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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #354

Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, learn whether the Greatest American Hero had its origins in a failed Superboy TV series, discover whether Warren Ellis used WildC.A.T.s./Aliens as a loophole to kill off the Stormwatch supporting cast and marvel at a Mutt and Jeff comic strip about suicide!

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The Greatest American Hero began life as a Superboy TV series.

STATUS: True Enough for a True

The Greatest American Hero was a cult classic TV series created by the late, great Stephen Cannell about a young man who gains a suit that gives him super powers. The series is about this normal guy dealing with becoming, well, the Greatest American Hero. It ran three seasons from 1981-1983.

His powers were similar to Superman, similar enough that DC actually sued the show over copyright infringement.

They lost, but an interesting fact came out and was almost certainly the reason DC felt particularly sure that this was infringement. You see, ABC-TV originally came to DC to ask for the rights to Superboy to do a Superboy TV series. With Superman II coming soon into theaters, DC naturally did not want to divert the rights to the character, so they turned them down.

Undeterred, ABC-TV then hired Cannell to come up with what would become The Greatest American Hero.

Even with this connection, the courts turned down DC’s attempt to get an injunction to stop the show from airing in the first place and two years later, came to a final determination that there was not substantial enough similarities between Superman and Ralph Hinkley for Greatest American Hero to have been an infringer on DC’s Superman copyright. The courts also found that DC’s other counts of trademark dilution and unfair competition were also invalid.

Still, imagine how different things would have been had DC just granted ABC the rights in the first place! Would ABC-TV have hired Cannell to run the show? Most importantly, would we have that great theme song from Mike Post? Clearly, this is the most important What If…? in the history of humanity!

COMIC LEGEND: Warren Ellis used the WildC.A.T.s/Aliens one-shot at a loophole to kill the Stormwatch characters.

STATUS: False

Reader Karl wrote in to ask about a story he heard:

The story went that Warren Ellis hated doing Stormwatch and somehow wasn’t allowed to kill off the characters during the normal series but through some loophole could do it in the Stormwatch/Aliens crossover. That’s why most of the team is killed there so he could reinvent the series as The Authority.

Any truth to that?

WildCATs/Aliens did, indeed, kill off a bunch of Stormwatch characters right before the book was relaunched as The Authority. Like Fahrenheit…

But was that why the series existed?

Simply put, nope!

Scott Dunbier, editor on the book, talked about the background of the story on his blog a few years back…

About 10 years ago WildStorm and Dark Horse Comics agreed to do a WildC.A.T.s/Aliens X-Over, it was to be the first of several such events featuring various properties (the others never happened, can’t remember why). One of my goals was that this should be a book with lasting effects, unlike the usual cross-company epics that come and go and mean nothing. Since Warren Ellis was wrapping up his run on Stormwatch, before diving into The Authority, I thought it would be an interesting idea to kill off a large portion of the remaining Stormwatch characters, the ones that wouldn’t be moving on to the new book (For those unfamiliar with either series, The Authority sprang from Stormwatch, or what was left of it).

There ya go!

Interestingly enough, Scott’s blog post was also the basis for the classic story of how Gil Kane drew (an awesome looking) cover for the WildCATS/Aliens crossover, just with a interesting twist (you can read about it in this past edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed or, of course, read it right from Scott above).

Thanks for the question, Karl! And thanks for the info, Scott!

COMIC LEGEND: A Mutt and Jeff comic strip showed the pair committing suicide.

STATUS: True

Some time ago, I featured an edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed about a series of Mickey Mouse comic strips that involved Mickey Mouse trying to kill himself after being dumped by Minnie Mouse (you can read that column here). Last week, I featured a legend about Mutt and Jeff, the first successful daily comic strip (which was about two friends who kept trying out various get-rich schemes).

Reader Mike R. wrote in to tell me about a bizarre Mutt and Jeff strip from 1911, that was very much in the same vein of the Mickey Mouse strip.

Check it out!

The captions read: “There ain’t nothin’ in this world for me – I don’t see no hope = Guess I’ll take the gas route.” “Farewell crue-ll woild.” “Don’t do that! We’re in luck again. I just saw a fortune teller, and she said you were gonna get a letter today with money in it.” “HUh?” “Ah, I’ll bet this is it now. At last we eat again.” “What does it say?” “It’s a gas bill for $9.80.”

Hilariously twisted!

Thanks for the head’s up, Mike! Mike got it from a blog Ben Welter does for the Star Tribune. You can check out Ben’s blog here. Thanks, Ben!

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, Urban Legends Revealed, where I look into urban legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at urbanlegendsrevealed.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!

41 Comments

Did any of the Stormwatch characters get killed by a chestburster?

I am very glad DC lost that case, as i have fond memories of Greatest American Hero from my childhood. The idea that DC almost took that away just ticks me off.

