Comic Book Legends Revealed #351
Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, learn whether Robin was originally going to be a one-issue wonder! Discover the super-villain that came out of a bad review! And discover the supervillain invented by Harlan Ellison…for a T-Shirt?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-nine.
COMIC LEGEND: DC initially gave Robin just a one-issue try-out before sales dictated that he stick around.
A little over a year ago, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed installment involving the false legend that Bob Kane was “forced” to add Robin to the Batman feature in Detective Comics against his wishes. While it was true that Robin was not his idea and it was also true that Kane preferred Batman solo, Kane adapted to the Robin idea all on his own. In fact, there is another legend that has sprung out of Kane’s usage of Robin that deals with Kane DEFENDING the addition of Robin.
About a year ago, Charlie Jane Anders did a neat piece over at IO9 about “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Batman.” A few readers have sent me the piece in the last year.
One of the items on the list was:
2) Robin was originally planned to appear in one issue, and then possibly disappear forever.
Originally, creator Bob Kane wanted to try out Robin in one issue, but Bat-editor Jack Liebowitz was against the idea of having a kid fighting gangsters, because “Batman was doing well enough by himself.” But after Detective #38 hit the stands with Robin in it, the issue sold double what the issues with just Batman had sold. So Liebowitz sheepishly agreed to keep Robin in future issues.
Anders cites Batman Unmasked: Analyzing A Cultural Icon by Will Brooker, which does, in fact, have a quote from Kane saying basically that:
But when the story appeared, it really hit: the comic book which introduced Robin (Detective Comics #38, April, 1940) sold almost double what Batman had sold as a single feature. I went to the office on Monday after we had gotten the figures and said ‘Well, I guess we had better take Robin out – right, Jack? You don’t want a kid fighting with gangsters.’ ‘Well,’ he said sheepishly, ‘Leave it in. It’s okay – we’ll let it go.’
However, while I believe that Jack Liebowitz did, indeed, object to Robin (or at least it is reasonable enough that I could believe it), there is effectively no way that they planned for Robin to just appear in Detective Comics #38.
First off, check out the ending of #38…
Seems pretty clear that Robin was now just an addition to the cast, right?
But more importantly, Robin appeared in Detective Comics #39!!
There is no way that they could have the sales data quick enough to determine to put Robin into the next issue. Heck, furthermore, he was on the COVER of Detective Comics #39!
Let me assure you, there is absolutely no way that a 1940 monthly comic book could substitute stories AND a cover after seeing how the previous issue sold.
Now, as I said before, I could believe that Liebowitz objected. I could even believe that he agreed to let Robin have a trial run on the book, but there’s no way that it was just a single issue.
Thanks to Anders for the neat piece and thanks to Will Brooker for the great Kane quote!
COMIC LEGEND: Steve Gerber based a super-villain on a newspaper writer who gave his work a bad review.
Howard the Duck’s arch-rival, Doctor Bong, debuted in Howard the Duck #15….
In the great Steve Gerber The Comics Journal interview from 1978 (which The Comics Journal is allowing you good people to read for FREE right now at their site here), Gerber explained the name of the character…
The origin of the name is funny, too. I was over at Gene Simmons’s apartment — this was during the time we were working on the Kiss book — and he was showing me some of the group’s fan mail. Someone wrote them a very strange letter that said, “Come over to the house. We’ll have some good music, some good wine and some bonging.” Whatever that meant. Gene didn’t know, and neither did I. We had different assumptions about it. But it struck me as very funny, and it stuck with me, and when it was time to create this new villain, Dr. Bong was it.
Moreover, though, Gerber explained Doctor Bong’s rather…unique origins…
Then, a fellow by the name of Bob Greene, with the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote an incredibly vitriolic article about our Kiss book — prior to its publication, with no solid, factual basis for the criticism except his own negative attitude toward the group. The article was syndicated to some 100 newspapers around the country, and the mail began pouring in to Marvel from outraged people who, though they hadn’t seen the book either, were certain we were out to corrupt the moral fiber of the nation’s young. They warned us they would never buy Marvel comics again if we dared publish the book. They vowed to burn every copy that reached their neighborhood newsstands. It caused a great deal of trouble for me with Marvel. So I decided to have a little fun. Bob Greene had previously written a book called Billion-Dollar Baby, about his experiences touring and performing onstage with Alice Cooper. Knowing nothing of Greene’s past other than that, I set out to construct a character as loathsome as Greene was in my eyes at that time — a former yellow journalist who utilized the power of the press amorally to his own ends.
Amusingly enough, a relative of Greene’s eventually showed Greene the comic and Greene loved it. He and Gerber talked and Greene later wrote a positive review of Gerber’s Howard the Duck work.
Thanks to Gary Groth and Steve Gerber for the information!
COMIC LEGEND: One of DC’s Dial H for Hero superhero suggestions came courtesy of Harlan Ellison.
Dial H for Hero was a comic book feature that appeared in House of Mystery during the 1960s, where young Robby Reed finds a dial with H-E-R-O on it. When he dials “hero,” he transforms into a different superhero each time.
Years later, during the early 1980s, DC decided to bring the character back. However, then-new DC publisher Jenette Kahn had a neat idea. She had worked on some magazines where the readers were compelled to send in suggestions for the magazine and their ideas would then appear in the magazine, much like how the comic book Katy Keene would contain reader designs for outfits for Keene (other similar comics did much of the same thing).
So Kahn suggested that DC do that with a comic book, and editor Len Wein decided that Dial H for Hero would be a great use of that idea.
Marv Wolfman was to be the writer. However, the book needed suggestions from readers and since the book had not yet come out, DC had to find a way to get suggestions.
So Wein and Wolfman asked fans at conventions, and also DC put out a big house ad for the concept…
The T-shirt turned out to be a major incentive for one writing icon in particular. The great Harlan Ellison asked Wolfman if he could have a “I Dialed H for Hero” T-Shirt, and Wolfman told him he could, provided he sent in a superhero or supervillain.
And, sure enough, in the first issue of their ongoing feature in Adventure Comics #479 (after a preview in Legion of Super-Heroes), one of the suggestions was by the great Ellison (and it was, indeed, a supervillain)…
Other notable contributors to the first Adventure Comics issue were famed comic book fan Rich Morrissey (Morrissey passed away about a decade ago. Click here to read about an interesting tribute Jim Shooter gave the well-respected fan)…
and a young Stephen De Stefano, who would years later work on a comic called Hero Hotline which a bit of a riff on the Dial H for Hero concept….
Thanks to Dewey Cassell and Marv Wolfman for the information, courtesy of Cassell’s great article about Dial H for Hero in Back Issue #32. And thanks to reader Bryan S. for suggesting I feature this one.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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