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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #367

Welcome to the three hundredth and sixty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn of the production of Julius Caesar with costumes designed by Jack Kirby, discover the Spider-Man “wardrobe malfunction” that got Marvel Comics in a bit of jam and find out just how much involvement Hasbro had in Larry Hama’s writing style on G.I. Joe.

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and sixty-six (we now have enough legends for every day of the year!).

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby designed the costumes for a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

STATUS: True

My pal Stony recommended I feature this story here, so here goes!

In 1969, the University of Santa Cruz wrote to Marvel Comics asking if any Marvel artists would be interested/willing to design costumes for a college production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Jack Kirby and his family had just recently moved to California, so Stan Lee recommended that the University contact Jack.

They did and Kirby was pleased to help out the college, designing all of the costumes AND doing poster work all for free.

Here are some of Kirby’s designs…

And here is one of the designs along with a picture of the costume in real life…

Amazing, no?

And here is the program for the production.

Rand Hoppe has an extensive feature on this story complete with ALL of Kirby’s designs (plus another picture of an actor in the actual costume) plus lots of other neat stuff at the always amazing Kirby Museum here. Be sure to check it out.

Thanks to Rand and the Museum for the information, thanks to Stephen Drewes. and Steve Robertson for the scans and the photos. And thanks to Stony for suggesting it!

COMIC LEGEND: An issue of Spider-Man: Reign was recalled because of a drawing of what appears to be Spider-Man’s genitals.

STATUS: True Enough

Reader Mike Blake asked about a comment another reader made about Spider-Man: Reign when I featured the series in I Love Ya But You’re Strange.

Mike asked if it was true that the series was re-issued and re-drawn because of Spider-Man’s “low hangers.”

Yes, that’s basically what happened, Mike.

The series is about Spider-Man in the future (essentially Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with Spider-Man)…

Peter is an old man dreaming of his dead wife, Mary Jane…

Here is sits in bed…

And yep, that sure does look like a drawing of his genitals….

Marvel apologized and sent notices to retailers saying that the issue should have been marked for a Parental Advisory instead of Teen Plus. They made the issue returnable and issued a second printing with the area now covered in shadows.

The issue was not RECALLED exactly, but otherwise, yeah, the story is true (and “made returnable” is close enough to “recalled” for the purposes of this bit).

Thanks to Mike and Xanadude for the idea of featuring this!

COMIC LEGEND: Hasbro had Larry Hama make a point of naming all of the characters each issue.

STATUS: False

Reader Josh B. had a question awhile back about how in Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe series from Marvel (which we were just discussing last week! Check it out here) each of the characters were specifically named each issue.

He wondered “if Hasbro had some sort of deal with Marvel for Larry Hama to ensure he named the various characters to build brand identity with the action figures.”

It really is kind of funny when you’re specifically looking for it. I picked a random issue of G.I. Joe, #25, and check it out…

So I asked Larry Hama about it and he not only explained the reason for the names but he added some extra insight into his writing style…

There was never any directive from Hasbro on that. I did it of my own accord. When you have that many characters it pays to keep reminding the reader who they are. If I’m reading something and nobody calls anybody by name, and I start to lose track of who is who, then I give up on reading it. 90% of my writing style is based on correcting stuff that annoyed me when I was reading comics as a kid. That’s why there are few captions and no thought balloons in my stories.

Fascinating.

So there ya go, Josh! Thanks for the question! And thanks so much to Larry Hama for not only the answer but the extra information!

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!

Here’s my new book, Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? It is due out on May 29th! The cover is by Kevin Hopgood.

If you want to pre-order a copy, ordering it here gives me a referral fee.

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!

51 Comments

JULIUS CAESAR, by William Shakespeare. Costumes by Jack Kirby. Man, talk about one unbelievably cool Shakespeare production. Looking at this, I’m kind of surprised that more film/tv/theatrical productions did not avail themselves of Kirby’s genius for design.

Those Kirby costumes are awesome. I wonder if the play was recorded and the video of it is out there somewhere. I’d love to see it.

