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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #388

Welcome to the three hundredth and eighty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the story of how the Metal Men were created! Plus, who came first, Buster Keaton or Buster Brown? Finally, be amazed at some easter eggs Jackson Guice put into Flash #1!

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The Metal Men were created over a weekend.

STATUS: True

There’s an interesting sidebar to the tale of how the Metal Men were created that I still do not know, although I’ve seen some fascinating guesses over the years. That sidebar is – what was going to be the original feature in Showcase #37?

One theory I’vs seen mentioned a few times by different people is that Showcase #37 was going to be a Legion of Super-Heroes story, but Legion editor Mort Wiesinger put the kibosh on the usage of his characters. Anyone know anything to support that theory?

Whatever the issue was going to be initially, the important thing to note is that soon before Showcase #37 was due to be printed, the story for that issue became unavailable for some reason.

Thus, according to Jack Harris in Amazing World of DC Comics #10, Robert Kanigher was asked to quickly come up with a replacement feature and over a weekend, Kanigher not only came up with the idea for the Metal Men but by Monday he had the first issue scripted (you might recall a previous Comic Book Legend about Kanigher coming up with a story on the fly to match with a mistake on the cover of a comic book. If not, check it out here). Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, who were working with Kanigher on Wonder Woman at the time, quickly drew the issue and the Metal Men made their debut in Showcase #37…

There must have been seventeen “She’s just like a woman!” jokes in this story. I’d like to think that the speed of the script explains that…

Interestingly enough, there are major hints in the story that Kanigher only considered the issue to be a one-off story when he first wrote it. Most notably, the fact that ALL of the Metal Men “die” in the issue, one by one, while defeating a mutated manta ray…

However, Kanighher likely reconsidered when the issue was completed, as the Metal Men appeared in the next three issues and soon got their own title.
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Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!

Did W.C. Fields Insult Philadelphia On His Gravestone?

How Did Will Rogers First Become Famous?
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COMIC LEGEND: Buster Brown was named independently of Buster Keaton.

STATUS: I’m Going With False

This is a rare double negative legend, where I’m saying false to someone saying something is false. Here is reader Arthur on the subject of Buster Brown and Buster Keaton…

Allegedly, Richard Felton Outcault 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.

Buster Brown made his debut in 1902…

Two years later, Outcault made the famous deal with the Brown Shoe company that would soon lead to Buster Brown shoes, which still exist to this day (as do Mary Janes, also named after a character from the Buster Brown comic strip).

Outcault has said that he based Buster Brown (and his friend Mary Jane) on his two children. I believe that. That’s very reasonable.

However, I also believe that it seems extremely likely that the “Buster” nickname was, in fact, derived from Buster Keaton.

Buster Keaton debuted as a young boy as part of his family’s vaudeville act in 1899…

While there have been much debate over who came up with the nickname “Buster” for Buster Keaton (I debunked the most famous story, that it was Harry Houdini who coined the nickname, here), there is no debate that he DID have the nickname for a few years before Outcault invented Buster Brown.

In addition, Buster Keaton WAS quite famous by the time Buster Brown debuted.

In addition, and this is an important distinction, while the term “buster” had been around for quite some time by the time Buster Keaton began using it, it was used more to describe someone who broke things. Thus, it was coined for Buster Keaton because of the Keaton physical comedy (Joe Keaton would often literally throw little Buster).

In other words, it was NOT a common nickname for little kids at the time. It was only AFTER Buster Keaton’s success that it became a common nickname (Buster Crabbe, for instance, was not born until 1908).

So even if Outcault did not specifically mean to adopt Buster Keaton’s nickname, the popularity of the nickname was such that even if he was doing it indirectly, he was still deriving the name from Keaton.

Marion Meade’s recent Keaton biography, Buster Keaton: Cut To The Chase, is more explicit in arguing that Buster Brown must have been influenced by Keaton’s comedy, but whether Outcault specifically took the character entirely from Keaton or not, it seems likely to me that the name was, in fact, inspired by Keaton.

Thanks to Arthur for the suggestion and thanks to Marion Meade for the neat Keaton biography. It is worth reading if you’re a Keaton fan at all.
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Check out some more Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!

Was Snakes on a Plane Re-Edited After a Parody Trailer For the Film Became Popular (including the famed “mothereffing snakes” line)?

