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Comic Book Legends Revealed #379

Welcome to the three hundredth and seventy-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn how Spider-Man’s origin was strangely censored in the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man! Also, learn about the racy side of Beetle Bailey! Plus, who came up with Earth-616?

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko excised the whole “failed to stop the thief who then killed his uncle” aspect of Spider-Man’s origin in Amazing Spider-Man #1!

STATUS: True

The always nifty Scott Edelman came across this a little while ago and it really blew my mind.

Here is the classic story of how Spider-Man went from being an entertainer into being a superhero, from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko…

So awesome. What a classic.

But as Scott notes, when the Spider-Man story continued in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #1, they CHANGED THE ORIGIN!!!

Isn’t that amazing?

NO mention about how it was Spider-Man’s inaction that led to the burglar getting away and killing Uncle Ben, just that Peter is guilty that he was “busy” while Uncle Ben died. What a dramatic change! I know the space issue was obviously a concern, so that might have been the motivating factor more than a desire to “soften” the origin, but either way, it is a major change.

And while Amazing Fantasy #15 was reprinted in 1964 in the Marvel Tales Annual, I don’t know if they ever did address the “Uncle Ben died because of Spidey” angle until the classic #50 by Lee and John Romita, where that aspect is what drives Peter to become Spidey again after giving it up earlier in the issue…

What a great find by Edelman. It reminds me of the earlier Comic Book Legend about how Uncle Ben never actually SAYS “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” in Amazing Fantasy #15. It fascinates me all of this stuff that we’ve all read for years without truly noticing it.

Thanks for the great find, Scott!

COMIC LEGEND: Mort Walker frequently would create racy versions of his Beetle Bailey comic strip as a gag.

STATUS: True

Mort Walker has been working in comics for more than SIXTY YEARS. He is one of the legends of the business. His work on his creation Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois have made him one of the most popular cartoonists of the past century.

Just this week I spotlighted some of his legendary first moments from Beetle Bailey in When We First Met.

Now, die hard fans of Mort Walker know that he has had this really funny habit over the years, a habit that was actually turned into a comic book in Sweden back in the mid-1990s.

You see, Walker liked to draw racy versions of Beetle Bailey as sketches to amuse himself and his friends.

They’re really bizarrely funny and it is amazing to know that they are collected into a book!

Here are some samples (remember, be warned – these is some R-rated stuff)…

Amazing, huh?

Thanks to Shaenon Garrity of the Comics Journal for the sample images.

COMIC LEGEND: Alan Moore came up with Earth-616

STATUS: I Lean Towards False

In the Captain Britain feature in Daredevils #7, by Alans Moore and Davis, the term “616” was first used to describe the “real” Marvel universe (as opposed to all those alternate universes out there).

Naturally, Alan Moore is then credited as the coiner of the term. However, do note that in the 616 storyline Moore used a bunch of concepts that Davis had co-created on the series with earlier writer, Dave Thorpe, who Moore had replaced on the Captain Britain series.

Davis wrote in to Tom Brevoort a few years back to give Davis’ side of how the term came about:

616 is an alternate, and some say older, ‘sign of the beast’, 666. It has some basis in Greek numerology (ZAZ?) but I don’t recall the details. Although credited to Alan Moore, like much of the other Captain Britain folklore it was in place before he joined the book. (In actual fact the only significant addition Alan and I co-created was the Fury.) Jim Jaspers, the Crazy Gang, Saturnyne, the Omniversal organisation (Avante Guarde) Captain UK, etc were all conceived by Paul Neary or Dave Thorpe. Most of the more classic elements were Paul’s (he had worked on an Arthurian Black Knight strip for Marvel UK some years earlier that utilised Captain Britain and introduced Jackdaw). Dave Thorpe, who wasn’t a fan of the modern superhero genre, was responsible for most of the more madcap or satirical elements–such as recording his opinion of the Marvel Universe with the designation 616.

