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Comic Book Legends Revealed #372

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.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Dave Gibbons dressed up as a sort of costumed superhero mascot for a spin-off comic to 2000 A.D.

STATUS: True

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

In a recent edition of When We First Met, I talked about a variety of Wonder Woman firsts, including the first time she exclaimed “Merciful Minerva!”

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.

STATUS: True

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!

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 came out this week! The cover is by Kevin Hopgood (the fellow who designed War Machine’s armor).

If you want to 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!

33 Comments

Wow, those Shazam – got I hate calling him that – pages look great.

Agreed. Those pages look great and Starlin’s Shazam woulda been sweet!!!

Next you’ll be telling me you don’t know about Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s appearances as robots in 2000ad!

I would have loved Starlin on Cap Márvel, instead of that rubbish that was Winnick’s Shazam

I know “suffering sappho” wasn’t a response to Wertham, but I remember reading before that an issue of Wonder Woman did contain a response of sorts to Wertham’s accusations. I believe that it involved a scene where Wonder Woman was suddenly transported to San Francisco, which was associated with gay culture. It was intended as a little nod to Wertham’s reading of Wonder Woman. I can’t recall where I originally read this, but will see if I can find it.

Re the Dave Gibbons piece and just as a bit of background re English comics.

The way the weekly comic market worked in the Uk was that a new title would be launched and sales would gradually tail off over a period of some five months (as I recall it the typical time period to hitting the break even point was 22 weeks).

At this point the companies would do one of two things – they would either add a free gift to the comic for a couple of weeks (free sweets, a small toy, a mask, etc.) or they’d merge the title into another one. Both of these were devices to boost the sales back, which they traditionally did, and the c. 22 week cycle would restart. Hence the Tornado and Star-Lord life cycles were pretty typical.

For the record this is less of an issue now – though we still get free stuff on a regular basis on a number of titles – the only real exception to this over the period in question was 2000AD where sales did not suffer the usual decline and hence there weren’t the semi-annual boosts.

Andrew

God I would have loved ‘Ringo on Shazam. Or Ringo on anything. Man, I miss his work. :(

I honestly don’t know whether Moulton would hate Wertham. Wertham was actually very progressive in a lot of ways – he opened a psychiatric clinic in Harlem and opposed racism and other prejudice. Too often he gets a bad rap for his (admittedly troubling) anti-comic crusade.

Jim Starlin could certainly have DRAWN a persuasive Captain Marvel book, but I’m very glad the world never had to see one WRITTEN by him. And the same for John Byrne, times 100.

Now, Dave Gibbons is the man I’ve always wanted to see drawing a proper old school Fawcett-style Marvel Family…in fact, I’ve wanted that since I first saw his work in 1981 or thereabouts…

Incidentally looking at that 2000AD ad makes me reluctantly admit I fear I’ll like the new Judge Dredd movie less than the Stallone version, because at least Stallone’s version had SOME semblance of the humor in the original, which the reboot seems to have none of (they’re certainly self conscious about it as it’s completely absent in the trailer)

As much as I like certain aspects of Starlin’s work, I’m not sure we really need a story in which Billy Batson discovers everything he believes in is a lie.

Gibbons doing the Marvel Family would be cool. Recently, I picked up the issue of DC Challenge that he drew which featured Captain Marvel and thought the same thing.

Travis Pelkie

June 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Oh, that pic of Gibbons is funny.

But actually, it jogged my memory (sort of) of that one Legend we were discussing, Brian. I’ll have to check into details later, but I’ll shoot you a quick email with the gist of it.

I’d love to see Starlin on Captain Marvel, I hope DC wises up and prints it.

Andy K.: yes, I should also have mentioned that issue of DC Challenge proves how good he would have been with the entire Marvel cast!

Brian from Canada

June 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

DP:

Wertham wasn’t as much of an anti-comic crusader as he’s painted to be. In fact, much of the fallout from Wertham’s book stemmed from the House Committee on Juvenile Delinquency (a threat bigger than Communism!) that went after the industry to PURPOSELY find fault and blame like their other counterparts at the time, and came head-to-head with some of its creators.

When Wertham saw the fallout, he apologized to the industry and became a vocal supporter.

Quite frankly, having read Wertham’s book and checked out some of the texts he’s referring to, he’s not far off in his criticisms: crime WAS being glorified, propaganda against the Reds was definitely far too overt, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson had a somewhat symbolized relationship, and Wonder Woman did have lesbian undertones — though with Wonder Woman, it had a lot more to do with the fact that she was always tying someone up, getting tied up, and (at least in one issue) punishing bad women with hard work and spankings(!).

[Keep in mind, too, that this is the same period that Betty Page photos are deemed unfit for sale because of the bondage fetish shown in some of those as well.]

Now I’m seriously intrigued as to what story could lead to the line “Suffering Sappho! I just remembered! This trumpet can’t work – until I’ve baked it!”.

Is it just me, or does Gibbons actually LOOK like Stallone in that Big E promo photo?