Did Jack Benny Gain Both His First and Last Name Due to Separate Legal Issues?
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COMIC LEGEND: Jackson Guice paid tribute to his fellow DC creators in the first issue of the post-Crisis Flash series.

STATUS: True

Reader Jacob pointed this out to me. As you might recall, a little while back I showed John Byrne having an easter egg in an early issue of his Superman run by showing dialogue from a bunch of other DC Comics that came out that month.

Interestingly enough, the great Jackson Guice also had a similar tribute to his fellow DC creators in the first issue of the post-Crisis Flash series, starring Wally West.

It begins on the first page, with some graffiti pointing out that George Perez rules…

Next, we see an overturned truck by the Giordano truck company…

Next, we see the Byrne Memorial hospital…

With a doctor clearly patterned after John Byrne…

Next, Gold chocolates (the editor of the issue was Mike Gold)…

And finally, a bunch of names in the crossword puzzle, including a double dip of Dick Giordano…

Awesome stuff.

Thanks for the head’s up, Jacob!

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!

36 Comments

I think it extremely unlikely that the intended feature for Showcase #37 was the Legion of Super-Heroes or, if it was, that anybody other than Weisinger would’ve edited it. There was pretty much no exchanges of characters between the various editorial fiefdoms at the time (with the notable exception of the Justice League title) and no one would’ve had the balls to encroach on Unca Mort’s territory.

Showcase, though, seemed to be a title where where the editor would change for each story. For instance, Kanigher edited his four Metal Men issues, Schwartz edited the issues before that and Murray Boltinoff edited the next four issues. So Weisinger could have edited the Legion issue. But yes, his possessiveness would be a big part of the theory as to why it fell through. He would have edited the issue, but he just did not want to share the characters period with a book outside of his fiefdom. It is an interesting mystery I’d love to solve someday.

Little Buster is actually smiling in the second picture.

Strange.

The guy doing the crossword puzzle is doing a lousy job! “JoeKubert” doesn’t fill the entire row. And the column with Oneila still has two more unfilled squares, followed by a filled square with a U in it!

i love panels in comics where characters stand around and exposit who they are and what they can do. it’s so ludicrously out of whack.

Did Weisinger edit Showcase #9 and 10, the Lois Lane tryouts?

Love that first Flash comic. Underrated run IMO. Funnily enough, that issue was kind of/sort of adapted (or at least ‘paid homage to’) in a season 1 Young Justice episode!

Oh Platinum. One of my childhood crushes.

Given that all the Metal Men are emotional, it’s telling that Doc fixates on Tina as the one Not Acting Like A Robot. Probably reflects that he was uncomfortable about being attracted to her (it’s very obvious over the course of the series he has stronger feelings for her than he admits).
Is Harris the only validation for the story being true, though? I remember reading much later an article on the Metal Men (don’t remember where, alas) in which a staffer from the time asserted it was Kanigher’s regularly scheduled turn to put a story in Showcase and the legend was wrong. I have no reason to assume that version is more accurate than Harris, but I thought I should mention it.

Showcase 36 featured The Atom. In April ’62, Atom No. 1 was released. My guess is this was supposed to be Showcase 27 and possibly the next three issues.

Sorry, I meant Showcase 37.

Early Showcase, and for a while, The Brave and The Bold, each had rotating editors, and each editor brought their own character. Weisinger participated in the rotations, at least at first.

I believe Irwin Donenfeld simply forgot to assign issue #37 to an editor, and didn’t realize until the last minute. So he dumped the job in Kanigher’s lap.

I don’t think it’s any big deal that Kanigher created the Metal Men over the course of a weekend. It reads like it was created in about the time it takes to read it — fifteen minutes — which is to say, it’s pretty shallow stuff but takes twice as long to read as a Brian Bendis comic.

One has to wonder why Doc Magnus bothered building Tina at all, if he thought she was going to be useless.

I never realized until now- Jackson Guice drew both the early issues of X-Factor and the early issues of Flash- both received heavy criticism for the way the main male character treated his women.

His friend’s name was Mary Jane? That’s cool. So is mine.