The irony is that the Multiverse was created out of Marvel UK’s desire to use Marvel US characters–which wouldn’t have been tolerated at the time. Setting the stories on an alternate Earth offered the opportunity to use any of the Marvel stars without concern for continuity–but Dave had no love for Marvel characters and Alan was offered SWAMP THING before he had finished his first arc so we never took advantage of the possibility.

Fascinating stuff from Davis.

Alan Moore has been asked about 616 in the past and has said that he just came up with a random number for the name (figuring it was just funny since we always get, like, Earth-1 or Earth-2 but not Earth-616), but it is certainly reasonable that Moore would not recollect that the number was already determined before he actually used it in a comic. Of course, Davis could be misremembering himself. Davis, though, tends to have a very sharp recall on matters of comic book history (I’ve always been really impressed with his thoroughness), so in this toss-up, I lean slightly towards Davis’ take.

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!

46 Comments

The origin is subtly tweaked in #50 too. Peter acts like he became a superhero and then “one of his first victories” was against the burglar, when in the original story he isn’t a superhero at all, just a pissed off kid out for revenge. One could argue the revision still somewhat censors Peter’s character by making it seem like that after Uncle Ben’s death he became a superhero to fight crime, but the original story doesn’t really have him become a superhero, well, until what…Amazing Spider-Man #2?

So, are you saying the term 616 had been printed (pre-Moore) in Captain Britain, or it was just a “behind the scenes” term, which Moore brought to light in print? Would love to know!

Don’t worry — by the end of the day, 616 will be added to the list of stuff “Alan Moore used without permission” — just watch….

There is no geekier phone number that 616-2814. But maybe it CAN be geekier…if we move the 616 to be the (Wyoming) area code. Any other ubergeeky three-digit numbers out there?

I wish ***THIS*** Beetle Bailey would be published in my local newspaper!

Just had a quick look through all the Dave Thorpe issues of Captain Britain (reprinted in Captain Britain: The Siege of Camelot), and couldn’t find any mention of Earth 616.

I was going to suggest that the Spider-Man animated series was proof that the Amazing Fantasy 15 origin was Marvel’s “official” origin, except Amazing Spider-Man 50 came out about a year before the origin episode appeared in the animated series (at the start of its second season in September 1968; ASM 50 was in early ’67.)

I suspect the Amazing Spider-Man origin is more down to space than to an actual concious desire to recast the origin in some way.

Mort Walker used to sell posters of a nude Miss Buxley in The Comics Journal back in the ’80s. The great thing about those strips is that they follow the construction of a ‘regular’ Beetle Bailey strip, with setup and punchline like any good “gag” strip and does it well. As I recall, Walker also did a few “racy” Hi and Lois strips too (no nudity, just gags that end in inuenndo between Hi and Lois).

Funny stuff with Beetle Bailey. I had thought about mentioning in the WWFM earlier in the week about wanting to see the first Miss Buxley and how I know at some point they toned down/made the humor more PC about her (as in, not just “a chick to leer at”).

I swear you’ve covered the 616 story before. But if Moore didn’t come up with it, I’m guessing he liked it if he was versed in numerology much at the time (as I’m sure he is now).

Any relation between the Marvel/Capt. Britain Fury and the 1963 Fury?

As to the Spidey origin, it reads to me not so much as a major change but as an omission. He WAS showing off when he let the burglar by him, in a way, being too “hot stuff” to take the guy out. I’d say it’s one of the usual “Stan Lee has a poor memory” things we’ve seen. It appears that, with the exception of the burglar shooting (that wasn’t seen in AF15), Ditko drew out scenes that had appeared in the first story, but Stan either forgot the “punchline” (Oh god, I could have stopped the guy who later shot my uncle!) or compressed things so much he just thought it was understood when he wrote the script. IIRC, I think ASM 1 was quite a bit after AF 15 (relatively), so Stan had moved on to other things and probably forgot the main point he made. With a title about to be cancelled so it probably wasn’t high up in his mind.

