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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #383

Welcome to the three hundredth and eighty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the bizarre story behind the short-lived return of Spider-Man’s parents! Plus, did Robert Kanigher protest the Seduction of the Innocent in the pages of Wonder Woman? Finally, discover what could be the first comic superhero!

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and eighty-two.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: David Michelinie did not know what the deal was with Peter Parker’s parents when they “returned from the dead.”

STATUS: True

A few weeks ago, I featured in I Love Ya But You’re Strange the tale of how Spider-Man’s parents seemingly returned from the dead…

only to be revealed to be, of course, androids sent to discover Spider-Man’s secret identity.

Leading to one of the more surreal Spider-Man fights of all-time…

At the time, I questioned whether this was actually David Michelinie’s original intent with the characters.

More than a few readers found the answer in the pages of Tom DeFalco’s wonderful Comic Creators on Spider-Man, an essential collection of interviews by DeFalco of Spider-Man creators. In the book, Michelinie reveals the story about Richard and Mary Parker’s return:

When asked why he brought Peter’s parents back, Michelinie explains…

I didn’t, not really. My last year or two on Amazing were not my happiest years. Jim Salicrup was an editor who gave me a lot of freedom, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Then he left the Spider-Man titles and Danny Fingeroth came back to them. He’s the one who came up with the idea of bringing back Peter’s parents. I felt a little like I was writing his stories instead of mine. The whole parent thing was difficult because he couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me where it was going: he wouldn’t even tell me if they were really his parents or not. I didn’t know if they were aliens, robots or clones! Neither did Danny. He just hadn’t figured it out. So I had to tread water issue after issue, not knowing if these characters were really his parents or not. It was just very difficult. I was writing the actual stories, but I had to fit them around this ongoing storyline that I didn’t have any control over.

Consider the buck officially passed, David!

Thanks to readers Lee H., Michael and El Vee for the quote and thanks to Michelinie and DeFalco for the information!

COMIC LEGEND: Robert Kanigher had a subtle protest/response to Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent in the pages of Wonder Woman.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

Awhile back, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed about whether William Marston had Wonder Woman begin to say, “Suffering Sappho!” as a sort of protest/response to Fredric Wertham’s assertions that Wonder Woman was a lesbian. In that piece, I noted that the dates just don’t seem to work out for that to be true, that Wonder Woman used the phrase before Wertham had begun his work related to comic books.

Reader Jeffrey noted at the time:

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.

I asked Jeffrey if he could find the issue in question and he wrote back to me recently with the issue. It was Wonder Woman #63, which included the following passage…

Wonder Woman, naturally, defeats her old enemy by the end of the story.

However, was that issue a nod to Wertham and Seduction of Innocent? Where Wertham wrote about Wonder Woman:

The Lesbian counterpart of Batman may be found in the stories of Wonder Woman and Black Cat.

and

The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable. The Psychiatric Quarterly deplored in an editorial the ‘appearance of an eminent child therapist as the implied endorser of a series . . . which portrays extremely sadistic hatred of all males in a framework which is plainly Lesbian’

Again, I don’t believe that the dates work. The issue in question was cover-dated January 1954, so certainly it came out in late 1953. Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954 (I am unsure of the EXACT date, but I believe it was Spring 1954). So the writer of the issue, Robert Kanigher, was unlikely responding to Wertham’s book. Wertham, of course, was already known for his crusades against comics, but he was mostly known for an anti-comic violence advocate at the time (like when he debated Al Capp on the radio in 1952 about violence in Lil’ Abner). I see no evidence or reason to believe that Kanigher was such a close follower of Wertham’s work that he was responding to the less-publicized beliefs of Wertham regarding homosexual connotations in the pages of Wonder Woman (had Marston been alive, though, I definitely believe he would have been aware).

That isn’t to say that the Wonder Woman #63 story WASN’T a reference to Wonder Woman and lesbianism, of course. I’d suggest that it most likely WAS a little joke by Kanigher about Wonder Woman’s lesbian connections. Kanigher, after all, told more than one person over the years (including the wonderful comic book historian Trina Robbins) that he did, in fact, believe that Paradise Island’s population were lesbians.

So it very likely WAS a joke about Wonder Woman’s sapphic connection. But I do not believe that it was a reference to Wertham.