@SimonMoon5 “The guy doing the crossword puzzle is doing a lousy job! “JoeKubert” doesn’t fill the entire row. And the column with Oneila still has two more unfilled squares, followed by a filled square with a U in it!”

Sorry to take these Comments a bit off-topic but, along those lines, I just read Mark Millar’s ULTIMATE AVENGERS v2, which features Satan doing a crossword of “clues” as to how Ghost Rider will kill various corrupt business types and politicos — and NONE of the vertical lines spell anything found in the English dictionary. Really poor, really lazy.

Or maybe crossword’s just aren’t Satan’s forte?

Eric, Tina was the first of the robots, but she was intended purely as a demonstration his responsometer-technology (the robots’ AI component) would work. After General Caspar shows up, he creates the rest of the team for actual combat. Then, of course, Tina deals herself in.
Tuomas, I think Satan’s much more a sudoku type.

One interesting thing I hadn’t realized before looking at these sales figures is how big a hit Metal Men was. For several years, it looks like Metal Men was DC’s biggest seller among comics that didn’t have Superman and/or Batman in them.

http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales/1960s/1964.html

the Atom #1 contents theory is a good one, but the Atom had run it’s three issue trial by #36. My memory was that most series early in the run got three issues, but looking at the cover gallery at the GCD indicates that it was a real mish-mash. There doesn’t even appear to have been a consistent rotation of editors’ responsibility for content. Some series got three issues, some got two, then a break, then two more. Flash’s famous four issues are broken up to 4, 8 and then 13 and 14 back to back. However, Aquaman got 4. then he was followed by Atom with 3, then Metal Men with 4. Tommy Tomorrow also got four, but appeared to have had scheduling problems, as his run in broken twice with reprints (Sgt. Rock and Dr. No, which was a Classics Illustrated from the UK, I believe). Notably, Tommy Tomorrow is the one series from this time period that did not get its own series (which, combined with sales, if the creators could not meet deadlines on a bimonthly book, would be reason to not go to series).

Searching the GCD for cover dates, the series who jumped from Showcase to series pretty uniformly had about a 6 month gap between their last Showcase appearance and their first appearance in their own book (solo series or cover feature like Adam Strange in Mystery in Space). This is also true of The Atom feature. Add to that the fact that the Atom book had no gap between the first and second issue, which might be expected if an issue was shifted from being for Showcase (where there would then be a 6 month gap before the next issue was published).

I find it easier to believe that with the shifting editorial duties (and the shifting schedule of how many issues in a row a concept would get), the ball was dropped somehow. Donenfeld may have expected The Atom to get 4 issues, like Aquaman had, and then realized that there wasn’t a fourth issue prepared. What is really interesting about this myth is that they asked for a new feature that quickly instead of scheduling a reprint like they did just a short while later between issues of Tommy Tomorrow.

It is very easy for our super-hero centric vision of comics to keep us from realizing how popular other books were. The Standard Guide lists publication numbers where known, and books like Sea Devils and Rip Hunter regularly sold hundreds of thousands of copies of each issue, which was enough to keep them published, but not enough to bump them up from bimonthly status. But then again, DC published many of its most popular books only 8 times a year for decades – based on sales figures that indicated that sales dropped off at certain times of the year.

I would argue that while we’ve pushed the Metal Men into a superhero mode, they were always more of science-fiction book – more like Adam Strange and Space Ranger than The Flash and Green Lantern. it’s no coincidence that the Metal Men book was cancelled due to falling sales about the same time as the other SF based heroes.

I don’t want to push my Atom theory too hard, but DC would have motivation to rush a new title onto the stands in 1962 due to increased competition from Marvel.

Jim, I don’t know about that–a lot of super-hero books went down at the end of the 1970s too–Creeper canceled, Atom and Hawkman combining, Wonder Woman getting depowered. It was a bad time all round. I’ve heard it argued that Warner Brothers having bought DC when Batmania was in full spring promptly started gutting books to save money when the bubble burst, but I don’t know if that’s a proven fact or rank speculation.

Fraser, Warner never bought DC. Both were purchased by a parking lot conglomerate in the late ’60s and merged into one entertainment division.

