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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #332

Welcome to the three hundredth and thirty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, discover whether Popeye’s use of spinach actually led to an increase in the sales of the plant! In addition, marvel at a strange early Comics Code censoring of a Superman issue from the 1950s and see another example of Geoff Johns foreshadowing future comics through a letter written to DC Comics when he was a teen!

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Elzie Segar’s use of spinach in the Popeye comic strip led to a 33% increase in spinach in the United States.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

A few months back, I featured a legend about Popeye and his connection to spinach. There was a longstanding rumor about Popeye using spinach because Elzie Segar was following an urban legend that spinach contained an astonishingly high level of iron. As I revealed in that installment, this was not true, as demonstrated by Mike Sutton in a really impressive article on the subject.

Sutton did not stop there with the Popeye debunking, though! He also had another great article on the topic of whether Popeye actually caused a 33 percent increase in spinach consumption in the United States during the 1930s, a legend that is so accepted as true that Crystal City, Texas has a statue of Popeye dedicated to the character in honor of this legend (spinach being a major crop of Crystal City).

First off, spinach production DID go up during the 1930s. In examining the facts, though, it does not appear likely that it was Popeye that led to the increase in spinach consumption. Heck, spinach had already increased 125% in Texas in the five years before Popeye began eating the plant.

Not only that, but Texas spinach production had gone up 11 percent in 1931 already! And then 11 percent more in 1932 and then 43 percent in 1933!! All before Popeye hit the big screen in his popular animated film series. Meanwhile, in other states, spinach production was rising at even a faster rate in the late 1920s into the early 1930s, all before Popeye began eating the plant.

Moreover, later in the 1930s, when spinach production saw another boom (also attributed by legend to Popeye), Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936 was likely more responsible. These acts combined to encourage farmers to diversify their crops, and spinach was the major beneficiary of this diversification. So when Texas spinach production dropped 19 percent in 1934 and only raised 1 percent in 1935 before going up 33 percent in 1936, isn’t it a lot more likely that it was the new act (which was signed in 1935 and enacted in 1936) and not that people were REALLY into Popeye and spinach in 1933 and then NOT AT ALL into Popeye and spinach in 1934 and 1935 and then REALLY into Popeye and spinach in 1936 again?

When you add in the fact that spinach had already gone up in great percentages BEFORE Popeye began eating the plant combined with the drops in 1934 and 1935 followed by the the government encouraging the production of the crop in 1936 and I don’t think there is enough evidence to point to Popeye being the reason behind the plant’s increased production. Heck, I think a strong case could be made for the fact that the increased popularity of the plant was the reason why Segar chose to use it, not the other way around, as, again, it was undergoing a boom in popularity in the years leading up to Segar having Popeye eat it.

That said, it certainly did not hurt sales of the crop to have Popeye so prominently eat the plant, and if Crystal City wants to credit the guy, then more power to them!

Here is Sutton’s article on the topic.

COMIC LEGEND: The Comics Code made a bizarre change to a 1950s Superman story involving a tiger biting Superman.

STATUS: True

In the early days of the Comics Code, what was and what was not allowed tended to be fairly nebulous, but the Code was so powerful in those early days that the comic book companies basically had to do whatever they said.

1955’s Superman #97 showed just how ridiculous things could get. Longtime DC editor George Kashdan discussed the situation with Jim Amash in an extended interview before Kashdan passed away in 2006. The results of the interview (on a number of different topics) appeared in Alter Ego #93 and 94.

In #93, Kashdan explains a Superman story where Superman is bitten by a lion, but the Comics Code returned the story, saying that it was too violent for Superman to be bitten by a lion. It is Superman! He is smiling in the story! But since the lion was shown biting down on Superman, the folks at the Code felt that it was too scary for children.

They pleaded with the Code, but that was the end of it – they would have to alter the story or not release it at all. So Kashdan had the artist, Curt Swan (or perhaps a DC staffer), edit the panel so that instead of the lion’s teeth coming down on Superman’s arm, the lion’s teeth all pop off when it tries to bite Superman. The Code was somehow okay with this, and thus the story made it through!

Kashdan’s memory is a BIT off, as the story in question from Superman #97 involved a TIGER not a lion, but the basic premise is there…

Pretty bizarre, huh?

Thanks to George Kashdan, Jim Amash and Alter Ego for this interesting piece of comic book history!

COMIC LEGEND: Geoff Johns had a letter in a 1991 issue of Flash that foreshadowed the usage of a particular character in both Mark Waid AND Johns’ later run on Flash.

STATUS: True Enough.

Last year, I did an installment involving a really interesting letter than Geoff Johns wrote in to DC Comics’ Superboy during the mid-1990s suggesting that Superboy’s half-human DNA be revealed to be Lex Luthor. Obviously, that’s exactly what Johns ended up doing when he later wrote the character in the pages of Teen Titans.

Well, reader David J. came across ANOTHER letter from Johns that, while not quite as interesting as the Superboy letter, is still fascinating.

Here, from 1991’s Flash #48, is the particularly interesting part of Johns’ letter…

Now, first off, it is interesting to note that that is basically what Mark Waid did with his usage of Professor Zoom in The Return of Barry Allen…

But more importantly, it is fascinating to note that Johns’ appreciation of the Zoom character (and the usage of time travel with the character) existed there, long before the character (and those themes) later showed up in Johns’ work with the character in a number of ways.