Amusingly enough, years later, in 1962′s Wonder Woman #131, Kanigher specifically has Wonder Woman explain the “Suffering Sappho” exclamation…

Pretty funny.

Thanks to Jeffrey for the suggestion and thanks to Trina Robbins (among others) for Kanigher’s personal take on lesbianism in early Wonder Woman comic books.

COMIC LEGEND: There was a super strong comic book characters more than thirty years before Superman!

STATUS: True

When Superman made his debut in 1938, his power set was not exactly unique, as there were a few pulp heroes who had somewhat similar powers, like John Carter (while on Mars, of course). And, of course, many historians assume that there must be a connection between Superman and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator.

However, amusingly enough, there was a comic character with super-strength that used his powers much like a superhero, only he debuted in 1902!!

William H.D. Koerner’s Hugo Hercules was a short-lived comic strip that only lasted from September 1902 to January 1903 in the pages of the Chicago Tribune, but wow, when you see the character, you’ll be amazed that such a figure was around so early. Here are some examples…

(Click on the image to enlarge – you have to love the terminology of the era. “Performs another prodigy.”)

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Amazing, no? I doubt that the character actually had any influence on future characters (after all, Hercules had super-strength in myths already), but it is still interesting to see what could arguably be called the first comic superhero!

Barnacle Press has some more copies of the strip at their site here. Check ‘em out!

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!

51 Comments

Holy shiite, does Diana look creepy in the second panel from WW #131!

2. Anybody else notice the island of Lesbos as depicted seems populated solely by Sappho and her hot slave girls?

3. Siegel and Schuster said they combined the two most popular action characters – strongmen and aliens – when they created Superman.

If you want to mention super-strong comic characters, I’d also include The Powerful Katrinka from Fontaine Fox’s “Toonerville Folks”. Another staggeringly popular, but sadly all but forgotten strip it was the one-panel adventures of the people of Toonerville, including Katrinka (whose power was almost entirely physical), The Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang, and Aunt Eppie Hogg. Mickey Rooney appeared in a series of short films as Toonerville’s town bully, Mickey McGuire – indeed, he took Mickey as his stage name from that character.

Bad Golden Age and Silver Comic… my only weakness! must…retreat!

If you want to mention super-strong comic characters, I’d also include The Powerful Katrinka from Fontaine Fox’s “Toonerville Folks”. Another staggeringly popular, but sadly all but forgotten strip it was the one-panel adventures of the people of Toonerville, including Katrinka (whose power was almost entirely physical), The Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang, and Aunt Eppie Hogg. Mickey Rooney appeared in a series of short films as Toonerville’s town bully, Mickey McGuire – indeed, he took Mickey as his stage name from that character.

Oh, definitely, Vinnie. That is a great example of a once extremely popular strip that is now mostly unknown. Katrinka was a few years after Hugo Hercules, though, right?

Hugo Hercules suddenly reminded me of another legend involving a turn-of-the-century comic strip character, although this one was much more famous. Allegedly, Richard Felton Oucalt named his extremely popular comic strip boy-hero Buster Brown after-then child star Buster Keaton (who was a vaudevillian performer in an act with his parents). As a MAJOR Buster Keaton fan, however, I strongly doubt this rumor. First of all, it was started by Buster’s father, who was responsible for a lot of other tall tales about his son (such as that Harry Houdini gave his son his nickname after he fell down a flight of stairs) which were later embellished and continued to propagated not just by the studios but by Keaton himself well to the end of his life. Second, “Buster” was common nickname for a young boy around this time, as can be evidenced by Buster Crabbe and a number of others born at this time who kept the nickname into adulthood, and third, I’ve never read about it in any Keaton biography. This one will probably be easier to verify than some of the others I suggested!

We’ve discussed the tendency of comic book artists (especially in the golden and silver age, and Alex Ross in more modern comics) to use celebrities as inspiration for their characters many times. So am I the only one who thinks that thinks Prof. Dekon looks an awful lot like then-popuar actor Danny Kaye (Bing Crosby’s co-star in “White Christmas”, among many other roles)?

TJ, Danny Kaye was famous for playing…WONDER MAN!