To address Jim’s greater point about our tendency to have superhero-centric looks at comics over the years, when I first started reading about comics about 20 years ago, the books I read gave me the impression that in the ’50s, the Comics Code was aimed more at superhero books, with Wertham quotes about Wonder Woman and Batman and Robin, and even Phantom Lady’s headlights, but in more recent years, I’ve come to realize that it was the EC horror and the Crime Does Not Pay type comics that were really the stuff that was aimed at (and possibly should have been aimed at — injury to the eye motif, anyone?). Maybe I was just dumb when I read the books back then, but overall the histories I read tended to focus on the rise and fall and rise of superheroes — especially the DC “trinity” and the Marvel U.

A PARKING LOT conglomerate bought Warner and DC? That I’d never heard. Huh.

@Travis: I’m sure Brian covered it in, or as part of, a “Legends”.
@ Ted Craig and others: Concerning the Atom theory and Marvel’s competition- I don’t know how the dates precisely go, but Ant-Man (or at least the “Man In the Ant Hill” story) had appeared. Hence a possible rush by DC to get a new ‘shrunken’ character in the market in his own title first. I know “Man In the Ant Hill” was early 62-ish.

The creation of the Atom as the “next” revamped Golden Age hero is recounted here: http://books.google.com/books?id=rFm0hok1c8sC&pg=PA95&lpg=PA95&dq=jerry+bails+campaign+atom&source=bl&ots=vna6iu_lhF&sig=l0L0waVroOG9uM5QB_b7ZFkDB1w&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YaJ-UPHvDcf62AXt_oGIAg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=jerry%20bails%20campaign%20atom&f=false

Jerry Bails had started a campaign to make the Atom the next Julius Schwartz update. The letter was dated 1960. Showcase 34 was published Sep/Oct 61. The first issue of the Atom’s solo series was June/July 62, after the typical 6 month wait of the original 3 issue Showcase run to confirm sales figures.

Tales to Astonish 27 was January 1962, and the story of the “Man in the Ant Hill” was pretty clearly based on “The Incredible Shrinking Man” from 1957 (a huge hit at the time). There are numerous interviews with Stan Lee that indicate that this was just another monster book story until the sales figures came in. Sure enough, a little over 6 months later, in Sep. 1962, Ant-man begins as a feature in issue 35.

so the Atom was in Showcase almost exactly a year before Ant-man began as a superhero feature, and 3-4 months before “The Man in the Ant Hill,” which was not intended as the start of any sort of continuing series.

it is actually common for competing companies to develop similar concepts at the same time out of the zeitgeist. Deep Impact and Armageddon is the common movie example given, but in comics we have The Doom Patrol and The X-men coming out at nearly the same time with very similar premises and approaches. it just happens. Add to that the fact that Doll-man was one of the longest lasting Quality heroes of the Golden Age (12 years of his solo book, up to 1953), and it’s no coincidence that both Marvel and DC would be willing to try “shrinking” heroes.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher

October 20, 2012 at 7:11 am

Jim, sorry if I see to be bashing on you, but you have hit on a particular pet peeve of mine, the insistence by fans that the Doom Patrol and the X-Men are “very similar” (often–though not in your case–with a broad hint that one company MUST have somehow stolen the idea from the other).

Oh, I definitely agree that the Doom Patrol is very similar to a team of Marvel super-heroes. But which team? Well, let us look at the line-up of the Doom Patrol. There are four people in the team. One is an all-purpose super genius. One is a big orange guy who is super strong, and who alternates between anger and depression over the fact that he is no longer human. One is a guy who flies around while appearing to be a striped outline surrounded by a glow. And the other is a woman–well, that is a weak finish, so I shall rephrase that as, the other has the power to stretch.

Now, what Marvel team does that resemble? Obviously, the X-Men, because the leader is in a wheelchair.

The persistence of this belief is a classic case of people being unable to see a forest because they keep focussing entirely on one particular tree.