Interesting that the burglar/Uncle Ben didn’t get addressed again until ASM 50. Was Roy Thomas working at Marvel by then? Sounds like a plot point he would have pushed to explore.

And as to Graeme’s point about the animated series, weren’t they basically motion comics from the original comics themselves? Why create something new when you can use the story that’s already there for real cheap?

That Beetle Bailey book is swedish, not finnish.

Yeah, that Beetle Bailey book and the strip translations are Swedish, though there is Finnish version of the book too.

“Stan either forgot the “punchline” (Oh god, I could have stopped the guy who later shot my uncle!) or compressed things so much he just thought it was understood when he wrote the script.”

Or they deliberately downplayed it because it seems non-heroic and they didn’t want to give people the wrong idea about a newly launched superhero.

On pages 5 and 6 of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, a recap of Spidey’s origin includes his letting the burglar who would later kill Uncle Ben (sorry I can’t post pix of this). I’m inclined, therefore, to think that the truncated version in Amazing #1 was simple carelessness on Stan’s part rather than a conscious “softening.”

Oops. The word “escape” was accidentally left off the end of the first sentence in the preceding post.

Travis:

“And as to Graeme’s point about the animated series, weren’t they basically motion comics from the original comics themselves? Why create something new when you can use the story that’s already there for real cheap?>

You’re thinking of the 1966 “Marvel Super Heroes” show. The 1967 Spider-Man series used much more sophistacated animation (not saying much, I know).

Brain: The opening paragraph says this is the 378th, not 379th.

While Amazing Spider-Man #1’s altered origin is a bit weaker, I don’t think it is quite as weak as Brian sees it. Peter still blames his own attitude for Uncle Ben’s death. It wasn’t just that Peter was “busy”, it was that he was “busy showing off”. Even in the compressed origin, he was focused on cashing in on his powers. And presumably figures that if he’d just been a better person, he might have been at home and able to stop the murder.

It’s kind of like the difference between not being at home because you were busy robbing a bank versus not being home because you were working overtime to put food on the table. Either one results in Uncle Ben being dead, but “hard at work” comes off as a tragedy while “robbing a bank” comes off as being the result of your own poor choices. In Amazing Spider-Man #1, Peter was busy, but the reasons he was busy were for personal gain and the ego boost.

John Reppion (Moore’s son in law) claimed Moore picked it at random. So maybe it’a he said, he said sort of situation. Without further confirmation I’d designate it that same as some of the urban legends on snopes: Undetermined.

Wait … where are Spidey’s mask pupils in the 4th panel of the last page of AF #15?

“Varning for SNUSK!” is the watch-word of the day.

Does anyone know if Kev Hopgood got any financial compensation from Marvel, for having his War Machine armor be the armor in the Iron Man 2 movie? Since, you know, he created it that design…

Surely at some stage, someone did another story with the burglar (and likely give him a complex back-story at the same time)?

Charles, ASM #200 has more of a story about the burglar. I quite liked it at any rate.

“Wait … where are Spidey’s mask pupils in the 4th panel of the last page of AF #15?”

Deleted in reprints for some time now, though if you click through to my chum Scott’s link at the beginning you can see that version, albeit in black and white.

Never noticed before The Burglar comments on noticing Spidey as he rushed past him, but didn’t remember him in the warehouse.

616 I think I mentioned here previously that some years ago there was some media coverage about “666 should be 616.” Too much of a coincidence for that to have been randomly picked, I think.

Wasn’t there a theory a few years back that 616 was a reference to the publication date of Fantastic Four #1, i.e June ’61, or have I just completely imagined that?

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I used to think that “616” meant the number of “active” super-heroes in MU.

I also had a vague memory of seeing “616” being used in the Alan Davis/Claremont run of Excalibur, but I could be wrong.

As T.P. is so FOND of pointing that out! ;-)

I believe the 616 FF link was a coincidence.