Was there any connection between Hugo Hercules and Philip Wylie’s Hugo Danner? At first I thought they both were named after Gernsback but they seem to early. Was “Hugo” the “Bella” of the early 20th century?

if were talking super strong characters that best superman to print, may i suggest desperate dan? debuted in dandy #1 in 1937

For a really good look at fifties comics censorship, you can’t do better than The Ten-Cent Plague. As someone who’s been reading about the comics ban for years, I still found it fascinating how widespread the denunciations were (some comics pros simply didn’t admit to their friends what they really did for a living because they knew how people would react).

Doubling down on 10 Cent Plague. No matter how much you know about comics, this book will school you. A great read!

Judging from the last panels of the first two strips shown here, Hugo Hercules even had his own catch-phrase (“Just as easy”).

@Mark: I was wondering about a Hugo Hercules inspiration for Hugo Danner’s name, myself.

Apparently Hugo Hercules had his own catchphrase: “Just as easy.”

That was pretty weird. Two almost simultaneous comments noting his catch phrase.

The Hugo strip also featured an early crossover where he saved several other of the Tribune’s characters from a burning building.

"O" the Humanatee!

September 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

It’s rather strange that in the captions under the drawings, Hugo appears to speak (or think?) in some kind of lower-class dialect, but no such speech pattern is evident in his word balloons, as in “I could do _this_ forever” vs. “I could hold _dis_ machine for two years.”

O – my suspicion is that the text at the bottom was added. Otherwise, it seems strange and pointless.

As a regular reader of Michelinie’s work, I have to say that the return of Peter’s parents always seemed a little strange. He is more the political conspiracy writer and less the “dark secret underneath”. The conclusion also seemed as writed in a rush, but I usedto believe that this had to do with his departure from the tittle. Too bad most people cite the “robo parents” to give an example of why they hate his writing. To me he continues to be one of the best Spidey writers, especially to develop Peter and MJ’s marriage.

We have a small run of Hugo Hercules on Barnacle Press if you’re longing to see more of him in action. Just as easy: http://www.barnaclepress.com/comics/Hugo%20Hercules/

Thanks, thrillmer, I’ll work that into the piece!

I’m sorry, but the San Francisco thing doesn’t really work even if you factor out the Wertham connection. The city’s reputation as a gay-friendly city didn’t really start until the 1970s, and even then it was as a city populated by a lot of gay MEN, not neccessarily lesbians.

My guess is that they picked it because it’s a recognizable city (easily portrayed by the Golden Gate Bridge) on the opposite coast from New York.

They referenced New York as her home base? Did this happen consistently?

I first read Spider-man during Michenlinie’s run and enjoyed it a lot. Besides, is Peter’s robotic parents anywhere as worse as being beaten to death by some generic looking guy because Spider-man is magic? Can Spider-man even die, or does he just become reborn in a giant Spider-cocoon thing.

It’s all in perspective, folks.

Besides, is Peter’s robotic parents anywhere as worse as being beaten to death by some generic looking guy because Spider-man is magic?

Yes, it is more of a unique approach, but only because no one would ever try something as silly as Spider-Man’s parents coming back from the dead but turning out to be androids created by the Chameleon because he figured making perfect replicas of PETER PARKER’s parents might, somehow, lead him to Spider-Man’s secret identity. I am no fan of The Other, but The Other is less silly than the android parents plot.

I find it strange that in the Hugo Hercules strip the captions below the pictures often are saying pretty much the same thing, just in a dialect. Thinking back on what I read from the other early 20th Century strips, though, I guess that was pretty common, just not as obvious.

Wonder if DC or Marvel could work him into one of their universes… copyrights should have lapsed by now, I should think, sorta like Roy Thomas did for Hugo Danner in both Marvel and DC (although Marvel’s may not be in their continuity).

Also, great to find out about Barnacle Press… after finishing the Hugo Hercules, I gotta check out the rest of that archive!

In fairness to Danny Fingeroth, it wasn’t like David Michilinie with editorial freedom ever led to any competent storytelling either. I’m sure whatever Michilinie would have written given free editorial reign would have been just as bad if not worse. For some writers, having their stories dictated by editorial is a real shame, but with Michilinie I’m sure we didn’t lose out on any good stories as a result.

Can we put a moratorium on this type of comment every time a wacky Silver Age comic is covered? We get it, Grant Morrison likes reviving strange Silver Age concepts. Every week it’s always “Wait til Grant Morrison resurrects this!” or “Little do you know but Grant Morrison is reviving this as we speak.”