Interesting about the names in G.I. Joe. I’ve always figured it was more of a “reminder to the reader” thing than a mandate, particularly when the cast got to a few hundred characters (many of whom sorta looked alike) and costumes kept changing with no warning (someone would simply show up wearing something totally different than what he’d been wearing an issue prior, with no explanation). But it’s nice to have confirmation.

Speaking of costume changes, was it mandated by Hasbro that characters always wore the same costume as the currently-available version of their figure? That would make some sense from a marketing standpoint. However, I did notice when re-reading some of the issues recently that, while it seems every other character gets a sudden update on their duds, there’s a bit of discrepancy around issues 120-150 with Firefly and Dr. Mindbender. Firefly gets a completely new outfit that vaguely resembles the (then) new figure, mostly in its color scheme, but is different enough to bear mentioning, and Dr. Mindbender (despite this being one of the few occasions where a logical reason for getting a new outfit presented itself) comes back from the dead and goes straight to his original costume. Firefly’s new outfit was probably just artistic license or was based on an earlier design sketch, but the Mindbender thing has always bugged me. Any idea if the costumes were a mandate (and someone screwed up with the bad Doctor), or if this was sloppy editing, since it was immediately after Bobbie Chase left the book after, what, a billion issues?

Jack Kirby designed the costumes for a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Oh, man, that is just sooooo cool! I have a postcard that was given out by the Jack kirby Museum of Calpurnia, but I never realized what it was for. I just assumed it was from one of kirby’s many unrealized pitches for a comic book series (the guy was a mad genius at generating new ideas). I had absolutely no idea it was done for an actual stage play, much less used in real life. Realy awesome story, Brian.

A production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with designs by Jack Kirby? This is now officially the number reason I want a time machine!

I did not know about the Spider-Man second printing at all. I still have the original spider-junk first printing. It’s a pretty good limited series. Different enough from TDK to stand on its own.

I’m with JW. Dating Belinda Carlisle while she was single can wait; I have *got* to see that play.

Yeah, lots of large cast books would do this. When Legion of Super-Heroes ditched it’s “Roll Call” banners, they would spend the first half of an issue working in name checks.

As for the G.I. Joe item, I’m glad that he wrote that way, naming the characters each issue. It really helped me as a reader keep track of a massive, ever-changing cast. I wish more writers did that. There have been series where I’ve had no clue who somebody was supposed to be.

By the way, another writer who also uses this practice is Paul Levitz on Legion of Super-Heroes, via text captions. Don’t have any issues in front of me, but I think he also gives their real names, powers and planets of origin. Which is incredibly useful. I’ve been a Legion fan for about a decade now, but it is really easy to lose track of all of them!

[...] to Comics Should be Good for more images, and because they’re great. Kirby was already the greatest, in my mind. But [...]

Larry Hama is right – the writer should never just assume the reader knows who everyone is or no one is ever going to “jump on” to a title. The Jack Kirby Julius Caesar is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen all year.

Ethan Shuster

May 18, 2012 at 10:12 am

Ritchard, I know that Dr. Mindbender eventually did end up in his new outfit for a few issues at the very end of the G.I. Joe series. Some new outfits were part of the story, others just showed up. I don’t know if there was a mandate for having all characters match their current figures, but I’m sure it was encouraged. For the most part, I think everyone ended up in their new outfits.

Any interviews, etc, I’ve seen with Hama seems to suggest that Hasbro wasn’t too aggressive about mandating things in the comic series. I thought maybe they asked for issues featuring new vehicles and characters, but they rarely asked for specific stories to be written. Hama could just be being nice so as not to ruffle any feathers, but it sounds like the relationship at least wasn’t antagonistic. Based on the fact that Hama wrote the entire 12-year run of the series, I’d guess Hasbro wasn’t that interested in rocking the boat.

“A prison is just a building. It can’t hold a ninja.”

YES.

Those Kirby designs are hot!

Hello Brian!

Hey, I want to ask if you received my e-mail about a comic book question? It was about Sister Agnes (o something like that) in the Batman books.

