"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Welcome to the three hundredth and seventy-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, did Superman first fly by ACCIDENT? Also, how did Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes inadvertently inspire a classic Spider-Man story? Finally, which Titan was ORIGINALLY going to die in Infinite Crisis #4?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seventy-two.
COMIC LEGEND: Superman first flew in the Fleischer animated films.
STATUS: Technically False
Now, as the story goes, Fleischer Studios were making short Superman animated films in late 1941 and they asked DC Comics if they could have Superman fly in the films (at the time, Superman just leaped – hence, “able to leap tall buildings at a single bound”) as it looked better. DC agreed and soon, DC was adapting the idea into their comics.
That’s how the story goes (and it is how I told it in my book, Was Superman a Spy?, which you can buy here).
And, basically, that IS how the story goes. Fleischer asked if they could change it, DC said yes…
And after the films became so popular, DC adapted the change into the comics.
HowEVER, through what sure appears to be an accident, Superman actually flew in the comics many months before the first Fleischer film in late 1941.
I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed years ago (which you can read here) about how artist Leo Nowak accidentally confused Lex Luthor with one of his henchmen and drew Luthor as the henchmen, forever defining Luthor’s distinct bald look. Well, as it turns out, Nowak ALSO became the first artist to draw Superman flying!
Nowak, being new to the series (Superman #10 was his first issue of the comic after he first debuted on the comic strip), likely was not familiar with the title and only had previous stories to go by. Well, in the case of Luthor, he mistook Luthor for another character. In the case of Superman flying, I imagine it was a case where, in the old days, while Superman technically was just leaping, most artists drew it in such a fashion where it often looked like he was basically flying. Nowak just took that to a whole other level in 1941’s Superman #10…
To show that it was just a mistake, the other story in Superman #10 makes it clear that Superman CANNOT fly…
as does the lead story in the following issue, ALSO drawn by Nowak.
It would not be until 1943’s Action Comics #65 that Superman would OFFICIALLY fly…
COMIC LEGEND: Jonathan Frakes inadvertently inspired a classic Spider-Man story.
In the Top 50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories Countdown (check here to see what has been revealed so far!), one of the stories that made the list was Peter David and Bob McLeod’s classic one-shot story, “The Commuter Cometh!” from Amazing Spider-Man #267…
which shows Spider-Man tracking a bad guy to the suburbs of New York and suddenly finding himself wholly out of his element….
Peter David, being the ever-helpful guy that he is, stopped by in the comments to shed some lights on the fascinating origin of this great Spidey tale:
The story was originally inspired by an actor. Back in those days, Marvel had a character appearance program, and there was one actor who regularly played Spider-Man, a guy named Scott Leva.
[Here is Leva on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #262:
And Scott would take great pains to give him a very spidery look, with lots of crouching and stuff. Even if he was just around the office, he never broke character and would always be crouching on things. One day, Scott wasn’t available, and Marvel needed a Spidey for a gig. So they pressed into service the guy who normally played Captain America–a young, aspiring actor named Jonathan Frakes (yes, THAT one).
[Here is an old Comic Book Legends Revealed about Frakes’ early career playing Captain America – BC]
And he walked around in the same way that he did as Cap, and I saw that and thought, “Boy, Spidey looks kinda stupid if he’s simply walking around.” And the whole story just find of flowed from that. If he’s clinging to the wall, it’s “Whoa, it’s Spider-Man!” If he’s just walking around, it’s “Who’s that guy in the Spider-Man costume?”
Hence, “Commuter Cometh!” including a scene which perfectly exemplifies what Peter is talking about…
By the way, from an earlier scene in the issue….
the little girl is inspired by Peter’s then-young daughter, Shana.
Thanks to Peter David for the great information!
COMIC LEGEND: Pantha was not originally going to be the Titan killed by Superboy Prime.
One of the more memorable DC Comics moments of the past decade or so (you folks voted it into the Top 75 Most Memorable Moments in DC Comics History) came in Infinite Crisis #4 (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning). In it, Superboy Prime finds himself confronted by the totality of the Titans (who had come together to defend their teammate, Connor “Superboy” Kent). He did not react well, especially when, in one horrific moment, he freaks out and punches Pantha’s head clean off…
This was a major turning point in Superboy Prime’s turn as the tormented villain of the series.
And in the original draft of the scene, Geoff Johns killed a DIFFERENT Titan. Originally, it was Argent, the standout character from the Dan Jurgens/George Perez Titans…
who later made it on to Devin Grayson’s Titans…
who was killed.
Johns described how the scene was re-written in a column he wrote for Wizard about six years ago:
I told Eddie [Berganza, editor on Infinite Crisis] there was something wrong with these two pages. And I told Phil [Jimenez, artist for the series]. And I thought about it.
Was it a matter of who died? That was a huge question. In the first draft, the Teen Titans’ Argent was the one that faced Prime’s outburst. But it was his heat vision that did it. Eddie loved Argent and had plans for her, so she was taken off of the table. There was discussion, and a draft, where Terra was the one who was killed. But I felt like her story hadn’t been yet told–it would leave too many unanswered questions. Red Star was also proposed, due to power levels but we had plans for him. And then I realized, as strange as it sounds, we needed to use someone obscure. I hated to say it, but this moment was not about who died, but about Superboy-Prime killing.
Superboy-Prime had to be horrified at what he had done, just like the reader. It needed to be an action much more shocking than heat vision. He had to be swinging in a fury, unaware of his power.
And that’s when it finally clicked for me. Superboy-Prime had to cry. He had to be scared. And his fear would fuel him. He would continue to lash out, blaming the others for his actions. Yesterday’s hero blaming the heroes of today for his corruption.
Going through the characters further, Pantha was chosen because she hadn’t been active in a long time and she would affect Red Star, who was very close with her, when we told his story. And it worked, for the most part. People said, “Did you see what Superboy-Prime did?” instead of “Pantha died!”
The rest of Superboy-Prime’s rampage justified the Flashes racing in to dispose of this super-powered “maniac.” You can see the fear and pain and guilt on Superboy-Prime’s face as he’s pulled away, yelling that one day he would be Superman.
Fascinating behind the scenes insight from Johns. Thanks, Geoff! And thanks to Wizard!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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