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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #375

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Welcome to the three hundredth and seventy-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, did DC Comics do an anti-drug storyline in a 1990s Batman comic at the behest of the government? Plus, a Marvel comic in the 1990s killed by the Comics Code! Also, an interesting “crossover” in DC Comics where Supergirl hears other books in the New 52!

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: A government agency paid DC to do an anti-drug comic storyline in Batman: Shadow of the Bat.

STATUS: False

I think this takes the cake for the longest time between the question being asked and me answering it (although A. I’m probably mistaken about that and B. The longer the column runs, the longer the gaps will be, I suppose).

Back in Aught Seven, reader Nate P. asked:

Is it true that the “Leaves of Grass” story that ran in Batman: Shadow of the Bat 56-58 was paid for by the Office of National Drug Control Policy?

I had heard that the ONDNP gave money to DC to publish a story with a strong anti-marijuana message. And so DC got Alan Grant to do come up with something for the Narcs, and he did: a propaganda Batman story with Jason Woodrue making genetically-enhanced super-duper-reefer, and an ensuing drug war.

The storyline IS about marijuana, but I don’t think it is a propaganda story. Here are some pages from the first part. It sure looks like Grant is being even-handed here…

But anyhow, WAS DC paid to do it?

I asked the great Alan Grant himself and he gave me the fascinating lowdown on the story:

As a lover of conspiracy theories myself, I’d be very happy if the ONDCP had paid DC to have an anti-marijuana storyline (or if High Times had paid DC for a pro-marijuana storyline).

The reality is unfortunately not so intriguing.

I wanted to do a drugs storyline, neither pro nor con, but showing how Robin as a 15-year-old was bound to have come into contact at school etc with illegal drugs. If anything, I myself am for the legalisation – or at least the decriminalisation – of marijuana. My editor, Denny o’Neil, had no problems with the storyline, but the feeling in the higher echelons of the company was that I might be trying to sneak pro-drugs propaganda into a DC comic (something I’d either do openly or not at all).

Consequently each script for the 3-part series (“Leaves of Grass”, Shadow of the Bat 56/57/58) was personally vetted by DC’s top boss, Paul Levitz. To the best of my knowledge, Paul didn’t change a single
word in any of the scripts.

And the story didn’t change a thing in the real world… Ho hum. Such is life.

So sorry, Nate! Five years and not the answer I bet you were looking for.

Thanks for the question, though! And thanks, of course, to the always excellent Alan Grant for the answer.

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46 Comments

Captain Comet

July 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

I love Shadow of the Bat. And Alan Grant is one of the best Bat-Writers of all time.

I haven’t been reading the New 52 so I don’t know the locations of each story; but should Supergirl have been hearing all those quips at the same time since each story seems to be happening at a different time of day?

Well, the advantage of DC using fictional cities means they could all be in very different time zones. I’d like my no-pri… oh, wait.

Supergirl is on the other side of the planet at the time and I think Aquaman 1 was in the evening, so time zones do allow a bit of wiggle room here.

A few quick things: I think I have part of that Satana script printed out somewhere. I’ll look when I get home. Strange Tales actually lasted 2 issues, and unpublished issues were referenced later (much like a Blade miniseries that was published except for the last issue that came out at the same time). The Werewolf story may have been the ONLY book to reference Ghost Rider as the ruler of Hell. The Man-Thing story was wrapped up in the ’98 or ’99 Peter Parker: Spider-Man annual, I think.

Palomides…

That thought has also crossed my mind when the Superman bit was discussed in the earlier column. But then I realized thinking about it too much will just ruin the fun. :)

But that also brings up the question… was this Supergirl story done with that older story in mind, or did the writers just coincidentally come up with the same idea? It’s certainly possible it wasn’t meant to match that Superman story intentionally.

75% of the way to CBLR #500 (or 37.5% of the way to #1000)…

Did you think you’d be doing this column for so long and so consistently when you first started?