Yeah, it really is a drag to see certain points repeated any time something, like, say, David Michelinie, is covered.

In all seriousness, I really don’t care that you repeat the same points consistently. It’s fine by me. I was just amused/taken aback when I saw that quote from you the other day criticizing repetitive comments.

iirc, the Yellow Kid had some of that same thing as Hugo Hercules, where the caption underneath said much the same as the word balloons in the panel, with one in more dialect than the other. Not 100% sure, though.

Y’know, Duke Deception didn’t really need to have such an elaborate ruse to trick WW. After all, she didn’t even realize that she flew 3000 miles WEST from what she thought was San Francisco. She should be…over the Atlantic Ocean somewhere, right, if she was trying to fly from SF to NYC?

“Should I look towards the sun, see which direction I’m going in? Nah, I’ll just fly 3000 miles. I’ll get SOMEWHERE.”

Oh, and it came up while I was typing, but cold burn, Brian. Nice.

You got hosed, T!

The robot parents thing is silly Brian, until you realize that Chameleon was put up to it by Harry, who knew what would happen. Of course, it makes no sense when you consider that having them be clones would have fit into the impending clone saga quite nicely… well, at that point, the Clone Saga is such a huge mess in and of itself, and including his parents would have just made it stretch that much longer.

I have to put in a dissenting voice on the Ten Cent Plague. It’s… just okay. some of its faults are presented in this article:

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

For one thing, people forget how racist comics were back then, particularly against Asians.

If I were to recommend books on the history of comics (other than Cronin’s ones, of course *shamelessplug*) I’d suggest Men Of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones. Also, Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked is probably one of the most bqalanced takes on Wertham, which actually analyzes not only what Wertham wrote about Batman but also what young gay men said about Batman as a gay icon at the time.

Read the article, D. I’m unimpressed. A lot of its argument seems to break down to “Well, Gaines’s stuff wasn’t any good,” but doesn’t seem relevant. Ten Cent Plague admits they were for kids–Men of Tomorrow (which I agree is good) argues much more strongly that comics were on the brink of breaking into the adult market when the ban hit.
And while I agree comics were often racist back then, that never had anything to do with the ban I’ve ever heard of–probably most of the people condemning them shared the same attitudes. That’s not meant to excuse the racism, only to point out it would hardly have been an issue.

The biggest flaw in Men of Tomorrow, though it doesn’t outweigh his virtues, is Jones’ tendency to make simplistic psychological analysis: Jack Kirby draws powerful angry images because he had a powerful anger and the like. But I still like the book.

@D — agree they picked San Francisco because it was recognizable, but that’s the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate. (View appears to be from Yerba Buena Island looking west toward downtown SF.) :-)

Fraser: That’s the crux of the argument: if it was for kids, then parents had the right to know just how violent, racist, and misogynistic some of the comics were.

Menand’s argument is more complicated than “the EC stuff wasn’t any good.” His argument is that people defend a lot of the stuff as having deeper meaning and being intentionally subversive, and that this is what got them in trouble. He makes the case that it was because they were violent and crude.

As well, the article makes it clear that Wertham was very much opposed to racism, and that he was concerned with the way comics relied on stereotypes, often viciouisly. (Interestingly, he also wrote about the unrealstic proportions of the female characters, long before Rob Liefeld was born). He was not the conservative witch hunter Hadju and others portray him as.

John Baker: In the panel with the invisible jet, it would have to be the Golden Gate Bridge that she’s flying over, because the Bay Bridge is visible in the distance on the left.

The split-screen panels are both definitely the Bay Bridge (too many towers to be the Golden Gate, and it goes right to downtown SF).

The “Suffering Sappho” one is a little more complicated. It’s definitely colored as if it’s supposed to be the Golden Gate, but the SF skyline is much more appropriate to the Bay Bridge. I’m gonna have to go for Bay Bridge on that one.

I’d say as with a lot of historical figures, there’s at least as much proof to show Wertham as witch-hunter as much as force for enlightenment.
And a lot of got what the publishers in trouble wasn’t the violence per se but the usual assumption that reading violent comics led directly to violence, juvenile delinquency and crime (a theory Wertham reportedly embraced). Plus Wertham asserted reading comics would rot kids’ minds so that they couldn’t appreciate good writing (it’s been a long time since I read Seduction of the Innocent but that section is clear in my mind).
Ten Cent Plague also covers a lot besides Wertham–it doesn’t treat him as the alpha and omega of comics censorship.