@Basara: Yo, ALAN MOORE! (in lieu of Yo, Adrian…oh, forget it).

@Brian from Canada: I think overall you’re right about Wertham, although I am curious about the “apologized to the industry and became a vocal supporter” bit. I don’t think I’ve read that angle before. I do know that late in his life, he wrote a book about fanzines and the beneficial aspects of that culture, but I didn’t think Wertham ever became a vocal comics supporter.

You’re not thinking of the Wertham stand-in in Evanier and Aragones’s Fanboy, are you? I thought he was different from the real thing because he apologized.

Actually, Wertham and Marston probably would have been at odds, since Marston was one who’d been hired by DC/National/whatever the hell they were at the time as a doctor to impart some legitimacy to comics — saying they were good for kids, blah blah.

Although that gives me an idea for a Kavalier and Clay-esque historical novel….Pulitzer here I come!

I wonder, does “Suffering Sappho” derive from the same expression as Sylvester the Cat’s “Sufferin’ Succotash”?

Starlin draws an ok Captain Marvel, But this guy’s is AWESOME!!! http://azjohnson5.webs.com/apps/photos/photo?photoid=155844073

Hi Brian, I would quibble a bit with the “Suffering Sappho” revelation. (Though I’ll preface this by saying that I love your column tremendously and am giddy that you looked into this based upon my posting. :)). I read the information in an article that seemed fairly credible. I’m trying to find it and if I can I’ll send it along to you. Years ago I did a presentation for “Thinking Matters” on Wonder Woman, and I did some pretty extensive research for that. Of course it’s all buried in a box somewhere now. :) Here’s my quibble…it’s true that “Suffering Sappho” appears in the WW book prior to the publication of “Seduction of the Innocent” (1954). But Dr. Wertham’s campaign against the illicit content of comics began in the latter part of the 1940′s, and Dr. Marston was well aware of it. We know that he loathed Wertham, who was also in the psychiatric profession. Marston’s Wonder Woman debuted in December of 1941, which would have been prior to Wertham’s campaign. Wertham’s book “Dark Legend” was about a 17 year old boy who’s murdered his mother, a lurid tale in a poorly written book. He became interested in the plight of juvenile offenders, and he asserted that young delinquents were being influenced by comic books. This was in the late 1940′s. It’s virtually impossible that Dr. Marsten would not have been familiar with his collegues work. Comic books were being lambasted as evil influences as early as 1940, when the National Education Association Journal printed an article about comic books being ‘poisonous’ to children. Wertham’s first published article against comics appeared in May of 1947 in the Saturday Review of Literature. But he had been active in the anti-comic book movement prior to this article; the article was the culmination of his research up to that point. He lent his credentials as a mental health professional to the anti-comic book movement, and this would have undoubtedly irked Dr. Marston who was attempting to do the very opposite thing. So perhaps “Suffering Sappho” was not solely aimed at Wertham, but it was undoubtedly aimed at the anti-comic book movement which had long argued against the ‘sexual deviance’ being proffered in comic books in the 40′s and 50′s. Dr. Marston had a very different view of sexuality, a far more playful and inclusive view, and it’s difficult to imagine that he didn’t take umbrage at the movement overall.

I agree that Marston would have disliked Wertham, but I disagree that Wertham’s anti-comics work was well-known prior to the late 1940s, at which point Wonder Woman had already been saying “Suffering Sappho!” for years.

That said, sure, if you find the article I would obviously love to read it. Or if anyone else knows of the article, please let us know! If someone has some concrete stuff going the other way, I’d be glad to edit.

Although I think Dr. Marston would have known of Dr. Wertham’s work. The public at large might not have known. But Wertham was a published author and a psychiatrist whose first book came out in 1934. Once he began to study juvenile delinquents, he became immediately interested in the influence of comic books on their behavior, since many of them were comic book fans. Of course, lots of kids were comic book fans, and a psychiatrist worth his salt would have understood the difference between correlation and causation, but Wertham wasn’t considered to be either a great author or a particularly insightful psychiatrist. He and Dr. Marston were both on interesting trajectories at that point, ones which were in diametrical opposition. Dr. Marston had set out to prove that comic books could be inspiring, while Dr. Wertham was convinced that they led young people into criminal behavior. Wertham was a known author. He and Dr. Marston were both published writers, and both were psychiatrists who had published clinical studies. So perhaps the public at large would not have known of Wertham’s anti-comic book studies with delinquents, but Dr. Marston surely would have. Also, both of the Marstons were psychiatrists who were published, and Elizabeth actually had more scholarly work attributed to her. So if he hadn’t known of Wertham’s work she undoubtedly would have.

Oh and I’ll definitely try to find the article, Brian. It may be a while because I have everything packed away in boxes in storage and nothing’s marked. Because I’m that well organized. :) I almost think it may have been in article in Elizabeth’s Alma Meter magazine, but I’m not sure that was it. I’ll look around for it though.

I think it’s *possible* that Marston might have heard of Wertham, but it really doesn’t sound like Wertham addressed comic books until the early 50s.

