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Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, learn whether it is true that Huntress was originally going to die at the end of No Man’s Land! Plus, discover how DC tried to get around trademark law for a year with their Captain Marvel comic book. And marvel at the clever bit of subterfuge that led to a famous cartoonist owning the rights to his comic strip.
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and fifty-two.
COMIC LEGEND: Huntress was originally going to die at the end of No Man’s Land.
All throughout 1999, the Batman titles told one large storyline called No Man’s Land that was based on the idea that following a devastating earthquake in Gotham City, the United State government decided to sever ties with Gotham and just cut it off from the rest of the country. Whoever did not evacuate was stuck there in a state of chaos. Batman and his allies kept order and eventually brought the city back from ruin.
However, before the city could be re-opened for business, the Joker (one of the many villains who saw Gotham’s situation as the perfect opportunity to move in and do whatever he felt like doing) decided to do one final outrageous act. He hunted down all of the babies in Gotham and planned to kill them all, to extinguish hope.
The Huntress opposed him and got hurt bad.
But in the end, it was Commissioner Gordon’s wife, Sarah Essen, who made the ultimate sacrifice…
Joker then surrendered to the GCPD and the drama unfolded as to whether Gordon would let him live.
Reader Matt L. wrote in to ask:
While recently looking back at Batman:No Man’s Land, I remembered hearing somewhere that Greg Rucka’s original ending included Huntress being killed by the Joker, but this was changed at the last minute and she survived. Any truth to that?
Was Huntress originally the intended victim?
No. However, it is true that Essen was NOT the original victim, either.
The belief in the Bat-Offices was that the storyline needed to end with a major death. Writer Greg Rucka (who co-wrote the story with Devin Grayson) initially offered up Detective Harvey Bullock as the character who would die. In the alternative, Rucka suggested Detective Renee Montoya, instead. Rucka’s position was that it should be someone, like Bullock or Montoya, that the fans would really miss. Chuck Dixon, who had been working on the Bat-books for awhile at the time, argued against Bullock being the one who was killed and eventually Essen was proposed to be the one to be killed.
Chuck Dixon elaborated on his role in the comments section:
I can shed some light on this. I happened to be up at DC and sat in Denny’s office with other Bat folks (Scott, Jordan and Darren) with Greg on the speakerphone. He was planning on killing Harvey Bullock. I argued against it for several reasons chief among them was the fact that Harvey was still appearing as a character on the animated series. DC had some troubles before by killing off characters and their deaths negatively impacting licensors or the creators of ancillary media. (When’s the last time you saw Superman peanut butter on the shelves?) Sarah Essen was chosen by committee because her story was essentially over and her death would make more sense both logically and storywise and not cause problems outside of comics where she was an unknown character.
Rucka elaborated on the events of the time in an interesting interview with RJ Carter:
I had a huge fight with Denny about that, because I didn’t want to kill Sarah. My argument is always that you never kill the characters that people don’t really care about. You have to kill the characters that people are going to be upset over. To which Denny was like, “Well, you can’t kill Bullock.” Oh. Well, damn! (Laughs)
But if you go back and you look at the Sarah stuff, and then I reread some of the early stuff in “No Man’s Land,” all of a sudden it became very logical. It was like, from the start of “No Man’s Land,” we kind of indicate that she’s going to die. There’s some foreshadowing there that was unintentional. She takes a bullet in the “Claim Jumping” storyline, which was a full nine months before she’s going to die.
So once I had accepted it–and I did go through the five stages of grief: I was angry, I denied it, I did everything–when Devin [Grayson] and I sat down to write that story, it really did click. So, when people came and said, “I hate you!” I was like, “Good.” That’s the purpose.
It would have been a horrible thing to have killed Sarah and have nobody care. That would have been just so wrong. Devin and I both said to each other when we sat down to write it, we’re now going to write an issue that, God willing, will make people cry. And I don’t know if it did. But it’s a worthy goal. If we could have moved people to tears about it, that’s a worthy goal.
So no, Huntress was not originally going to be the victim.
Imagine if Montoya had been killed off! How things would have changed! Would we even have had Gotham Central? I suppose it still could have happened, but it certainly would not have been the same.
Thanks to Greg Rucka and RJ Carter for the information. And thanks to Matt L. for the suggestion!
COMIC LEGEND: DC had a violation of Marvel’s trademark on the covers of their Shazam comics for more than a year.
STATUS: Seems to be True
As you might know (from one of our earliest Comic Book Legends Revealed), Marvel owns the trademark to the name “Captain Marvel.”
So when DC licensed the rights to the character Captain Marvel during the 1970s, they could not call their title “Captain Marvel.” In fact, that is why DC is re-naming the character Shazam in 2012.
In 1973, when their new Captain Marvel comic book came out, they called it Shazam!
Fair enough. But check out the cover of Shazam!…
That’s not just Shazam! That is still displayed the trademarked term Captain Marvel prominently on the cover.
That continued for the first year or so of the title.
Until abruptly the tagline changed in 1974…
I checked with then-DC assistant editor Bob Rozakis, who worked on the book soon after the change, and he confirmed that DC did, in fact, change the tagline because Marvel said, in effect, “Yeah, you can’t do that.”
Isn’t it hilarious that DC got away with it for over a year?
Thanks to Bob Rozakis for the info and thanks to Duy Tano for asking me to feature this.
COMIC LEGEND: Bud Fisher sneaked a copyright notice into one of his strips to gain ownership of the strip.
In 1907, Bud Fisher debuted A. Mutt, a daily comic strop in the sports pages of the San Francisco Chronicle that was about betting on horses.
The strip was extremely popular, although its popularity exploded even further with the addition of Mutt’s sidekick, Jeff, as the strip changed its name to Mutt and Jeff and became about their various misadventures instead of just gambling.
In 1908, Fisher was given an offer from William Randolph Hearst to move the strip to the San Francisco Examiner. Fisher agreed. As was the custom at the time (like with the Yellow Kid, which you can read about in this past edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed), the Chronicle would continue to own the strip itself but Fisher could take the characters and basically just do his version of the strip for the Examiner while the Chronicle would have another cartoonist do their version.
Fisher, though, avoided this through some impressive subterfuge.
After his last strip was laid out and set for engravement, Fisher snuck in a copyright notice in the strip (click on the strip to see the notice).
When the strip was published, Fisher therefore had successfully published notice that HE, not the Chronicle, was the owner of the strip. The Chronicle then agreed to not do their own version of the strip, since they were pretty confident Fisher would win if they went to court.
When Fisher later left Hearst to work for another syndicate, Hearst actually did take him to court over the strip and in the end, Fisher’s makeshift copyright notice carried the day. He was the owner of the strip!
Fisher went on to make a great deal of money from the strip (although Fisher himself gave up the strip itself to his assistants, most famously Al Smith, who continued the strip until the 1980s!). Pretty darn clever, Fisher!
A ton of thanks to Jeff Overturf for the strip scans!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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