Stan would probably have asked for recap panels at best, so the idea he had a clue at how much space it would take up is ludicrous. When confronted with the abridged visuals, I doubt he had much choice but to cut the origin to size.

I think you’ve mentioned the assumed attribution of “With great power…” to Uncle Ben before, but honestly the only time I’m aware that he said it is in the original 2002 Spider-Man film. Were you honestly under the impression that Ben Parker had said it before that? Just wondering. (Did he say it in some animated version of the origin?)

***Spoiler!*** One of the many interesting unresolved bits from 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man film is that Ben’s murderer is still at large! ///spoiler

In 1984 Mort Walker released what was to be the first of a series of nude Miss Buxley prints, signed and numbered (I have one!), featuring a giant Miss Buxley and miniature versions of the rest of the cast cavorting on and around her. It’s funny. (Here’s one of two decade-old sales on Heritage Auctions featuring the framed print: http://comics.ha.com/c/item.zx?saleNo=803&lotIdNo=27032 These are the only times I think I’ve seen any of these offered for sale.)

Those Beetle Bailey samples are funny!

Beetle Bailey, I prefer the dirty version.

I wanna know where I can get a copy of that Beetle Bailey book. I’d rather own a copy of it than a volume of the regular strips.

It struck me while watching the latest Spider-Man film that both film versions downplay Peter’s responsibility. In ASM15 he’s a complete jerk for no reason whatsoever other than selfishness. In the movies, the burglar has ripped off someone who’s just been a complete dick to Peter so he’s not as big a jerk.

Keith, he said it before then in JMS’s Amazing Spider-Man 32, which was published in 2001. But yeah, Uncle Ben having said “great power” was something that was added decades later.

No, the films actually exacerbate Peter’s responsibility. In the comic the burglar shoots Uncle Ben while trying to rob the Parkers’ home while both movies have Uncle Ben dying out on the streets. In the 2002 movie Ben is there to pick up Peter at a place Peter never actually intended to be. In the 2012 movie Ben is out looking for Peter after he yells at his uncle and runs away. Both movies have Peter putting his uncle in the place where he’s killed.

The fact that Alan Moore knows a lot about occult issues and the 616 vs. 666 issue makes Davis’ claims incredibly suspect. Maybe this is a case of “If the universe hadn’t already been dubbed 616, Alan Moore would have had do it” (if God didn’t exist, man would have created him). Of all comics writers of that era, Moore is the one you would expect to know about the 616/666 issue and to make use of it in a way people largely wouldn’t be aware of for 20 years.

I mean really, how do you pass up “Earth-616: the Universe of the Beast (Hank McCoy)”?

“Wait … where are Spidey’s mask pupils in the 4th panel of the last page of AF #15?”

They always seem to erase those little eye dots when they reprint that panel. Hmmm…

Okay, I’m going to rant here because it is late and I am drunk.

The entire point of Spider-Man’s origin is that he let the robber go!

Bit by spider, got powers, blah blah blah.

But he was going to use those powers to make money. He wanted to be a pro wrassler. He was selfish.

He let the robber get away because he couldn’t be bothered.

Then the robber killed Uncle Ben.

To change that destroys the character. Peter devotes his life to correcting his mistake.

That is the whole point of the character!!!

Yeesh!!!

I HATE it when they white out the pupils on Spider-Man’s eyes in that panel. Robs it of half its impact.

Re: 616. The problem with Thorpe allegedly coming up with the number is that it wasn’t used until over a year after Thorpe stopped writing for the comic. Moore used some of Thorpe’s characters, but not his ideas or plans for the series; he turned things in a very different direction. Tellingly, Thorpe did use a “reality identifier” during his run, but it wasn’t numerical, which doesn’t support the claim he opted to use just a plain simple number for the main Marvel universe. So I have to believe that it is Alan Davis who is misremembering in this instance.

