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Comic Book Legends Revealed #393

Welcome to the three hundredth and ninety-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, it is a rare DOUBLE theme week! First off, this week will be the first of two weeks celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Death of Superman with a legend relating to Superman and Doomsday. Plus, all three legends this week involve comics and mental health! Did DC Comics change Doomsday’s origins after protests from mental health organizations? Did Zartan’s G.I. Joe profile card change after protests from mental health organizations? And was there a Blondie comic book made specifically for a mental health group?

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

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: DC changed Doomsday’s origins after protests from mental health organizations.


I often speak in this column about the power of the game of “telephone,” where people mishear/misread something and then pass that misheard/misread story along and it eventually gets warped from its original intent into a whole other story.

In the case of Doomsday and Superman editor Mike Carlin, it came down to the word “like” being dropped.

In the weeks leading up to the introduction of Doomsday, the alien monster who killed Superman in the Death of Superman, Doomsday’s reveal was handled the same way that Walter Simonson slowly revealed the villainy of Surtur during his run on Thor (Simonson’s wife, Louise, was one of the four main Superman writers at the time). We first just heard noises coming from an underground bunker and we eventually saw a fist punching the wall…

This repeated a few times until Doomsday was free!

Once loose, Doomsday was just a rampaging monster, laughing as he/it caused destruction…

Superman stopped it, but at the cost of his own life.

As you all recall, this was a really big news story back in 1992. When asked to describe Doomsday, Superman editor Mike Carlin described Doomsday as being “LIKE an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum.”

Well, that line was picked up a LOT, only the “like” was dropped and instead it was that Doomsday WAS an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum. Many articles and editorials were written about how offensive DC was being by portraying a mentally ill alien in such a fashion.

The protests seemed to originate from Rhode Island, where Daniel J. McCarthy, one of two Division of Mental Health administrators for Rhode Island was quoted at the time as saying, “This is stereotyping at its worst, pitting the ultimate evil against the ultimate good – and promising to make life difficult for the mentally ill into the next generation.”

A spokesperson for another Rhode Island group, the Coalition of Consumer Self Advocates in Rhode Island, quipped, “If someone who is ill is going to kill Superman, how about an escapee from a cosmic cancer ward?”

So when the whole “intergalactic insane asylum” thing did not end up being part of Doomsday’s origin, the story was changed now to “DC CHANGED Doomsday’s origin in response to the protests.”

Carlin assured me that nothing was changed, and I believe him, not just because I trust him, but just because of how comics work. The publicity behind the Death of Superman happened after the issues were already written and it was clear Doomsday’s origins were not going to be explored in the comic. For the sake of the storyline, he was just a monster. it was clear nothing was actually changed in the story.

Dan Jurgens eventually came up with an origin for Doomsday a couple of years later, and no asylum was used.

Thanks a lot to Mike Carlin for the information!

Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!

Did Elvis’ First On-Screen Kiss Really Later Become a Nun?

Did the Founder of the Modern Olympics Also Happen to Win the First Olympic Gold Medal for Literature?

Did Frances McDormand Really Almost Miss Out On Her Big Break to Watch a Soap Opera?

COMIC LEGEND: Hasbro changed Zartan’s profile after complaints from mental health organizations.


This is a bit tricky as far as counting it as a “comic book” legend, but the way I see it, the profiles for all of the G.I. Joe characters were written by Larry Hama, the writer for the comic book series, so I say it counts.

Story continues below

Anyhow, unlike the above case involving Doomsday, mental health groups actually DID lead to a change in the original description of the G.I. Joe character Zartan.

Here is his original profile…

Comic books have long had a history of not exactly getting “schizophrenia” correct. For instance, for years Two-Face was described as a schizophrenic, while obviously he is not. So after some protests, Hasbro had the above profile edited in later editions of the figure to remove the mention of his mental issues period.

Thanks to yojoe.com (and Corey Stinson in particular) for the scan of the unedited card!

Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed! All Hill Street Blues legends!

Were Renko and Hill Originally Meant to Die in the First Episode of Hill Street Blues?

Was an Episode of Hill Street Blues Re-Shot to Bring Officer Joe Coffey Back to Life?

Did An Impostor Accept Betty Thomas’ Emmy For Her?

COMIC LEGEND: A special Blondie comic book was produced for a New York mental health group.


While the idea seems practically obvious now, when Newton Bigelow decided to begin using Blondie comics in his therapy in the 1950s, it was seen as a radical idea. Comic books, as you might recall, were coming under fire from people arguing that they were a negative influence. In addition, when it came to therapy, they were seen as being “just for kids,” so they were not taken seriously as a therapeutic tool.

