the radio show (to let listeners know he was about to go flying), which is why he used to say it in Superfriends. I wonder if he ever changed in a phone booth on that show?

Lots of the mythos came from the radio show (possibly his first team-up with Batman?), so the phone booth might have been used there too, since it’s a much easier thing to say than show. If you have to show someone acting out changing clothes in a phone booth, he looks ridiculous, but it’s an easy throwaway line for a radio script, allowing the writers to get to the action quickly. But there were a LOTof episodes for the radio and it reached a HUGE audience, so I haven’t heard that many of them.

The phone booth switcharoo was used in the recent “trinity” episode of Batman Brave and The Bold when he Batman and Wonder Woman are called back into action 50 years in the future. Seemed odd that with phone booths headed for extinction today that Clark would be bale to find one in the year 2061.

“Supey”???!?!?!?

The Spider and the Shadow had special compartments in their limousines or cabs to put their cloaks into, and would change in their limousines. Can anyone else recall similar scenes, of the hero changing in his cab or limousine? Interesting that “changing in a limousine” does not receive that many homages. (Craig Shaw Gardner noted in his novelization of the 1989 Michael Keaton film that he had practiced changing in his limousine just in case.)

Death also appeared in Excalibur#25 or #26, as I recall, resembling the Gaiman version. Did Claremont receive approval.

Follow-up on last week’s legend; the scene from X-Men#137 mirrors a scene from Fantastic Four#13, replacing Wolverine with the Red Ghost. (The Red Ghost also appeared in Quasar#6, by the way.)

Two things, one unrelated to the curren thread:

In a 1950′ Daffy Duck cartoon, he does change into “Superduck” in the janitor’s closet. Perhaps the phone booth had yet to ingrain itself by then.

An Easter Egg. In an issue of DoctorSpektor, #22 (it reintroduces the Owl), they show someone reading The Daily Sentinel, from the Green Hornet.

To bring something else up again; can anyone find examples of homages, etc. to the protagonist changing in a limousine or a cab? Even just plain examples, I would find interesting.

John Trumbull

July 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

There was an episode of the Monkees back in the 60s where Superman changed in the phone booth right after the Monkees finished using it.

That Hulk bit confused the hell out of me as a kid, as I didn’t know what Sandman was.

And it’s only now reading Glitchy’s comment that I twig the brush gag. Peter David, pun master.

I didn’t get the pun either, probably because it’s *not* a brush with Death, it’s a brush from Death.

A documentary I watched this week on New York’s troubles in the ’70s reminded me of something about that phone booth gag from “Superman”; that’s not a real phone booth in the shot. On the night of the blackout in July of ’77 a number of people tried to make calls from that booth and got frustrated when it wouldn’t work. I had an afterschool job a few blocks away, and after I read that story I went over to check the street out one day after work. No phone booth at that spot (this was early ’79, BTW).

Yeah, that brush pun is pretty weak.

I don’t really mind Peter David making the occasional pun, but I wish he wouldn’t contort his stories so much just for the sake of making one.

PB210:

In that cartoon, wasn’t that one of the first animated cases of Superdickery, with Superman pretty much telling Daffy to get back to his side of town?

Travis Pelkie

July 23, 2011 at 2:18 am

Maybe I’m making it up, but didn’t Bugs Bunny change in a phone booth into Super Rabbit? And he fights the guy from Deepinaharta, Tex? I’d wager that would be a pretty iconic parody that a lot of people would recognize.

And in Superduperman, the Clark Bent (or whatever) MUST do it, right? Or, no, he changes in a supply closet, doesn’t he?

I knew about the Death in Hulk bit, but wasn’t aware that PAD got permission from DC to do so. That’s pretty cool of Levitz (and Gaiman, but legal-wise, Levitz’s permission counted more).

Marlo is SO pale in that last close up panel. Yikes!

Weddings/Death/musician grooms — was this issue before or after the Orpheus story in Sandman?

That Roth legend indicates 2 things (at least): the Nicky Wright book was in error due to claiming Roth started at Atlas in 1953 and not 1950, and Stan Lee has a poor memory (shocking, I know!). Although one could conceivably figure that due to Stan’s quote, Roth started just before Lorna started. However, see the part about Stan and his bad memory.

Aw, ain’t Buttler adorable?

PB210:

In that cartoon, wasn’t that one of the first animated cases of Superdickery, with Superman pretty much telling Daffy to get back to his side of town?

————-In The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Sherlock Holmes appears and Duck Twacy (a take on Dick Tracy) tells him to get back to his side of town.

Warner Bros. did not own DC in the 1950′s, so they would not have had Superman cameo. Superman has sometimes appeared on Tiny Toons (also, Hal Jordan and other members of the Green Lantern Corps. did appear on Duck Dodgers).