Ed (A Different One)

July 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

Is it just me, or does Tim Drake look an awful lot like Ultimate Peter Parker in those frames? Now wouldn’t that be an awesome crossover? Ultimate Peter Parker becoms Batman’s new sidekick. Batman showing up in shadowy hallways in Peter’s school to give him “assignments”? Peter injecting a little “super power” into the mix? Screw Ultimate Cap and Ultimate Nick Fury, Batman should have been the one guiding Ultimate Pete all along. I bet he wouldn’t have ended up dead beside a smoldering goblin if Batman had been his mentor. No sir, indeed.

Jim! Axel! Make it happen.

I didn’t realize that Ellis had been lined up to do a Satanna title before. That seems right up Ellis’s alley. It may just be the fact that I haven’t been frequenting my LCS quite as much as I usually do this year, but I’m really beginning to “jones” for something new from Ellis. Anybody know when he’s likely to hook us up with something?

Regarding the Satana mini-series: at some point Marvel announced that they were going to publish this, with John Ostrander finishing the series. Ostrander wrote at least one script, but the project was unfortunately put aside.

Did Marvel’s (or whatever the distributor) deal with K-Mart or Wal-Mart ever go through? I hadn’t really seen comics in discount stores since the Whitman packs in 70s.

Here’s more info:
http://web.archive.org/web/20001031213243/http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=comicwire&article=437

Q: When is a collaboration not a collaboration?

A: When it’s Marvel Comics’ new “Satana” three issue miniseries written by Warren Ellis and John Ostrander.

“A more tangled skein than that and appropriate for the character, don’t you think?” Ostrander told the Comic Wire on Tuesday. “Warren Ellis started a ‘Satana’ [series] some time back and then it got shelved because the Powers That Be decided no non-Code work at Marvel. New PTB decides it’s OK and they dust off ‘Satana’ but Warren has no interest in coming back to it. Ralph Macchio approached me about doing the last of a three issue miniseries, tying up everything from Warren’s previous two issues. I looked at it and said I would. So Warren is the main guy here; I’m only doing the wind-up.”

The story has already appeared, sort of: Readers of the recently completed Avatar Press miniseries “Strange Kiss” have read Ellis’ version of what was to be the first “Satana” story arc, sans Satana herself and all Marvel-specific elements. (For those unfamiliar with the admittedly obscure Marvel character, Satana is the sister of Damion “Hellstorm” Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, and was a recurring foe for her brother over the years.)

How non-compliant, to use computing phraseology, was the original “Satana” script with the Comics Code? Ellis recounted on his Web site (www.warrenellis.com) earlier this week:

“Just for a laugh, Ralph submitted ‘Satana’ #1, which was completed and ready to go to print, to the Comics Code. We all expected the photocopied edition to come back covered in notes, as it always did to Marie Javins when I did ‘Hellstorm’ and ‘Druid.’ This time, there were no scribbles, just a letter with it. It read, and I paraphrase: We cannot suggest any changes that would make this work suitable for humans, other than that it be completely rewritten and redrawn. I’m kind of proud of that.”

By any standard, “Strange Kiss” is not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart. Ostrander, though, may well take things in a slightly different direction for the final issue of “Satana:”

“I have the original script and finished art for issue one and the script for number two. So far as I know, there was nothing else so I deduced everything from what was in the first two scripts. Warren and I talked only AFTER the fact.”

Is it just me, or is the dialogue in that Shadow Of The Bat comic a little didactic? It seems like the characters are spouting positions more than talking naturally. Gordon’s lines sound especially wooden.

It’s not just you, D. It reads like everyone is quoting a talking points memo.

YOu don’t see stories that reflect societies problems as much in comics, television or the movies. Maybe it’s just me. YOu don’t see stories about alchoholism, drug abuse, gang activity, abuse, or economic problems. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems you don’t see that in there as much.