Bigelow, though, who also innovated the use of group therapy to treat patients, felt that they got across issues in such a fashion that other forms just couldn’t do.

Initially, he used strips from Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie as examples of family interactions with his patients. He put together a calendar with examples of the strip and gave them out to patients. Later, when he became the head of New York’s Department of Mental Hygiene, he actually commissioned a special Blondie comic book just for this purpose!

Fascinating, no?

Major props to Bigelow (and other mental health experts of the time who bucked the anti-comics trend, including the Mental Health Association) for seeing the power of comic books to teach people of ALL ages.

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? 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.

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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!


“Many articles and editorials were written about how offensive DC was being by portraying a mentally ill alien in such a fashion.” – Yes, I’m sure aliens throughout the universe were very upset and concerned over this fictional characters portrayal. Geeze, some media people have too much time on their hands…

Seems kind of funny that Larry Hama wrote that Zartan filecard, yet never portrayed him that way in the comic. Zartan often seemed like the sanest guy in Cobra. When Josh Blaylock did write him as crazy and often forgetting who he was during the Devil’s Due run, it stood out like a sore thumb and felt wrong. It never actually occurred to me he was writing him closer to his description on the Hama-penned filecard than Hama himself did!

These legends are crazy.

Those Blondie strips really are fascinating. They need to give those out in schools and as part of premarital counseling.

This column is not only entertaining but educational as well.

For example, who knew that “BLORCH!” is the sound you make when you crush a bird in your hand?

Interesting mix, even given the common theme.

I heard of another special Blondie mental hygiene comic book that I saw the cover of it in a 1963 Mad magazine story (By Wally Wood) about other comic book pamphlets.

@Bill,,,because mental illness is such a trivial thing? There is a boatload of misunderstanding about mental illness in our society so the fact that someone might talk to an example of that misunderstanding seems like an appropriate and even honorable thing to do.

…that a little bird would land on ANYBODY’s hand, much less a huge hulking stone-like creature like Doomsday…. I mean, I’ll believe a man can fly, but seriously comic books, come ON (but then again, maybe Doomsday smells like corn?)

Charles J. Baserap

November 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

Funny thing is it’s only gotten worse over the years, as people seem to go out of their way to either try and be offended by any- and everything, or go and be offended on behalf of others who may or may not be offended in the first place!

Anyone remember the albino group that protested the second Matrix movie, not because it was bad, but because they felt the two characters with dreads were unfairly stereotyping people with pigmentation deficiencies? Or the mental health groups protesting the XFL team name of the Memphis Maniax?

Eventually, jokes in the future are going to be: “A man/woman/transgender walked/moved a wheelchair/utilized crutches into a building/open space and ordered a drink/some food. The end.”

Invasion of the PC Police!

Charles you are so sensitive! relax.

Charles J. Baserap

November 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

Shamus, lol. I know, right! :-)

I just always have to shake my head at the people who get all bent because someone said something completely innocent that suddenly becomes the worst thing imaginable. lol

Charles J. Baserap

November 16, 2012 at 11:56 am

And lest it be said that I’m making light of mental illness, as opposed to those who try and go out of their way to be offended, I’ve been VERY open about my own mental illness and have encouraged understanding of it myself: http://www.nerdtopiacast.com/2012/09/10/bipolar-express-how-comics-rails/

I’ve always liked that page with Doomsday and the tweety like bird. It shows the innocence of the bird and the evil of Doomsday. I call the page, “Doomsday gets the Boid”

Speaking as someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I’m quite capable of telling the difference between “this dangerous person is mentally ill” and “all mentally ill people are dangerous.” I dearly wish privileged, guilty pseudo-liberals would learn that and stop rushing to a defense that I didn’t ask for, don’t want, and don’t need.

What people with mental illnesses were they targeting with the talking dogs? David Berkowitz?

Has anyone ever thought to complain that Batman’s entire rogue’s gallery suffers from mental disorders?

Charles J. Baserap

November 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm

@MIchael P: THANK YOU. That’s exactly my feelings on so many people these days when it comes to things like this.

In any case, the Doomsday pages take me back to 8th grade and remembering the absolute hype around that storyline, it was insane. I even had a newspaper clipping on my wall. I’ve got the armband somewhere from Superman #75.

Has anyone ever thought to complain that Batman’s entire rogue’s gallery suffers from mental disorders?

Yes, actually. Awhile back a mental health group was in the news with their complaints over the depiction of mental illness in comics, Batman villains in particular.

Actually, Black Cesar, if that bird had lived he would have enslaved the whole human race. Doomsday really did us a favour there.