Disagree Roy. It’s not just that the Chief and Professor X are in a wheelchair, it’s that both teams represent freak/mutant outcasts, people who make normals shun them (though I think the DP did it better–it’s a personal favorite of mine). For all Ben’s misery in his condition, the FF remained celebrities–I can’t imagine the public queuing up around the block to buy a new issue of the Xmen or the DP back in the day (as we saw them doing with the MU’s version of the comic).
Rita couldn’t stretch until some time after the DP was established: Originally she grew and shrank. Negative Man–well, if he was inspired by the Human Torch, the creators did a phenomenal job hiding it. It’s closer to “If Johnny Storm couldn’t turn off his flame so he killed anyone who touched him, and if he stayed on fire for sixty seconds he died”

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher

October 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Sorry, no. Going back to the first few issues, and ignoring everything that was added later, what distinguished the X-Men from other super-teams and super-heroes generally was: a) they were all mutants, who did not acquire their powers through accidents or in the laboratory, but were born with them, and b) their motivation was not revenge, or a general desire to fight crime or serve humanity; rather, they wanted to mae the world tolerant of mutants, which meant among other things thwarting the plans of evil mutants. They were also unusal in all being teen-agers, though the Legion of Super-Heroes preceded them in that. There is nothing of these concepts in the Doom Patrol.

The Doom Patrol was obviously an attempt by DC to imitate the Fantastic Four. The two series do feel distinct, but that comes down to the differences between Lee & Kirby and Drake & Premiani, rather than differences between the concepts (and I do not believe that you cannot see the visual resemblance between the Human Torch and Negative Man). However, their near simultaneous publication of X-Men and Doom Patrol, and the fact that each group was led by a man in a wheelchair, led to these two series being linked in the fannish mind, and from that point on people have striven to justify that linkage with elaborate analyses such as yours.

Roy, we will have to agree to disagree on that one.

I believe that I’ve read interviews with Drake where he’s talked about the coincidences of Doom Patrol and X-men being published so closely together, and how he’s had to discuss that for years when there was no influence.

i’m not going to argue about the FF/Doom Patrol comparison. Again, in interviews, Drake has stated that he intended the Doom Patrol to be a more adult series. They were given a failing SF book to try the series, and the book’s title was changed to Doom Patrol within about 6 issues/8 months. So again, that 6 month window for getting true sales reports comes up.

The first Doom Patrol issue of My Greatest Adventure came out the same month as FF #15 – FF had been monthly for about a year at that point. Since National had access to Marvel’s sales figures because of their connection to Independent News, it’s not out of line for National to be looking for something to compete with the sales success of the FF. But then again, remember that The Hulk was a sales failure for Marvel, so within the first few years, the “new” Marvel style of storytelling had not quite fully proven itself yet.

the point that I was making in my earlier post was that there is a trend in popular culture for very similar concepts to come out very close to one another without them being direct ripoffs or “inspired” by one another. Volcano/Dante’s Peak is another one from the movies. I simply invoked the Doom Patrol/X-men as being one of the better known comics examples. And I do believe that the small group of outcasts/freaks/mutants who save humanity even though humanity rejects them is a similar theme to both teams that sets them apart from other adventure teams of the day. While the Thing may have had outcast elements, the FF are shown to be celebrities very quickly in their series. While certain storylines may have had the public turn against them for a short while, once the series got going and away from the monster-of-the-month type of “old” Marvel story, the FF were definitely NOT outcasts, while most X-men or Doom Patrol stories put the rejection/fear/hatred of the general public right up front.

plus, DC had a popular Robotman feature from the 40’s/early 50’s that ran for about a decade in various books. In that respect, the Doom Patrol can be seen as taking an update of a Golden Age character and putting a new team around them. When you look at Rita’s general features and costume compared to Doll Girl (remember, Doll Man/Girl lasted a long, long time past most other superhero characters of the Golden Age), there’s an argument that she’s a revival too, except emphasizing growing rather than shrinking.

Influence is difficult to identify without clear statements by the creators. And even then, when they’re speaking decades after the fact, there’s no guarantee that they’re remembering the facts as opposed to what they themselves have read over the years.

Mind you, I’m not sure that DC owned Doll Man & Doll Girl at the time–or if they did, they wouldn’t reintroduce the Quality Comics heroes until the 1970s (except Plastic Man, who showed up a little earlier). But then, DC was continuing Quality’s war comics as early as 1957, just not the superhero stuff, so I dunno.

Jim, points well taken, particularly about writers not always being reliable about their own work. Even if they remember accurately, it’s sometimes tempting to brush up their history a little (this is true of pretty much anyone with a history worth mentioning).

I think there’s also a “Who Watches The Watchmen?” graffiti in that first issue of Flash.

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