I’m just going to say it’s doesn’t appear Li’l Peter’s spider sense is doing much tingling these days.

It was really helpful in GIJoe to have the characters named frequently, since in the early days they all wore the same green uniforms!

And this Legend is hilarious in light of last week’s about the character that COULDN’T be identified by name!

The Green Death

May 18, 2012 at 10:51 am

Love the Hama style of writing in terms of naming characters. Yeah, it makes for slightly less realistic dialog, but it’s a freakin GIJoe comic, I’m not looking for Mamet.

Also, Kirby Shakespeare… Too cool!!!

Larry Hama is just fantastic.

IIRC, a character’s new uniform/costume would appear in the title when there was a new figure out – e.g. the green Firefly from the early 90s – satisfying the need to introduce the new figure even though the character was already around.

After that figure wasn’t new anymore it didn’t matter, so Hama would go back to whichever uniform/costume he preferred or made sense for the story.

I completely agree with Hama and the need for names with that many characters coming and going (along with artists). I have wondered what it is about a generation of new writers that hate thought balloons though. It’s pretty much dead. Hama hates caption boxes too, but a lot who made thought bubble extinct love this faux prose the put in ENDLESS caption boxes. Not sure it works any better than thought balloons. Used sparingly, letting the art tell the story, like early Miller used to do, sure. But most can’t keep their characters from talking and talking and talking. And a lot of the literary book work they’re trying to aspire to has internal monologues from the characters. We knew what James Bond was thinking in the books. It’s not that different than thought balloons.

@Little Heart Records- after that dream, if it’s not going to tingle then, it never will.

the best one for a character getting new duds was when Snake Eyes acquired his 3rd figure’s costume. He’d been captured by Cobra, stripped to his undies and was being tortured by a bunch of S&M loons and he breaks loose and beats the snot out of them and then, like some kinda crazy badass ninja version of The Doctor, proceeds to steal one guy’s pants, another’s shirt and the third’s mask. he then carries on wearing this outfit for several dozen issues until swapping to his fourth figure’s uniform with no explanation.

that one should go in “I love ya, but you’re strange”

Fury – I almost mentioned the overexposed Snake-Eyes could be considered an exception, since he had a new figure and uniform every 3 months, and a new twist to his origin to go along with it.

Don’t really get all the fawning over those Kirby designs. They’re EXACTLY the same thing he’d done for half-a-decade in his Thor work, and would do for the next half-decade in his Fourth World stuff for DC (and would revisit AGAIN in his 1980s Pacific comics work). What I find funniest is how Calpurnia’s design ends up being only HALF-used in the final costume (compare the design’s thigh-high boots and what I’ll describe as “drawn curtains” to the real costume’s use of slippers and “closed curtain” skirt; also compare the design’s single neck-and-headpiece to the real costume’s high collar and what looks like a fancy headband).

Every comic could be someone’s first comic…so naming everyone in an issue just makes sense.

Ethan Shuster

May 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Yes, those captions have really just replaced the thought balloons. I’m sure it’s been around for a long time, but the later Wally West era of The Flash was the first place I really remember it. Maybe that was Waid’s run? More than one issue started with Wally reminding us “My name is Wally West. I’m the fastest man alive.”

Am I remembering that right, folks?

Along the same general lines as Larry Hama’s comment about naming everybody, right up front, to avoid any confusion . . .

I seem to recall Jim Shooter saying that when he took over as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel (in the late 70s), for the first year or so he was so busy with the challenges of the job that he felt he just didn’t have time to actually read the comics that were coming out of the pipeline and being printed and mass-distributed during that time. He was more focused (at first) on such things as making sure it was consistently getting done on schedule.

According to Shooter: When he finally got around to catching up on his reading of their monthly titles, he was flabbergasted at how often some of the regular cast of a series would not be identified by name, in dialogue or captions, for the convenience of any newcomer who had just picked up this issue in a store. Shooter claimed that if you went back to look carefully at various Marvel books from the mid-70s, you’d find a lot of that — the writer just taking it for granted that everyone would recognize those people chatting with the main hero in workplace scenes (or whatever was going on). I haven’t tried to verify that, although it might be interesting to pick a few 70s runs out of my collection and double-check to see how much of a problem that really was . . .