But seriously: I can’t source this right now, but I recall reading at the time that one of the mental health professionals who had complained was given an advance look at the rest of the Doomsday story and withdrew his complaints. Anyone else remember this?

Yeah, Matthew, there were definitely a few “don’t worry, the story is actually not offensive” stories after the fact (much fewer of them, of course), but those follow up stories led to the legend that DC changed the story because of the protests instead of “Oops, there was nothing wrong with the story to begin with.”

MAD Magazine did a parody of these educational comics (like the BLONDIE one) sometime in the 60s, that I read when it was re-printed in a paperback (I think Wally Wood was the artist). They featured a number of reproductions of covers of the actual comics as a header, and I think one of them was a Walt Kelly Pogo comic on family planning!

The albino objections aren’t as unreasonable as they sound (I’ll make the caveat here that I don’t remember the Matrix villains, specificially). When albinos show up, they’re almost always murderous (Tobias Whale, the albino in the movie Foul Play to name two). Nor does anyone consider that real albinos are legally blind (as I understand it) so their ability to be fiendish killers is limited).

I think there was an albino assassin on Babylon 5 as well. And come to think of it, a Star Trek DS9 villain who I believe was only described as “The Albino.”

Years (10?) after the Doomsday story, Dan Jurgens did an anniversary story called “Day of Doom” in which at one point the protagonist (a reporter) calls Superman out on his attitudes toward the mentally ill for referring to some the villain “a diseased maniac”. I’m pretty sure that’s what he said – also referencing what Superman calls Lex Luthor in the first Christopher Reeve movie. Do you think that is connected to the story behind this legend?

Charles J. Baserap

November 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Here’s the thing with the “albinos” in the Matrix, though: They WEREN’T albinos. They were GHOSTS, or as close an analog as the Matrix allows. They were twins and weren’t supposed to be albinos at all. They were in all white and made to look undead. They were white with white dusty hair, and dressed in all white for that reason alone. The albino groups MISINTERPRETED them as supposed to be albinos and missed the whole turning intangible undead ninja assassin angle that WAS the intention, that’s what was completely unreasonable. lol

Ah, got it

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

November 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm

And of course there’s the fact that in certain parts of Africa albinos are actually hunted and killed. Because apparently they’re magical. But like “Charles” and “Michael” there pointed out, only pseudo-liberals (whatever those are) care, so keep on mocking them.

(Seriously, I’m well aware that comic fans tend to be a bit on the right-wing side of the world view spectrum, but this is just absurd. It’s okay to mock and demonize a group that’s persecuted even in real lfe, and if someone complains they are “pseudo-liberals” or whatever? Grow up, people.)

I saw a reference to the Blondie book in a MAD reprint magazine back in the early ’80s (I think). I had no idea it was real. By the way, the idea of having Dagwood beat the rug to ‘get it out of his system’ is discouraged nowadays. The current theory is that this sort of thing causes a positive feedback and leads to higher levels of aggression.

It is true that albinos tend to suffer from vision problems, but I don’t think most of them actually qualify as legally blind.

Wasn’t the henchman in the Davinci Code albino and mentally I’ll?

Hello. Do you like pillows? I do. Where I live they don’t let me have anything hard.

I just remembered today that it’s almost the 20th anniversary of the Death of Superman (11/18!), so that means I’ve been going to my LCS for 20 years now! Oy, I’m old.

Dagwood’s anger at his family and his job is his suppressed rage at having given up his swanky aristocratic beginnings in order to settle down with Blondie and live in the suburbs and work in an office. Rage, rage, grey flannel suit man!!!

I’ve nothing against albinos or mentally ill people, it’s all the goddamn mutants around that tick me off!

Unfortunately it’s all too common to have villains ugly, disfigured or unpleasantly different looking in some way. It helps us in demonizing them so we can feel better than them, and makes the hero look better in comparison. Bad lion in Lion King? Scar. Caliban in Shakespeare? Disfigured and dark skinned. Luthor? Bald. JokerPenguinKillerCrocClayface? Hideous freaks all. There are no nice people in comics who look like Two-Face.

For Death of Superman, I always thought it was a shame that they created such a one-note new character to kill Superman. It would have been much more interesting if they finally gave the win to Lex Luthor after his decades of trying. He could have been on the run all through Supe’s death with a manhunt getting closer all the time until S’s return and a dropped murder charge. It would be fun for Lex to be able to say he killed him once! “yeah but it didn’t stick.”