Sure, you get global warming stuff all the time. Not on pollution, so much. It has to be ‘global warming climate change.’

Travis Pelkie

July 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

To take off on what Joe Mac says, sorta:

Given that this is 375, I would have sworn you would have covered that Satana Legend before now. Just goes to show Brian will NEVER run out of material.

It’s been said above, but MAN would I have loved to read an Ellis-penned “Satana”. I’ll have to look for “Strange Kiss”, since I’m super curious now.

Strange Tales actually lasted 2 issues

I confusingly tried to say that with “it lasted one month after that.” :) I wondered at the time I wrote it if that sentence was too confusing. Now I know it was. Sorry!

Did you think you’d be doing this column for so long and so consistently when you first started?

I thought I would make it to column, like, #4 or 5.

That said, yeah, the consistency thing is totally under my control, so sure, I knew I’d be consistent with it. Never missed a week!

Did Marvel’s (or whatever the distributor) deal with K-Mart or Wal-Mart ever go through? I hadn’t really seen comics in discount stores since the Whitman packs in 70s.

Yeah, they made it to the stores. They weren’t always the most publicly displayed things, but they were there.

Is it just me, or is the dialogue in that Shadow Of The Bat comic a little didactic? It seems like the characters are spouting positions more than talking naturally. Gordon’s lines sound especially wooden.

I can see that. But really, with that in mind, it even MORE so doesn’t read as propaganda and rather like a guy trying to bring up every angle on the topic, even if it might not exactly fit a character’s mindset (like Gordon’s “Just legalize it!”).

Given that this is 375, I would have sworn you would have covered that Satana Legend before now. Just goes to show Brian will NEVER run out of material.

You’d think, right? Honestly, there’s a good reason for that. But that’s for another day! :)

Can anyone point me to which Spider-Man annual,wrapped up that Man-Thing storyline in Strange Tales? I had no idea it`d ever been given aproper ending. Always bugged me…

I miss the Marvel Horror Magazines. They had boobies and everything!

Jamie, it was the Peter Parker: Spider-Man 1999 Annual.

Jamie, also worth noting: They reference issues 3 and 4 of Strange Tales in that Annual…which don’t exist.

Actually I’ve read that a fair number of cops would like to see pot (or drugs in general) decriminalized. They know better than anyone how little difference trying to stop the flow makes.

Man, that super-hearing gag was more fun when they used stats of the actual word balloons instead of just reusing the dialogue.

I seem to recall Ellis reworked his storyline for Satana into his Strange Kiss mini-series.

Postscript to the Satana story: Year later, Warren Ellis reported that his Satana project was being revived, as the regime at Marvel at the time–I believe it was the Quemas era–were looking for ways to use unpublished material that had already been paid for. Instead of bringing Ellis back in, they gave the final issue(s) to someone else (I want to say Ostrander) to script. Ellis basically wished the new guy luck, made a cleavage peephole joke, and washed his hands of the whole project.

Jeez, Marvel sure has not exactly cultivated a good relationship with Warren Ellis, huh? GET ON IT, Alex Alonso! I want to see my Next Nextwave series! Ah, ok. I feel better now. Is Alex Alonso in charge of that anyway? Steven Wacker?

You know, I am pretty sure I went to high school, and I know many other people who went to high school, has the ‘Hey, you want some drugs! Oh come on, don’t be a square, everyone is doing it TAKE THE DRUGS!, TAKE THEM!’ thing even come close to happening? Mostly I think it was ‘No? Hey whatever, more for me, dude.’

“Five years and not the answer I bet you were looking for.”

Hi, I am thrilled to get an answer after all this time. And glad to see the rumor was just a rumor.

For those who are curious, this is the website that got me wondering: http://reefermadnessmuseum.org/chap08/Paid-FM.htm

Alan Grant is one of my favourite writers, so I was so happy that he responded to the inquiry.