Checked out Super Rabbit with Bugs Bunny. He does not change in a phone booth, but in a closet.

They seem to have conflated Captain America or the Shield with Superman in this cartoon, oddly, since they have Super Rabbit as a result of a laboratory event, not an extraterrestrial.

Correction, at about 3:50, Super Rabbit does change in a phone booth.

Now that I’m thinking about it, almost all the changes I remember from the Bronze Age were in a GBS broom closet.
As far as iconic, Action 355 has Superman watching as the Annihilator changes in a phone booth .
A really interesting legend, Brian.
I do have a vague memory of Clark changing in a phone booth in the 60s cartoon.

I’m old enough to remember a Mike Douglas Show episode (that’s how old I am. I was around for when the Mike Douglas Show was around) from around January 1979 when they had Christopher Reeve as a guest and I think Kirk Alyn from the movie serials and one of the cast of the TV show, maybe Noel Neill?) and Mike (via his researchers I presume) pointed out that Clark Kent almost never changed to Superman in a phone booth in the comics. That’s how old debunking this meme is.

Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent did change to Superman in a phone booth in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but that was much later.

You know I read the Death cameo with an absurdist take. Death from Sandman doesn’t belong in the Marvel universe, so of course it doesn’t make sense. I like that reading better than the brush pun :-)

What, no jokes about Superman ducking into a phone booth only to stumble into Doctor Who? For shame! :D (I’m sure there’s a cartoon of that somewhere.)

I laughed at the scene with the new phone booth in the first Superman Movie- and then facepalmed when he changed in a REVOLVING DOOR instead.

Speaking of facepalming, boy I’m glad I didn’t get the brush joke in Rick’s wedding back then. Also, if they had the rights to use Death then why not show her face? As if the ankh were an exclusive symbol of hers! Sheesh!

My favorite part of that issue however, was that Rom (of Rom, Space Knight) and his wife were allowed to appear (but not named, since Marvel no longer had the rights) since Rick was his sidekick as well once. Unlike the Death cameo, this is canonical and showed them to be OK after the finale of the series.

(Btw, if Thanos had been following DC’s death it would most likely have been to kick her back to her own universe, as Death as a Perky Goth would probably have been offensive to him.)

Btw, did Marlo and Rick really live happy ever after?

Wow, ANOTHER Jungle Queen character I’d never heard of! There were a lot of them, indeed! (and I LOVE that Venus cover.)

What, no jokes about Superman ducking into a phone booth only to stumble into Doctor Who? For shame! (I’m sure there’s a cartoon of that somewhere.)

Maybe if he was ducking into an old British police box to change…

I could totally see him running into Bill & Ted in a phone booth, though. Or Neo. Really, anytime Keanu is anywhere near a phone booth, you can tell something reality-bending is about to happen.

Also, if they had the rights to use Death then why not show her face?

Getting permission for a sly cameo is a very, very different thing from having the rights, which they very much did not have. It may have been understood in the request that of course they wouldn’t show her face, and then they were asked not to show the ankh either.

My favorite part of that issue however, was that Rom (of Rom, Space Knight) and his wife were allowed to appear (but not named, since Marvel no longer had the rights) since Rick was his sidekick as well once. Unlike the Death cameo, this is canonical and showed them to be OK after the finale of the series.

Both Rom and Brandy are called by name at the wedding. I guess it was OK because we didn’t see his armor– or at least it was OK just this once? http://blogintomystery.com/2010/11/08/break-out-the-hankies-its-time-for-a-wedding-the-incredible-hulk-418/

(Btw, if Thanos had been following DC’s death it would most likely have been to kick her back to her own universe, as Death as a Perky Goth would probably have been offensive to him.)

Or maybe that’s how Thanos sees her all the time. Maybe it’s just the rest of us who only see the skull-headed figure. Who knows?

Btw, did Marlo and Rick really live happy ever after?

Well, comics happy, maybe. They separated a couple of times, and have of course been terrorized by all kinds of critters. Marlo has been possessed by Death, pursued an extramarital relationship with Moondragon (which Rick knew about), and now she and Rick are Gamma-irradiated together as A-Bomb and the Harpy. Awww.

A somewhat related legend of a comic strip property; Dick Tracy did not have a two-way wrist radio watch till 1946.

I mention this since several articles that mention cellphones will reference Dick Tracy.

I had a feeling that the whole ‘phone booth costume change’ thing was rarely done seriously, if ever. Almost all the uses of that trope I can recall seeing were parodies or done with ‘a wink’. The one panel reproduced above makes it clear just why the whole phone booth thing is IMPOSSIBLE to take seriously if played straight.