In the first item, you mean Ralph Hinkley. John Hinkley Jr attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

>>that there was not substantial enough similarities between Superman and John Hinkley >>

The character’s name was Ralph Hinkley.
John Hinkley shot the President.
But, this similarity was noted by the show’s producers — so for the later half of the first season, Ralph’s last name was ‘Hanley’

Whoa, nelly. Ralph Hinkley was the Greatest American Hero. John Hinkley? …Not so much (and that’d be “Hinckley” anyway).

From what I remember, the courts determined that GAH had more in commun with Green Lantern than with Superman.

A spaceship comes down and gives the guy a superhero suit. He gets his powers from the suit. Yet DC sues them because it is like Superman

Only in America

Great column. I love stuff like this. Keep up the great work.

ABC was undeterred in ripping-off “Superboy” just like they were undeterred in ripping off “Fables.”

It’s a joke.

“Clearly, this is the most important What If…? in the history of humanity!”
Laughed my ass off at that one!

I found that Aliens/WildC.A.T.s crossover cool for exactly the reason stated–that it was an intercompany crossover that actually made a difference in the stories of the characters involved. Also, it’s not really true to the spirit of Alien if no characters of any importance die.

And yes, I’m aware that I used the words “WildC.A.T.s” and “cool” in the same sentence. It won’t happen again.

Wildcats/Aliens is one of my favorite comic books I’ve ever read. It’s about as close to perfect as a superhero book gets.

And to think for years now, I’ve blamed Warren Ellis for killing off some of those characters whom I liked when it was Scott Dunbier the whole time. *J’ACCUSE!* ;P

Funny thing is, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO ran out of stream out it’s last season and the last four episodes were not aired on ABC and only showed up in syndication. So it really was 2 1/2 seasons and a full season.

So, the Mutt and Jeff entry brings up an interesting idea I had. Tell me what you guys think:

I want to do a comic (comic-book format, strip, webcomic, whatever) in the style of old 1920′s – 1950′s comics. The idea would just be to pack it with all the things that comics and cartoons were able to get away with back then – suicide attempts, casual attitudes towards violence/murder, racial prejudice (nothing truly hateful, just weird stuff like when Mickey Mouse used to casually belittle gypsies and stuff), characters using alcohol and cigarettes, and just general pre-P.C. chicanery. Obviously, this would not be for kids, but it would be done as if it were a kids’ comic (a la Edward Gorey).

Does this have legs? Or does it just sound gimmicky and dumb? Maybe interesting for a one-shot,or a few strips?

Sounds like it would at least be enough material there for a one-shot.

Interesting how much the Mutt & Jeff artwork looks like Robert Crumb’s stuff.

IIRC most if not all of the Stormwatch characters killed off in WildCATS/Aliens were resurrected in the Stormwatch PHD series. :-O

WildC.A.T.S and cool do belong in the same sentence. Alan Moore, Joe Casey, Travis Charest, Dustin Nguyen, Sean Phillips, any of those names ring a bell?

Wildcats 3.0 was all kinds of cool. I still miss that version of the series.

randypan the goatboy

February 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm

This article makes me want to read the Wildcats aliens cross over. unfortunatley i have no interest in either the greatest American hero or mutt and jeff. just out of curiosity what was the body count for stormwatch?

I remember the episode where the aliens gave him the book on how to use the costume, he learned to shrink himself down and when he relarged himself, he realized that he had left the book (which he had shrunk with him) on a pebble and thereby didn’t have a manuel anymore. D’oh!

WildC.A.T.S/Aliens always reminded me of the original Transformers the Movie.

So ABC wanted to make a Superboy series, huh? Well, the Salkinds beat them to the punch in 1988 with their syndicated Superboy series starring first John Haymes Newton and then Gerard Christopher.

christopher towle

February 18, 2012 at 1:16 am

All of Warren Ellis’ run on Stormwatch was fantastic, and I’d also highly recommend Moore’s WildC.A.T.S. Sadly, have not read Casey’s C.A.T.S. but have heard very good things. In the vein of a good writer doing something great with a crappy Image property, Alan Moore’s Supreme is one of my favorite comic book series of all time and made me a Superman fan.

A superboy series probably wouldn’t have been half as fun as GAH. And I liked the Superboy series we got a few years later, so we wound up with both.

My mind has been permanently re-wired to think of this Seinfeld scene when ever Greatest American Hero is mentioned ;-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg-TqEFYcfM

Eh, I don’t see why you think the Greatest American Hero legend is “true enough for a true”. I was expecting at least a quote from somebody. I mean Superman rip-offs were so common by that point in the comics that someone would come up with one on TV sooner or later. Plus as proven *by a court* the similarities were only superficial.