The best defense of Wertham (admittedly with some reservations) is in this article from the New Yorker.

http://m.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/03/31/080331crbo_books_menand

One thing that Menand points out is that Wertham criticized the ads in comics, which were pretty vile.

As well, Wertham was opposed to racism to the point that he testified during Brown Vs. The Board of Education about the effects of segregation on black people. To me, that’s much more important than Seduction Of The Innocent.

Wertham did a lot of good work in his career. So sure, we shouldn’t just judge him based on his awful work with regards to comics.

Although I think Dr. Marston would have known of Dr. Wertham’s work. The public at large might not have known. But Wertham was a published author and a psychiatrist whose first book came out in 1934. Once he began to study juvenile delinquents, he became immediately interested in the influence of comic books on their behavior, since many of them were comic book fans. Of course, lots of kids were comic book fans, and a psychiatrist worth his salt would have understood the difference between correlation and causation, but Wertham wasn’t considered to be either a great author or a particularly insightful psychiatrist. He and Dr. Marston were both on interesting trajectories at that point, ones which were in diametrical opposition. Dr. Marston had set out to prove that comic books could be inspiring, while Dr. Wertham was convinced that they led young people into criminal behavior. Wertham was a known author. He and Dr. Marston were both published writers, and both were psychiatrists who had published clinical studies. So perhaps the public at large would not have known of Wertham’s anti-comic book studies with delinquents, but Dr. Marston surely would have. Also, both of the Marstons were psychiatrists who were published, and Elizabeth actually had more scholarly work attributed to her. So if he hadn’t known of Wertham’s work she undoubtedly would have.

I just have not seen anything to show that Wertham was well-known in the psychiatric field regarding comics until, at the earliest, the opening of the Lafargue Clinic in 1946, at which point Wonder Woman had already been saying “Suffering Sappho!” for a few years. I don’t think anyone was familiar with Wertham regarding anti-comics at that point because there was nothing from Wertham to be familiar with. Everything I’ve read about the guy over the years suggests that it was after the opening of the Lafargue Clinic that he first began seriously studying (and writing) about comics. Heck, in the first article about his anti-comics theories in Collier’s, “Horrors in the Nursery,” it even specifically notes “his findings, published here for the first time” (emphasis mine). And that article came out nearly a year after Marston’s death. I could see Marston knowing about Wertham and disliking him for something else (as yes, they were both practicing in the same general region), but I don’t believe it was anything about comic books.

Travis Pelkie

June 24, 2012 at 1:25 am

This Wertham/Marston stuff is interesting to me, so I’ve been looking into some of these things on the wikipedia.

Wertham, in 1932, moved to NYC and directed the psych clinic that did the psych exams for convicted felons, and testified that mass murderer Albert Fish was insane in 1935.

Marston, of course, did work with the polygraph, so it seems that it’s not impossible that they could have been in the same circles due to similar work in criminology. (It’s a bit vague as to what Marston was doing in the ’30s)

Does this mean that they ever discussed comics, or anything like that? Is it possible that Wertham was aware of the Marston “living situation” and felt he was trying to indoctrinate the youth of America into “thinking that was ok”? Maybe.

But I think I lean towards what Brian says, that “Suffering Sappho” wasn’t directed at Marston or any anti-comics crusaders in particular.

Looking up “suffering succotash”, the Sylvester saying, I found some interesting stuff. Apparently it’s a “minced oath”, like “heck” or “darn”. (Didn’t we discuss this last week?) Suffering Succotash is said to be a minced oath of Suffering Savior. I suppose the Suffering Sappho might be the equivalent of mother of god or madre de dios. Sylvester used the phrase to emphasize his lisp, which Mel Blanc derived from his earlier Daffy Duck voice (who also said “sufferin’ succotash”).

Sylvester first appeared in 1945. I wonder if his use of the phrase, which apparently was popular in the Depression era, inspired the use in WW, as it seems from what you’ve said here, Brian, the phrase started being used by WW after that time. Since WW started in ’41, it seems from what you’ve said, “Suffering Sappho” didn’t come into use for several years into the series. It seems oddly coincidental if the phrase started being used in WW around the time Sylvester started using it in the cartoons. I’m not sure of the ages of the Marston children, but perhaps they were fans and used Sylvester’s phrase around the house, and Marston adapted it for WW?

Considering that Christie Marston is known to post on the CBR Wonder Woman boards, it might be you would get an answer to some of your speculations…

Wait, wait wait. “Suffering Sappho! I just remembered! This trumpet can’t work – until I’ve baked it!”

Uh…what?

Agree with the others, those “Shazam” pages look fantastic! There is yet another book I mourn the potential of.

It’s more likely that the term “Suffering Sappho” was the creation of Robert Kanigher, since Wonder Woman #20 was around the time he became a writer for the series. When Trina Robbins called him to ask about his time on Wonder Woman, he famously blurted out about the Amazons “they’re all lesbians!”

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