Anyway, Shooter said he started cracking down on that with the writers of that era, giving them lectures about basic storytelling techniques that worked on the assumption that every issue is somebody’s first exposure to these characters . . .

I remember captions being used instead of thought balloons in that original Wolverine limited series by Claremont and Miller. Gave it more of a voice-over feel, like a film. Which was fun, but I really think thought balloons were something the medium of comics had that made it stand out, as you could have two or three characters in the same panel, each with a thought balloon — where it would be odd to have multiple voice overs in a film in the same scene. It was a storytelling tool that I wish comics hadn’t given up.

I’m old.

That’s a good point. You can get into the heads of characters in other medium, but it really doesn’t usually happen with more than one; or rarely more than one at the same time. It’s one of those thing comics could do that other medium couldn’t. And now that the visuals aren’t really unique to comics anymore (Avengers showed there isn’t anything that’s “too much for a budget”), they should cling to what makes them special.

I think there have been some stories with Superman and Batman (start with Dark Knight, maybe?) where you’re getting both of their thought processes in caption boxes, and they just color them differently (red for Superman, blue for Batman, or the like).

Good for Hama. I’m always amazed when I pick up the FIRST ISSUE of many Marvel team books in the last ten years and find that they never identify the characters’ names, powers, or relationships! Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors comes to mind, but there were others as well (Young Allies, I believe). Of course, these books also had introductory text pages, which the old comics didn’t have, but EVEN THOSE PAGES didn’t convey any of this information, just some macho manifesto! The most basic possible standards of writing competence have fallen out of favor at Marvel, where they simply assume that you’ve read every Marvel comic for the last fifty years as the price of admission. It’s so sad.

Whether or not Kirby’s costume designs seem redundant to those of us familiar with his work, they definitely seem to suit Shakespeare’s plays – besides Julius Caesar, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing a production of say, Macbeth, the Tempest or Midsummer Night’s Dream with costumes and sets designed by Kirby.
By the way, Brian, minor nitpick: there is no “University of Santa Cruz” just the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Pete Woodhouse

May 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Really? “Marvel apologized and sent notices to retailers saying that the issue should have been marked for a Parental Advisory instead of Teen Plus”. Because of that one panel? Of aged PP’s barely-depicted shrunken-walnut ‘meat and two veg’, in shadow, NOT in a sexual context AT ALL?

There’s nothing in that panel that should shock or offend anyone who’s teenaged or older. Yet plenty of modern comics (granted, designed for older age groups) are quite happy to depict decapitations, dismemberment, The Blob cannibalising The Wasp, zombies vomiting blood, etc, etc….

This issue was also the one with the revelation that MJ got cancer from Peter’s radioactive baby gravy, right?
Sheesh…

I agree with Joseph W about the look–I think I’d like them better if I hadn’t seen so much Kirby.
On thought balloons, the same trend has been noticeable in text fiction. A number of writer assert that showing thoughts or describing emotional states is “cheating”–you should only use what the reader would see if he were in the room (an alternative rationale is that readers prefer print fiction that resemble movies, rarely with any evidence attached).
Personally I think this makes as much sense as suggesting that TV should stop showing us things and describe them in voiceovers so it’s like a book. Different mediums and all that.

Pete the same point crops up in discussing movie ratings: Gory violence is always more acceptable than sex.

Haven’t read Reign, but that’s some really impressive art by Kaare Andrews! The flaccid, withered scrote is actually a nice touch, given that Peter Parker’s condition and state of mind.

Haven’t read Reign, but that’s some really impressive art by Kaare Andrews! The flaccid, withered scrote is actually a nice touch, given that Peter Parker’s condition and state of mind.

Agreed. Andrews is an amazing artist.