This column is something I look forward to every week, so to have had a chance to get a question asked and answered was cool. And I think that waiting in anticipation made this experience more cooler.

Great to hear, Nate!

By the way, by the “not the answer you were looking for” I just meant like what Alan says, that it’d be more interesting if there WAS some sort of conspiracy, ya know? Didn’t mean to imply that you had any specific vested interest in the answer being one way or the other (not saying you took it that way, but seeing my quote there, it sort of reads that way to me).

What’s the story with Batman’s face in the lower left of page four? I don’t have the issue, is that some kind of mask?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

July 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I’m not sure the Satana script was ever on his website – Dark Blue and Atmospherics were, but not sure about Satana.
Was it the Satana script that Ellis re-worked into the initial Strange Kiss mini-series for Avatar comics?
I know that was a reworking of something he had given to Marvel, because – and my recollection is very different to that of the commenter Birmy – when Marvel went to publish the Satana book from his script, Ellis announced, through a press release I think, that Strange Kiss was a reworking of that script/concept, and warned his fans the first issue would be very familiar.
John Ostrander was going to continue the series past the Ellis script, but the series pretty much died with Ellis’ comments. (Although he did wish Ostrander luck with it all!)

Good old Strange Kiss – I really wonder how that would have looked coming from Marvel. It was good fun – I had a party in high school, and showed it to a mate to laugh at it’s over the top grossness, and it ended up getting passed around and read by most people there – even the girls! Maybe the secret to getting kids back into comics is more ladies cutting their faces off and more graphic anal births of lizards from humans!

Sandra, It looks like it’s just inked as if Bruce has a lot more wrinkles than some people might draw him, plus the “odd” angle of looking at him from behind. I think. GCD says it’s Dave Taylor art.

But wow, that is some awkward dialogue.

Ah, Funky’s comment went up while I was typing mine.

I always love when I see comments and I think “didn’t someone talk about that?”, and then I realize what next week’s column will be about :)

As to comics being available in Walmart/Kmart and the like…

In my area, we first got a Walmart in ’92, and they had these multi packs of comics from Marvel there. I got a Guardians of the Galaxy set of issues…14-19, maybe? About 6 issues at about cover price, I think. Later they had a spinner rack for awhile, as I got some issues of the Kyle GL series, but they eventually did away with that. Lately I’ve seen GNs there, usually media tie-ins. Walking Dead first 2 trades, some Avengers digest/Marvel Adventures stuff, and now some Batman book is there.

KMart, the only one I know for sure is a Looney Tunes one that was a freebie because of Taz’s 40th birthday, whenever that was. I think I also got a freebie there with a Jim Lee cover featuring the CBS Saturday cartoons when TMNT, WildCATS and Skeleton Warriors, whatever year that was.

I bet you’re all THRILLED that I went into such detail….

Thanks Rob and Tom. Ebay, here I come…

Charles J. Baserap

July 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Hey, hey, hey. I pointed out the Supergirl thing before Andrew did! lol It’s all good, trust me, I’m not offended or mad at all, I’m just having fun because I remember it like it was last week! ;-)

lol

Oh, did you? I didn’t notice. My apologies!

@D and Travis Pelke:

Is it just me, or is the dialogue in that Shadow Of The Bat comic a little didactic? It seems like the characters are spouting positions more than talking naturally. Gordon’s lines sound especially wooden.

As Brian said, the implicit “just legalize it” coming from Gordon is quite noticeable and out of character, yet I guess Alan Grant felt he had to have _someone_ saying or implying it, silly a statement as it is (pot will not become any less of a problem if it becomes legal than alcohol did, after all).
It is very hard to discuss such matters without sounding hopelessly didactic or else hopelessly partial or emotionally involved, from my experience.
But I am very willing to be convinced otherwise. Would you have some examples of interesting, non-cringeworthy discussion of the matter to offer? :)

Actually I’ve read that a fair number of cops would like to see pot (or drugs in general) decriminalized. They know better than anyone how little difference trying to stop the flow makes.