Nowadays, you don’t even see the phone booth costume change in recent works, not even in parody. The gradual disappearance of phone booths over the past few decades has had something to do with this, and the omnipresence of cell phones was the final nail in this trope’s coffin.

Anyway, I entered this into TV Tropes’ Forgotten Tropes page, but it seems it belongs on the Dead Unicorn Tropes page, too (for tropes that are believed to be cliche, but were never really played straight enough times to be cliche).

What, no jokes about Superman ducking into a phone booth only to stumble into Doctor Who? For shame! (I’m sure there’s a cartoon of that somewhere.)

Sure is.

I’m old enough to remember a Mike Douglas Show episode (that’s how old I am. I was around for when the Mike Douglas Show was around) from around January 1979 when they had Christopher Reeve as a guest and I think Kirk Alyn from the movie serials and one of the cast of the TV show, maybe Noel Neill?) and Mike (via his researchers I presume) pointed out that Clark Kent almost never changed to Superman in a phone booth in the comics. That’s how old debunking this meme is.

Thanks, Graeme, that lends a lot of weight to Younis’ article. Very helpful.

I remember watching that scene from the first Superman movie, and it getting big laughs from the audience in the theatre. I guess I never really thought about where the popularity of the phone booth idea came from, but my guess would be Mad Magazine. It’s the kind of silliness they would come up with!

Travis Pelkie

July 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Damn, Graeme is old! (I kid, I kid).

Actually, the show he’s talking about is about 6 months older than I am, as I have less than 5 hours until it’s my birthday…

I find it interesting, though, that Mike Douglas (or a researcher for him) took the time to look into the phone booth switch at all. And wonder if it’s because Douglas knew the comics well enough to know that it didn’t happen too often. That’s pretty cool.

And thanks to PB210 for looking at Super Rabbit and letting us know that I’m not totally crazy, that Bugs DID change in a phone booth in that cartoon.

Man, I need to get more of the WB cartoon stuff. So good.

Gary Frank is so good. I love his art work. (except for Supermans creepy face!). I love his and David’s run on the book. I haven’t read it in years, and I never read Vertigo back then – so I wasn’t aware Death appeared.

I must be a bit slow on the uptake. I didn’t get the brush joke – till you guys just mentioned it. haha…

I think there’s more bloody text on the COVER of that “Venus” comic than INSIDE most recent, 20-page mags.

Great piece, as ever, Brian. One of my favourite phone booth moments is the cover of Action Comics #422: http://www.comics.org/issue/25888/cover/4/

In the Atari Superman game, Clark Kent can only change into Superman using a phone booth.

The “Superman changing in phonebooth” concept is so iconic, it was used for the official 50th Anniversary poster
http://www.americanmemorabilia.com/Auction_Item.asp?Auction_ID=65604&c=\Celebrity\&t=Open&p=0&s=&offset=30 drawn by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Dick Giordano!

“The Spider and the Shadow had special compartments in their limousines or cabs to put their cloaks into, and would change in their limousines. Can anyone else recall similar scenes, of the hero changing in his cab or limousine?”

The Green Hornet is shown changing clothes in the back seat of Black Beauty several times during the 1960s tv series…
“Frog is a Deadly Weapon” (from Hornet to Reid)
“Eat, Drink, and Be Dead’ and “Hornet Save Thyself” (from Reid to Hornet)

Oh, man, 00gonzo brought up the Superman Atari game! I gotta break out my Atari system and try to get it hooked up to my TV. I used to play that on a black and white TV. That made certain Atari games (particularly Pressure Cooker, I think was the game) really REALLY hard.

I’m pretty sure Batman changes in his car at least once in the 1940s serials.

Its a shame that Peter David’s next ‘phase’ in the Hulk monthly with Liam Sharp only lasted 7 (and a half) issues. At the time I was really getting into the dark ‘horror’ feel. And Sharp’s pencils were amazing.

Is there a reason why the new direction was abruptly stopped? I pretty much stopped at 432 :(

@Syon asked: “Great stuff, Brian. The Superman phone booth myth is fascinating. Has any other character been so closely associated with something that he did so rarely?”

Yeah. Hal Jordan and boxing gloves. When Kyle Rayner became Green Lantern, it was stated that he would be more creative than Hal in the use of his ring, and wouldn’t always fall back on giant green boxing gloves. I’ve been going through my GL collection, and from 1959 to 1979, I’ve only found three instances where Hal created boxing gloves with his power ring. I haven’t worked my way through the eighties yet, but I don’t expect to find many more. Ollie Queen was the one with the boxing glove obsession, not Hal.

Giant green hands, though… that’s a different matter.