I will say however that GAH was one of my favorite childhood TV shows. Though I was very spooked by the episode where the alien returns, and we find out that the reason he’s helping humanity is *because he is the last surviving member of his race, apparently destroyed in a war* and that he has MANY other humans in storage (!!!) ready to take over the two protagonists’ roles if they screw up badly again. Yikes!

I hate the killing off of characters for gratuitous reasons, so the WildCATS/Aliens story wasn’t for me. Besides, the idea of using an intercompany crossover for “lasting effects” is a bad one because you can never officially recall elements of it (I guess in the Wildstorm comics they just said “SOME aliens killed them”. )

On the other hand, while I don’t like dark humor, I must admit the Mutt & Jeff strip made me laugh, if only because of the $9.80 gas bill. I guess that was a LOT of money back then! :D

“Plus as proven *by a court* the similarities were only superficial. ”

It was proven by a court that there was no case of copyright infringement as defined by the law. That doesn’t prove that the initial idea was not spun off of a failed attempt to get a Superboy license.

It was proven by a court that there was no case of copyright infringement as defined by the law. That doesn’t prove that the initial idea was not spun off of a failed attempt to get a Superboy license.

Correct. It is an undisputed fact that ABC-TV first tried to get a Superboy license and as soon as they were turned down, hired Cannell to come up with Greatest American Hero (not even Greatest American Hero in particular, just a show about a superhero).

@Sijo – a few online inflation calculators say $9.80 in 1911 equals ~$225 today. I kinda thought it would be more with the “drop dead” humor ;-).

But Greatest American Hero is nothing like Superboy or Superman. ABC wanted to do a superhero series and must have chose Superboy to ride on the heels of the Superman success. DC turned them down when they should have suggested one of their other characters. ABC just had Cannell create a unique hero and mythos and DC, being the big bully that killed Fawcett tried to crush it. Glad they lost and this is another reason to hate those people in suits behind DC comics.

Didn’t like what happened to Stormwatch at all.

Mutt and Jeff were great, I wish their comic strip was running in my neck of the woods. I have several of their cartoons on DVD, fun stuff.

TJ Coolguy-
I’d definately read your comic.

Rod G: So ABC wanted to make a Superboy series, huh? Well, the Salkinds beat them to the punch in 1988 with their syndicated Superboy series starring first John Haymes Newton and then Gerard Christopher.

Beat them to the punch 5-7 years later?

Would have been so cool to have the “status” on the GAH legend be “believe it or not”!

But the way I’m reading the GAH legend is that because ABC had originally tried to do a Superboy series, and then GAH was on the air, DC felt that this was ABC trying to infringe on their trademark (since they didn’t get to do the official show, they’d do a “close enough” one). And since DC lawyers have plenty of time and money to pursue this, they did.

Y’know, isn’t the latest iteration of Blue Beetle vaguely like GAH? Powerful suit from aliens without an instruction manual, plus a grizzled older mentor (Peacemaker, in BB’s case), and so on?

I apparently loved GAH as a kid, and I’ve now gotten a box set of the entire series (after having a cheap disc of the first 4 eps, and digging that). Just gotta get around to watching it. One thing it appears not to have was the attempted revival of the series a couple of years later, Greatest American Heroine, where the suit got passed on to a lady.

The Stormwatch one seems obviously false, as it seems unlikely that there’d be a “loophole” that would allow Ellis to kill off the rest of the team, unless you figure that these crossovers don’t “count”. Which would kinda be like the Mutt and Jeff one — they get “killed off”, but you know they’ll just be back the next day, none the worse for the wear.

Greatest American Heroine was … not good.

PowerBook Pete :Beat them to the punch 5-7 years later?

Better late than never.

Travis, Greatest American Heroine came with Season 1 of Greatest American Hero in both the Mill Creek and Anchor Bay ones. I liked it ok, would have liked to seen it given a chance to develop.

Hmm, maybe GAHeroine is on my complete set, and I just overlooked it. It’d be a shame if it wasn’t on the complete series set but had been on other versions. Even if it’s terrible :)

“ABC just had Cannell create a unique hero and mythos and DC, being the big bully that killed Fawcett tried to crush it. Glad they lost and this is another reason to hate those people in suits behind DC comics.”

Your insane, knee-jerk anti-corporate bias is showing.
It’s incumbent upon DC to protect its trademarks. It’s the duty of any publicly traded company.
As noted, the similarity was power-set, not origin. How often is a hero’s origin even referenced? They (essentially) never gave Batman’s origin in the TV series. It’s not the most crucial element of a character.
And the DC that “bullied” Fawcett is in almost every way a totally different institution than the one that denied ABC a Superboy license. Companies are not people with thoughts, emotions or intention. It’s just a collection of people under an abstract legal construct.

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