More acurately, they know how little difference _their_ efforts make. I can only assume they don’t much appreaciate taking the flak and risk for upholding the law from both citizens who either romantize the taking of pot or don’t think the law is worthy of any respect and drug dealers of all kinds who may cause them perpetual stress and danger.
I suppose it tends to make them a bit cynical about the worth of protecting the pot smokers from themselves, yes. I can’t blame them, much as I despise pot use. The sollution to pot use is the same as for alcohol, prescribed sleep drugs and pretty much other drugs, whether legal or illegal: Refusal to use, boycott and public awareness; the law has little to do with it.
@phred:

You know, I am pretty sure I went to high school, and I know many other people who went to high school, has the ‘Hey, you want some drugs! Oh come on, don’t be a square, everyone is doing it TAKE THE DRUGS!, TAKE THEM!’ thing even come close to happening? Mostly I think it was ‘No? Hey whatever, more for me, dude.’

I’m not 100% certain on this, but I assume that high school environments vary considerably in this regard, not only among themselves but also as time passes and teen atittudes become bolder.

Luis, pot may not become less of a “problem” with legalization but it frees police from having to bust pot-smokers, frees up jail cells and lets guys who haven’t done anything besides smoking pot get on with their lives instead of ending up in the slammer. It may be that cops share the attitude of a lot of Americans, that’s it’s not something to encourage, but it’s not something that deserves jail time (last poll i read, the sentiment was for a mild fine–so that society isn’t approving it, but isn’t going to the mat to stamp it out.
I seriously doubt any cops think of drug busts as “protecting pot smokers from themselves,” unless you have an exanple.

Charles J. Baserap

July 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm

lol Brian, no worries. :-) Like I said, I totally wasn’t offended at all, just felt like having some fun, it’s all good!

Luis, pot may not become less of a “problem” with legalization but it frees police from having to bust pot-smokers, frees up jail cells and lets guys who haven’t done anything besides smoking pot get on with their lives instead of ending up in the slammer.

True enough. Maybe that would even be a good thing.

There is definitely an upside to it, but I’m not sure it fully compensates the sad banalization of pot use that is already under way. It is the banalization and the use that disgust me, not the law itself.

It may be that cops share the attitude of a lot of Americans, that’s it’s not something to encourage, but it’s not something that deserves jail time (last poll i read, the sentiment was for a mild fine–so that society isn’t approving it, but isn’t going to the mat to stamp it out.
I seriously doubt any cops think of drug busts as “protecting pot smokers from themselves,” unless you have an exanple.

You mean you don’t? I sure do. Pot smoking is by definition a self-harming activity, more so than tobacco smoking and even alcohol driking in some senses.

Luis, my point was not “Is pot smoking harmful” but that I don’t think police think of themselves as saving pot-smokers from poisoning their lungs. Simply saying you think pot-smoking is unhealthy (and having known people who smoke pot and people who smoke tobacco, I’d debate which is worse) or “banal” doesn’t say anything about police.

Luis, in what way do you think marijuana use if more self-harming than tobacco or alcohol? I’m genuinely curious, as it’s something I’m on the fence about.
Although, I live in England, and one of the former key government advisors on drugs wrote a letter recently which included him saying “the best evidence-based advice to help cannabis smokers look after their lungs would be to abandon the peculiar British habit of mixing cannabis with tobacco”.

I don’t see that it’s relevant which is more “self-harming”. The key word is “self”. I don’t see why it’s the government’s job to regulate what private citizens put into their own body. It’s incredibly condescending to tell people they need you to “protect them from themselves”. If someone has the pertinent information and chooses to drink or smoke, I don’t see that that’s mine, yours or anybody else’s business.
I despise alcohol myself, but I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to advocate a ban because a portion of users abuse it.

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