INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Welcome to the three hundred and seventy-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, speaking of Before Watchmen, check out the tale of Dave Gibbons’ days as a costumed superhero during the 1970s, well before Watchmen. Also, did William Marston have Wonder Woman begin to exclaim “Sufferin’ Sappho!” as a protest of Frederic Wertham? Finally, how close were we to seeing Jim Starlin take on the OTHER Captain Marvel?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seventy-one.
COMIC LEGEND: Dave Gibbons dressed up as a sort of costumed superhero mascot for a spin-off comic to 2000 A.D.
By the late 1970s, IPC Magazine’s 2000 A.D. had already been popular enough that it had a spin-off comic already called Star Lord. Starlord did not last long and was absorbed into 2000 A.D. after roughly 20 issues. In late 1978/early 1979, though, they decided to try another spin-off. This time, rather than being a science fiction comic, it would be a comic based on the theme of “heroes” – western heroes, superheroes, you name it.
Stephen MacManus was the editor of 2000 A.D. at the time and Nick Landau was the assistant editor.
As I presume you know (if you know anything about 2000 A.D.), the “editor” of 2000 A.D. was an alien named Tharg.
Here he is from the first issue (or “prog”) of 2000 A.D….
So when they decided to do a new series about heroes (tentatively titled “Heroes”), they needed to have a “Tharg” for that book (just like how a character known as Starlord was the “editor” of Star Lord). They settled on the superhero “The Big E” (or “The Big Ed”) as the editor of the title.
And the person who portrayed The Big E? None other than future comic book legend Dave Gibbons.
I asked Dave about it all and he was kind enough to fill me in on the details.
Dave recalls that John Wagner (famed creator of Judge Dredd) was their first choice and after he turned it down (Dave thinks he might have asked for too much money), it came to Dave. He stated that it did not take much convincing, as it seemed like a lot more fun spending the day dressed as a superhero than sitting around the drawing board doing work and he was paid his page rate for the day (roughly 100 pounds).
Landau and Gibbons went to the London costume company Berman and Nathans (the store that a year or so later supplied Indiana Jones’ iconic jacket) and they cobbled together a costume out of various items there. Gibbons then designed the logo and The Big E was born!
The photo shoot was done at the IPC offices at the King’s Reach Tower in London. Dave recalled the costume as being fairly uncomfortable to wear, especially the silver breast plate (which he placed the logo he had drawn on to) as it dug into his skin. One thing he amusingly noted was that the practical concerns of wearing a cape when you are on the roof of a tall building (30 stories up) is that the cape essentially turns into a sail. As he stated, “Once you got near the edge of the building you’d get this disconcerting moment when the wind gets the cape and you find yourself slightly dragged towards the edge of the building.”
The photo shoot was done by a real professional photographer and various other 2000 A.D. staffers acted along Dave, including Kevin O’Neill as a copy boy and editors Stephen MacManus and Nick Landau as the thugs The Big E takes care of…
(click on the image to enlarge)
The magazine became known as “Tornado” (as they figured Heroes had trademark issues) and it lasted only 20 issues or so of its own…
It, too, merged with 2000 A.D. and Gibbons had the strange honor of using photo references of himself to draw himself on the cover of 2000 A.D. 127…
And that is the story of Dave Gibbons’ days as a superhero!
Thanks to Jon Clark for sending in the suggestion, thanks to Daniel Best for the interior scans and, of course, thanks to the great Dave Gibbons for being so kind as to fill me in on all the little details of the photo shoot.
COMIC LEGEND: William Moulton Marston began having Wonder Woman exclaim “Suffering Sappho!” as a form of protest to Fredric Wertham
STATUS: I’m Going With False
The discussion came to Wonder Woman’s OTHER popular catch phrase (well, popular catch phrase that we all remember), “Suffering Sappho!”
In his book, The Seduction of the Innocent, Fredric Wertham did, indeed, complain about the invocation of Sappho as being a subtle (and in his view, inappropriate) mentioning of lesbianism.
Well, commenter “The Truth” replied to the piece with the following:
“Suffering Sappho” is a fun story. when Wertham was on his campaign against comics he specifically cited Wonder Woman as having ‘dangerous’ lesbian undertones. Marston loathed Wertham and his campaign, so as a thorn in Wertham’s side he had Wonder Woman begin exclaiming “Suffering Sappho!”.
However, Wonder Woman was saying “Suffering Sappho!” before Wertham began his anti-comics crusade in 1948 with an interview in a March issue of Collier’s Magazine titled “Horror in the Nursery.” He followed that a month or so later with his own piece, “The Comics, Very Funny,” in the Saturday Review of Literature which was run in a condensed form (and REALLY reached the masses) later that year in Reader’s Digest.
Here she is uttering the phrase in Wonder Woman #20 and #21 (both roughly the beginning of 1947)…
It was a common exclamation for Wonder Woman in 1946 and 1947.
In addition, William Moulton Marston died in May of 1947.
So I am going to say that that story is not true. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Marston WOULD have loathed Wertham (he hated other people LIKE Wertham that popped up over the years criticizing comics as being inappropriate for children), but he never got the opportunity.
Interestingly, as an a sort of alternate but related legend, I have seen people suggest that DC stopped using the phrase after Wertham’s campaign. They did not. Robert Kanigher used it frequently. Here, from a stretch of three 1956 issues, is one usage per issue…
And it wasn’t like Kanigher was trying to mess with authority, either, as it just seemed like it was one of many exclamations Wonder Woman used. It was just in rotation. For instance, in the last of the aforementioned issues, Wonder Woman #84, she uses SEVEN other different exclamations!!!
Thanks to the Truth for the comment.
COMIC LEGEND: Jim Starlin nearly did a Shazam! series a few years ago.
After my recent Comic Book Legends Revealed about Uderzo’s stint drawing Captain Marvel Jr. during the 1950s for the Belgium magazine Bravo went up, reader Greg L. wrote in to point out the fascinating tale that Zack Smith had in an article about Captain Marvel about how Jim Starlin, who rose to comic book fame with his run on MARVEL’S Captain Marvel…
was actually set to do DC’S Captain Marvel a few years back! It was soon before he began working on Strange Adventures for DC. It was decided that with a Captain Marvel movie possibly going into production that Starlin’s take was too different to proceed.
Here’s a quote from Starlin:
As far as I got with the plot was that Billy and Captain Marvel got separated and were trying to figure out why. They meet a new wizard at the end, named Coriolis. Yes, I used the name later in the Bizarro series in Strange Adventures. The wizard was to inform them that their reality had been ruptured during the Crisis on Multiple Earths. Yes, I later used this concept in the Hawkman one-shot that never went anywhere. DC decided to kill off Hawkman instead.
I got paid for the pencils and inks on this job but not for the coloring, for reasons that were never explained. That’s about all there is to tell.
Here’s two pages that Starlin completed.
Check out Zack’s piece here to see two more pages plus read more quotes from Starlin as well as read about how Mike Weiringo was going to be the original artist on the Power of Shazam! before Peter Krause! It is a really neat piece by Zack. Go read it!
Thanks to Greg for the suggestion and thanks to Zack Smith and Jim Starlin for the information.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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