First off, Johns later introduced a new character named Zoom who used time travel to attack Wally…

And later, Johns prominently brought back Professor Zoom and had a number of notable stories involving Zoom and time travel, including the recent major storyline, Flashpoint.

It is awesome to see Johns get a chance to later writer the characters he was enthusiastic about in 1991, and it is really neat to be able to see the background of these things, even if here, unlike the Superboy one, it is more of a general “Hey, Professor Zoom is cool” thing than a specific plot point like “Lex Luthor should be one half of Superboy’s DNA.”

Neat stuff, David, thanks for the suggestion!

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!

23 Comments

Didn’t that letter more closely foreshadow Waid’s Return of Barry Allen than anything Johns himself would later write?

It’s funny, Jeff, I was just in the middle of editing the piece to note that.

He also had a letter in a late #90s book (I think #97 maybe?) talking about how Flash could and should be a bigger/Top 10 book. Oh Geoff.. :D

It’s rather disheartening that the Comics Code was disturbed with Superman, the Man of Steel, being bitten by a tiger (and probably only suffering a minor bruise) but okay with the tiger losing all of his teeth instead.

Right? It is really bizarre.

I’m so sick and tired of tigers being treated as second class citizens…

They must have somehow thought the sight of the tiger’s teeth sinking into a man’s arm – even if it’s Superman – would somehow traumatize kids. Stupid enough reasoning (maybe they just like to flex their censorship muscles at random), but my nephew has never had a problem watching dinosaurs or sharks bite people. (Well, okay, there was that time someone thought it would be okay for him to watch Jaws by himself, late at night… but he had no problem watching Samuel L. Jackson or anyone else get eaten in Deep Blue Sea so I can almost – almost – understand that thought.) :)

“The joke’s on you”? You’re pretty heartless, Superman!

Uh-oh, FDR shows up for a second week in a row. I’m ducking pre-emptively.

I should also point out, however, that my nephew does not like real (or overly realistic) violence between people. Animals are okay, though. lol

I am kind of wondering. Popeye was hugely successful in the newspapers, before the cartoons, and I believe this is where he first started eating spinach. Could this be part of the success of spinach, more than the cartoons (for whatever portion of the spinach surge can be attributed to Segar’s creation)?

Now, that’s cool. Writing about something you get to actually write professionally years later. I really liked Flashpoint even though I didn’t get all the DC references. Really good writing is what comics need as well as good art.

I’ll admit, when I was 8 (I believe around the time of the 1980’s Popeye and Son) Popeye made me go to my parents and demand they feed me spinach. And I was surprised to find it not half bad!

I can’t remember if I was disappointed that even coming out of the can it had more of a plant-like consistency than the green slop that poured out when Popeye crushed it with his hand.

Brian, is that Superman/Tiger/Comics Code Authority story true or do you think someone was LION! :-O

I am kind of wondering. Popeye was hugely successful in the newspapers, before the cartoons, and I believe this is where he first started eating spinach. Could this be part of the success of spinach, more than the cartoons (for whatever portion of the spinach surge can be attributed to Segar’s creation)?

Sorry, Mike, I should have elaborated that 1931 was when Popeye first ate spinach in the strip and 1933 was when he first ate it in a cartoon movie.

My point was that spinach production was already up across the country in the late 1920s and early 1930s BEFORE Popeye ate spinach in the strips and it was up 11 percent in Texas in 1931 and 1932. Popeye did not eat spinach in the strip until June 1931. So obviously that would be too late to affect the 1931 crop and most likely the 1932 crop, as well. And yet both years went up by 11 percent (and more in other states). So basically, my main point is that with spinach going through a boom in popularity period, it seems hard to pin it on Popeye as the reason when it was already booming.

From Johns’ letter in the linked Superboy CBLR, he says he was “sick of the misunderstood meeting between super-heroes (big slugfest).”

Having recently read Justice League #1, however, nice to see he’s apparently gotten over it.

Hysterical.

And yet the tiger’s teeth shattering does, in context, make perfect sense. He is biting down on someone utterly invulnerable, for heaven’s sake! Plus, it makes for a more interesting visual. In this case, the Comics Code seems to have done DC a favor.

So…is “Zoom” done? I thought Flash: Rebirth hinted at a Professor Zoom/Zoom team-up, but Flashpoint seems to have made that unlikely now.

Yes, it does make sense that his teeth shatter, but damn, that poor tiger will be eating meat pudding for the rest of his life now…and Superman thinks it’s funny! Super jerk…

Afterward, Supes stuck the tiger’s body in a refrigerator, and the Code was okay with that.

Marc- The fight in JL#1 wasn’t a misunderstanding. They really just didn’t like each other.

[…] what gives us people like Geoff Johns, who grew up writing fan letters with story ideas to The Flash and Superboy, who then enter comics and do a complete reboot that make DC Comics as exciting as […]

I love how the Johns letter is so fanboyish. And I say that with all respect as someone who wrote a lot of fanboyish letters back in the day.

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