I just remembered a letter column in either Superman or Action Comics from about 1968, give or take a year. Editor Mort Weisinger had challenged longtime readers to find instances of Superman changing clothes in a phone booth. Only one example was found, and that panel was reprinted in the letter column. I’ll dig into my collection tonight and see if I can find it.

Another one who does the phone booth gig is BicycleRepairman in the classic Python sketch.

I found it, but it was a little later than I thought. In Superman #231 (Nov. 1970, Weisinger’s last issue), reader Mark Woldt of Milwaukee, WI, wrote: “In Superman #228, you said that you did not know of any time Superman changed identities in a phone booth. I found a panel in an early 1950s Superman story which shows this.” A panel was reprinted from “The Prankster’s Apprentice” (Superman #69, Mar/Apr 1951) which does show Clark removing his shirt in a phone booth. The editor replied, “If anyone knows of an earlier phone booth switch, write and tell us.”

[...] Kent has very rarely changed into Superman in a phone [...]

Sean MacDonald

July 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

On the topic of a character associated with something he rarely did… well, it’s not an exact match, but I always think of the Golden Age Superman as being someone that’s closely associated with “jumps instead of flying”, “works for George Taylor not Perry White”, “fights a red-headed Lex Luthor not a bald Lex Luthor”, etc, which were all qualities of the Earth-2 Superman, but which the Golden Age Superman really didn’t do much of for long. But because the Golden Age and Silver Age Supermen were so very similar, once the Earth-2 idea came along, anything that could be used to distinguish the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Supermen was latched onto.

It kind of bugs me when people think of the Golden Age Superman as being the same thing as the Earth-2 Superman.

But then, I’m nuts enough to think that DC’s old Earth-X idea doesn’t work because of, for example, the post-WWII adventures of Doll Man.

In the Bronze Age, the Action Comics letter column was headed with a picture of Clark changing to Superman in a phone booth. It may not have appeared in a story much, but it was shown once a month for many years.

Just bought Hulk 150 (April 1972) and Alex Summers runs into a building to put his Havok costume on. He emerges and chastises himself for taking so long “doing the Clark Kent/phone booth bit” that Hulk took off. I find it amusing that it permeated Marvel character’s knowledge…

I also got Detective 491 (July 1980) in which there is a Robin story where he is in “a secluded woods”. There he spots a character he has been following entering a phone booth. He jumps on top and notes “I know he’s not going to change to Superman…”

Not that this justified his presence in Superman III, but in his stand-up routine as Super-[slur], Richard Pryor would have Super-[slur] change in a closet, not a phone booth.

Did Pryor know that Kal-El generally changed in closets?

Update on changing in a cab or limousine:

Come to think of it, Billy Zane changed into the Phantom in the 1996 film in a cab, as did Alec Baldwin as the Shadow in the 1994 film.

”the Superman TV series actually was NOT where our idea of Clark Kent changing into a phone booth comes from.”

Clark Kent has never changed into a phone booth.

Huh, I never got that brush joke before. I just figured it was something from Sandman which I didn’t read.

It is pretty weak as already noted, it’s a brush from Death, not a brush with Death. I liked the Thanos line, though.

http://www.comics.org/issue/13466/

Diana Prince uses a phone booth to change into Wonder Woman, just like Superman

http://www.comics.org/issue/7774/

http://www.comics.org/issue/7774/

Clark Kent actually changes to Superman in a phone booth!

GCD :: Issue :: Action Comics #119

http://www.comics.org/issue/6608/

This is the first issue with no by-line credit to Siegel and Shuster. One of the rare issues in which Clark Kent actually changes to Superman in a phone booth.

Basara

July 23, 2011 at 1:53 am

PB210:

In that cartoon, wasn’t that one of the first animated cases of Superdickery, with Superman pretty much telling Daffy to get back to his side of town?

====================================================================================

Such a scene does occur in the much later, in 1996, Superior Duck, a cartoon short shown prior to the 1996 film Carpool.

[...] and concealed appearance of Neil Gaiman’s “Death”, from the DC Sandman series. She made that appearance just to congratulate Marlo on her marriage. Apparently Death had cut Marlo a break before, when she had been revived from death. Marlo [...]

Andrej Zathoth

March 15, 2013 at 3:44 am

I remember reading the German version of the Rick/Marlo Wedding where Death was explained away as Shriek from Maximum Carnage. If I get it right after all those years they even changed the dialogue to something like: “…maybe she has to go back to Carnage” or something stupid like that. Would be interesting if anyone has this piece from Germany.

http://forums.superherohype.com/showthread.php?t=369173&page=5

Superman first changed his clothes in a phone both in [a comic book in] Superman #60 (1949) “Superman Fights the Super-Brain” by Don Cameron.

Superman first changed his clothes in the storage room at the Daily Planet in Action Comics #181 (1953) “The New Superman.”

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