I can’t be the only one who thinks Ditko would have a problem with the first version because it presents ego[t]ism (“I just look out for number one — that means me!”) as anti-heroic. In the revised version, Spider-man says he was out showing off — that is, not doing anything with his powers; in the first, he specifically states he is using them for himself and has an agent to help him do it — he’s trying to profit from his powers, which is what a good objectivist thinks one should do.

Deron, I wondered about that too.

Speaking of minor censorship, did the reprinted artwork from Amazing Fantasy #15 get tweaked? I remember at least one version where that panel from the last page where Spidey says “That — that face! Oh, no, it can’t be!” – you could see pupils in Spider-Man’s eyes. (They looked ridiculous.)

Oops! Point already made. Sorry. (How can two dots be so well remembered?)

The telephone area code for my home region(west Michigan/Kent County/ Grand Rapids metro area) is 616. So, I must live in mainstream Marvel continuity.

I know I’m coming in quite late to the party, but I just read Amazing Spider-Man #1 recently myself, and the abridged version of the origin caught my attention as well. One thought I had about it was that the first version of Spidey’s origin appeared in Amazing Fantasy, a series that was made for the specific purpose of featuring suspense stories by Lee and Ditko which had clever, ironic twist endings (what they called “O. Henry endings” back in that day), and they often had a little bit of moralizing thrown in with the twist (like the protagonist occasionally being a criminal who ends up being hoist on his own petard and receiving some dramatic form of poetic justice for his crimes).

So, keeping that in mind as the intended format of Amazing Fantasy, Spider-Man’s origin story fits right in with that style. It’s got the surprising and ironic twist, it has the little moral element, and when you think about it, there wasn’t really a lot of super-heroics in the story. Peter Parker does get a colorful costume and secret identity, but he doesn’t actually do any crime-fighting until that very brief altercation at the end. So in a lot of ways, this was more like “an Amazing Fantasy story, featuring Spider-Man,” than the usual straightforward superhero stuff. So maybe (and this is purely conjecture on my part), when he was graduated to a full superhero magazine of his own, Stan might possibly have thought that the origin would just be more easy for people to get a handle on without the irony. I could be totally wrong, but that was one thought that struck me when I read it.

But also the point that Michael Howey made about the brief space given to it in the art being an issue probably has a lot of truth to it as well.

“Now, die hard fans of Mort Walker know that he has had this really funny habit over the years, a habit that was actually turned into a comic book in Sweden back in the mid-1990s.”

Not only this, but Nordic publisher Egmont asked Walker material for an second racy album and Walker thought that “Of course, you can have all we have and if that’s not enough, we’ll make some more”, resulting a (Finnish version) “Härski Masi” in January 2004 (Racy Beetle Bailey) as part of the normal series (thus relatively large amount of copies) and with some strips created for just that album. Swedish and Danish versions of the same has been available too as that is normal Egmont policy.

Finding those outside of Nordic (i.e. Egmont area) might be practically impossible, but no language issues as the strips themselves weren’t translated (like the examples above show).

I managed to grab one in 2004 and I’m happy with it: If I had realized then it had strips not published anywhere else (outside Nordic), I’d bought 10 copies. Too late now.

(One more chapter to my post)

I managed to find (at least now working) link to cover picture of the Finnish version. It was published as a special so it didn’t have a standard Egmont number, just “594671-0104″ (first special in 2004), ISBN 952-469-205-8.

http://sammonlaari.net/images/Masi/Minialbumi%20%283%29/2004-Harski%20Masi.jpg

I think you’ve mentioned the assumed attribution of “With great power…” to Uncle Ben before, but honestly the only time I’m aware that he said it is in the original 2002 Spider-Man film. Were you honestly under the impression that Ben Parker had said it before that? Just wondering. (Did he say it in some animated version of the origin?)

Keith, he said it before then in JMS’s Amazing Spider-Man 32, which was published in 2001. But yeah, Uncle Ben having said “great power” was something that was added decades later.

Actually, IIRC, that quote was attributed to Uncle Ben in the very first annual ASM.

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