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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.
COMIC LEGEND: The Metal Men were created over a weekend.
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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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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COMIC LEGEND: Jackson Guice paid tribute to his fellow DC creators in the first issue of the post-Crisis Flash series.
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…
Thanks for the head’s up, Jacob!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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