Travis Pelkie

May 19, 2012 at 1:04 am

Those Kirby designs are especially neat, I think, because of the picture of someone actually wearing one. Yeah, it’s a low budget college production, but dang that’s neat looking in real life.

Spider shrinkage!

Larry Hama makes a great point about identifying your characters to the reader. We need to know who’s who! Especially for some books where the artist isn’t able to depict the same character in the same way from page to page…

Actually, it makes sense that Shooter would have pushed that as a “thing”, since he (almost literally) grew up with the Legion, and I’d guess that they did the “identify everybody” thing in most of those stories, as some people have been pointing out.

Brian, is there going to be a Kindle release of your new book?

Love the first one, but I’d much prefer a Kindle edition.

Both books have Kindle editions! Just check it out on the Amazon link.

Ah, I see the problem now.

Not available due to the fact I’m in Australia.

A quick change to a US address and it’s pre-ordered now.

Cheers mate.

Hama’s forgotten how much of his Wolverine run was done with first-person narration, ja?

I seem to recall reading an interview with Kaare Andrews after that issue of REIGN came out where he said something along the lines that what we were meant to see was Peter’s boxers (note, he’s wearing boxers two panels later) wrinkled around his midsection and it was colored incorrectly or some such thing. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the original printed version commonly referred to on the market as the “Parker’s Peter” variant.

And, as a huge fan of Hama’s classic G.I. JOE, I do have to give him props for actively working to identify the characters in each issue. For a book that, literally, has a cast of thousands, it was a good idea. I also give him credit for trying to work that information in as naturally as possible rather than having the characters just stand around and introduce themselves. I wish more writers would do this sort of thing. I have read too many comics in the past decade where I have gotten to the last page, then, realized that I have no idea who that guy on page 6 was, but he seemed, somewhat, important to the story.

As Lorendiac said, Jim Shooter was definitely a stickler for the “Identify every character by name, early” thing. It might not have been a rule qua rule, but was pretty close.

Just thought I’d mention that, in at least the hardcover printing of Reign, that spot has been digitally blurred out. (Not obviously; I don’t think I’d have seen it if I wasn’t looking for it, but it’s definitely not there.)

“Shooter claimed that if you went back to look carefully at various Marvel books from the mid-70s, you’d find a lot of that — the writer just taking it for granted that everyone would recognize those people chatting with the main hero in workplace scenes (or whatever was going on).”

I seem to recall all Marvel books had a background summary on the first page every issue.

While a lot of them did provide a quick paragraph caption (“Hooboy, action fans, can you believe what’s been happening?” etc.) that doesn’t help identify anyone in a team book or the supporting cast (today’s opening pages with head shots work better for that).

No, not that. At the top of the page, they had a few sentences about the characters. For example:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qZK742rc1hc/THhiAQB8ODI/AAAAAAAAads/PMNNdGqLaG0/s1600/Black_Panther_v1_02_01.jpg

[...] Robert Downey Jr nets $50 million Microsoft funded comic project Marvel Girls on Film Kirby designed costumes for a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Remembering that time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles met Jack Kirby Bloodshot preview Jim [...]

You should’ve warned me you were going to actually SHOW the Spider-Junk. I wouldn’t have looked.

As someone who is not really a comicbook fanatic anymore, and has quite buying regularly, but checks back occasionally…… I think all comics should have the first page identify all characters on team books and give a brief background, and/or catch up on “where we are”. I think most people know Spiderman and Batmans origin, but a brief recap for those who don’t wouldn’t hurt. Such as “Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gained the proportional strength, agility and powers of a spider”. “As a child Bruce Waynes parents were killed in front of him. Now he uses his fortune and training to catch all criminals”. Then a quick recap of what is going on now (in cases that we start right in the middle of a story), to catch up new readers who would otherwise be lost.

That Kirby stuff is amazing

It’s a toy thing, but the visual of Cobra Commander, Destro AND the Baroness stuffed into the Water Moccasin’s turret is hysterical. You’re lucky if you can fit one figure into that turret (both on the original version and in the more recent upsized version). I may have to imitate that with my figures.

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