Being a natural Spanish speaker, I have to say “Hola” only means “Hello”. I don’t know where Wonder Woman got the idea that it might mean more than one thing, specially one of them being “luck”. Unless she’s confusing it with the Hawaiian word “Aloha”, which does mean several things, none of wich are “luck”, by the way.

Also, gotta love how easily Wonder Woman closes her eyes at the request of a stranger who clearly knows much more than he should.

Fraser: Wertham opened and ran a free mental health clinic in Harlem. He never wanted to censor comics but prevent children from reading the crime and horror ones (which were, let’s face it, pretty damn violent).

In any case, he also testified on the psychological effects of segregation for Brown Vs. The Board Of Education. In balance, he was a much larger force for good than evil.

Michelinie relates “Then Salicrup left the Spider-Man titles and Danny Fingeroth came back to them. He’s the one who came up with the idea of bringing back Peter’s parents. I felt a little like I was writing his stories instead of mine. The whole parent thing was difficult because he couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me where it was going: he wouldn’t even tell me if they were really his parents or not. I didn’t know if they were aliens, robots or clones! Neither did Danny. He just hadn’t figured it out. ”

And that explains one of the worst-written eras in Spider-history
(ewww — the art was pretty abysmal in that era, too!)
and also explains what’s CURRENTLY wrong with DC and Marvel.

That points actually been made–he was very aware of the effects of the environment and poverty on people’s lives but when it came to comics he sort of switched off anything but comics leading to depravity.
I know the guy did a lot of good works. That’s not unusual–a lot of people in the 19th and early 20th century who worked to censor Bad Books saw it as in line with cleaning up slums, educating people, helping the poor get decent nutrition–a way to improve the environment by cleaning up the Bad Stuff. Wertham seems to have followed in that tradition (even without censorship) but he was still off-base.

@D: San Francisco’s reputation as a “gay mecca” was solidified in the 1970s, but it had begun before then; a lot of gay servicemen who had been discharged were processed out of the service in San Francisco, and they settled there. The city didn’t necessarily have the popular identity as a gay center that it does now, but it did have, for want of a better word, the reputation. That said, I agree it would be a stretch at all to think of the WW story as a riposte to Wertheim.

@Jack Earlywine: The art in those Spider-man pages is pretty bad. I’ve never understood the appeal of Mark Bagley; his rendering usually looks awkward to me (e.g. the first panel in the first scan, where the doorframe is canted but Peter and MJ aren’t; or his characters’ ankles, which rival Liefeld in their narrowness).

Then there was Strenuous Teddy, from _The Kin-Der-Kids_ of 1906. Not only was he shown lifting enormous weights, but also casually performing such typical strong-man stunts as breaking a chain around his bicep.

Popeye appeared in the _Thimble Theater_ comic strip in 1929, but didn’t perform any feats of overtly superhuman strength for a few years.

I could read those “Hugo Hercules” comics for days. Why isn’t he still a thing?

Regardless of any wider Seduction of the Innocent/Wertham issues, I can’t see any real evidence that Robert Kanigher was referring to WW and lesbianism in that #63 story.
So WW is transported to San Fran. Other than it’s 3,000 miles away to drive home the plot point, the city has no other significance in the story, gay connotations or no gay connotations.
I mean Kanigher could have put in some sly dig via the alien race (“Hey we’re the Homorons!”), or the Prof’s name, or the book’s name. Because he didn’t I’m concluding there’s no subliminal message. Unless I’ve missed something else from the story?
I know Brian that you say “That isn’t to say that the Wonder Woman #63 story WASN’T a reference to Wonder Woman and lesbianism.” But until someone can demonstrate better evidence to the contrary (apart from “she’s in SF”) I say it WASN’T a reference.

@T.

What on Earth is wrong with Michelinie’s pre-roboparents stories?

@Brian Cronin

I fail to see how telling us that the spider that bit Peter was a mystical one and was trying to pass its powers to someone before dying is sillier than robotic clones.

Wait, that came out wrong. I meant to say that I fail to see how the mystical spider is LESS silly than the robotic parents.

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