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Welcome to the three hundredth and forty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, be amazed at who was Alan Moore’s inspiration for Rorschach’s speech patterns! Also, was the Human Torch based on the Iron Skull? And did DC almost do an adaptation of Hamlet with BATMAN as Hamlet?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-seven.
COMIC LEGEND: Rorschach’s speech patterns were based on Herbie, the Fat Fury.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
I’ve discussed the greatness of Herbie the Fat Fury in the past (including this spotlight I did on him for Silver Age September last year), but as a quick recap, Herbie the Fat Fury was a young super-powered boy created by artist Ogden Whitney (with scripts by Richard E. Hughes) for American Comics Group who was, well, let’s just say was one of the strangest “superheroes” that you’ll ever see. Each Herbie story was more outlandish than the previous one.
Here, from Forbidden Worlds #114, we see Herbie meet the President and the First Lady…
In #116, he sells his soul to the devil…
and then takes care of the ghouls that the devil sends when it is time to pay his debt…
If Herbie’s peculiar way of speaking (the cadence of it all) seems familiar to you, it might be because he basically talks the same way that Rorschach talks.
Here is Rorschach from Watchmen #1…
Alan Moore has been quite vocal with both his admiration for Herbie the Fat Fury (calling him his “favorite superhero”) and the fact that Herbie and Rorschach talk similarly.
However, I was having a problem with seeing Moore actually state that he specifically had Herbie in mind when he wrote Rorschach. Luckily, Vinnie Bartilucci, longtime contributor to Comic Book Legends Revealed, wrote in about the topic…
I interviewed Alan in the Warner Publishing offices in NYC when Watchmen was first released in trade paperback. When discussing Rorschach, he shared that the tone of his diary was inspired by the letters Son Of Sam David Berkowitz sent to the news papers, and (confirming my own theory) that his speech patterns were based on Herbie the Fat Fury.
I double-checked with Vinnie and he confirmed it, and I trust Vinnie enough to go with him on this one, so, well, there ya go!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure that Moore is influenced by a whole pile of different sources when it comes to his work, so this is not to say that some other work ALSO influenced Rorschach’s speech patterns. In a lot of ways, it is like an old Comic Book Legends Revealed that I did about how George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg were influenced by an old Carl Barks coming for the boulder sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Clearly, there were plenty of OTHER influences, too. It is just that Carl Barks definitely WAS one of them. Same thing here.
Check out the latest Movie Urban Legends Revealed to figure out whether Black Sabbath really inspired the Stonehenge scene in This is Spinal Tap, learn about Albert Finney’s turn in drag in Miller’s Crossing and discover the movie star whose own studio spread false rumors of her death!
COMIC LEGEND: The Human Torch was based on Carl Burgos’ earlier android hero, the Iron Skull.
Keith Alan Morgan wrote in about this one, as it is something that he wanted me to debunk because he had seen some erroneous information about the Iron Skull for years and he wanted to see the record set straight. My pleasure, Keith!
The gist of the story appears in many different forms (Keith sent me over five different citations from various comic book reference books) but suffice it to say that the most accepted form of the story is this:
Carl Burgos reused his idea of an android superhero from the Iron Skull and created a flaming artificial man called the Human Torch
The Iron Skull first appeared in 1939’s Amazing-Man Comics #5, from Centaur Publications (written and drawn by Carl Burgos)…
Do note that the Skull is not identified as an android in this story. This is especially notable since he spends the entire story fighting robots, but no mention of HIM being a robot pops up.
Two issues later, Burgos gives an origin to the Iron Skull…
As you can see, the Iron Skull is NOT an android. If anything, he is a cyborg. So that part of the story is false.
In addition, the Iron Skull debuted in September of 1939. The Human Torch? October of 1939…
Therefore, to say that he re-used the Iron Skull idea really doesn’t seem to be supported, both by the fact that the Iron Skull WASN’T an android and the fact that the Human Torch debuted at basically the same exact time.
So I’m confident with a false here.
Thanks to Keith for the suggestion and most of the info necessary to debunk this one!
Check out the latest Amusement Park Urban Legends Revealed to marvel at the man who was mute…until he rode the Cyclone at Coney Island, plus learn if Walt Disney had a private apartment designed inside Cinderella’s Castle and what’s the deal with the Liberty Bell in Liberty Square?
COMIC LEGEND: DC nearly did an adaptation of Hamlet…starring Batman!
Reader GGA heard about this story and he asked me if I could find out more about it.
You see, back in 1996, when DC was still doing all of their Elseworlds comics, Steve Englehart did a pitch for a Elseworlds comic book where Batman would be Hamlet. As you can see from the pitch, it was to be titled The Tragedy of Batman, Prince of Denmark…
“To be the bat, or not to be”
GGA was wondering if there was any interesting back story behind the project, so I asked Steve about it, and the truth was sadly a bit of a downer. Here is what Steve had to say about it:
The deal was, I had heard for years that no one could devise a coherent characterization for Hamlet because he changes his mind so often, and I thought “There’s a challenge.” So I read Hamlet carefully, making notes, and devised a characterization that I could follow. Only then did I think, well, the prince has to avenge the murder of his father, in a creepy old castle – I could put the Batman in that and throw in a court jester/joker. So I talked to Denny [O’Neil, editor of the Batman titles at the time – BC] about doing it, and he gave me the go-ahead, and I wrote a detailed synopsis with all my erudition – and then Denny didn’t like it, for whatever reason, and that was the end of it.
Except that I sell copies of my scripts, and it’s been one of my best sellers.
Hopefully that gives you a decent hint as to what Steve had in mind! And hey, if you ever get a chance to buy a script from him, try to buy this one!
Check out Steve’s website here.
Thanks to GGA for the suggestion and thanks to Steve Englehart for the response!
Reader Darth Shap reminded me of this great bit from Grant Morrison, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott in Batman #682…
Check out the latest Football Urban Legends Revealed to discover if the coach of Harvard really choked a bulldog to death to inspire his players before a game against Yale, marvel at how a panty raid played a role in Auburn’s first National Championship and learn which University saw its students choose “Robber Barons” as the school’s mascot.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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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…
See you all next week!
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