From now on only completely sane, mass murderers,

“I’ve got this idea for a new Batman foe. A dangerous killer, or maybe just a criminal in some other way, but is willing to kill at the drop of a hat, because he needs to be dangerous, and he uses some weird gimmick…… But don’t worry, he’s completely sane and well adjusted”

I remember the media storm surrounding the Death of Superman, but I have no memory of the “mental illness” protest. Interesting.

@Michael P: Yes! That’s exactly what bothers me about all of these “I’m offended!” people. They’re the ones doing the ridiculous generalization and try to blame it on someone else. Bunch of hypocrites.

Mary, one of the most interesting bits of the original Omac comic is when they show Buddy’s office has a set of rooms downstairs where you can stab mannikins or set them on fire to relieve your stress (or lock yourself in for a good cry). This kind of idea was actually tossed around back then–though as you say, it’s no longer considered a good solution to workplace stress.

Weirdest thing with Zartan is Hama really never even gave him an origin in the Marvel series. The sword smith aspect always seemed out of place. His full Origin in the later Dreadnoks Classified series was complicated to the point of absurdity.

Walt Simonson said he gave Beta Ray Bill a horse face to counteract the stereotypical good and evil portrayals.

And speaking personally as someone who works with the mentally ill, has loved ones with mental illness, as well as my own mental illness, I find that most people can’t tell the difference between “this dangerous person is mentally ill” and “all mentally ill people are dangerous”. And pop cultural portrayals are a large part of that misconception.

Hi Brian. You refer to Dagwood’s psychiatric proponent as “Nelson” Bigelow whilst on the 1950 Blondie comic book page immediately following he is identified as Newton Bigelow, MD.
It is admiitedly a minor gaffe but for years I have admired your attention to detail. I am actually surprised nobody else has mentioned it yet.

Thanks, it is fixed!


Unfortunately it’s all too common to have villains ugly, disfigured or unpleasantly different looking in some way. It helps us in demonizing them so we can feel better than them, and makes the hero look better in comparison. Bad lion in Lion King? Scar. Caliban in Shakespeare? Disfigured and dark skinned. Luthor? Bald. JokerPenguinKillerCrocClayface? Hideous freaks all. There are no nice people in comics who look like Two-Face.

That’s a good point. Offhand I’ve got:
Beta Ray Bill (barely counts because he’s an alien – but he is a really ugly one)
Orion (of The New Gods) – in the original comics was really ugly in his natural form, but could change to not be. I haven’t seen that used since though.

I have always said it … if there is a person with their hair up their @$$ for some stupid reason … they have to be from Rhode Island … worst state in the nation.

That Blondie comic was sublime. I don’t know why, but it made me feel better and I wasn’t even feeling BAD.

Every bit as problematic as the depiction of the mentally ill in the Batman comics is the depiction of mental health professionals – Amadeus and Jeremiah Arkham*, Harleen Quinzell, and Jonathan Crane, all go insane themselves (or are unhinged to begin with), Alyce Sinner is unrepentingly evil, and pretty much every other mental health professional shown in the books who isn’t a generic walk-on is born to die.

* Author’s saving throw of the mask being a possessing entity notwithstanding. Also he still comes across as a little sinister.

I don’t think that’s as problematic, though, as mental health professionals don’t face the kind of discrimination and stereotyping mentally ill people do.

Not the same kind, no, but being treated as coddling criminals or enabling bad behaviours by saying the person is say, depressed, not just shirking is a very real meme – it makes life hard for both MHPs and the mentally ill.

Calling Luthor hideously deformed because he’s bald is more than a little bit of a stretch, Ganky. In fact Lex is pretty consistently portrayed as handsome and suave.

Bats saving grace is that he’s hardly less crazy then his rogues gallery… sane people don’t deal with their grief by dressing up as a giant bat and beating up people.

I think it was Alan Brennert who said that in a super-hero universe, dressing like a giant bat to fight crime because your parents were murdered is no weirder than founding MADD because your daughter was killed by a drunk driver.

@cool arrow: I did.*

Getting upset over an offhand comment about a character in the same universe as Arkham Asylum just seems like piggybacking on publicity. The Joker must be giving someone fits.

And I think I had that original Zartan card. I remember the addendum. Back before he was yet another jealous ninja. (Who knew ninjas could be so catty?)

(*Is three weeks too past the expiration date for this joke?)

This is a fascinating discussion, and I wish it would continue somewhere. I especially wish it would continue into the world of comics writing. In my life I have had friends and family with mental illness, but for these purposes I’ll only mention two, both of whom were bipolar. One I had to work hard to get others to accept and understand that he is a good person and that that condition doesn’t require rejecting him or thinking of him as “scary” or “evil” (as comics too often do), and this happened heartbreakingly often. The other person is truly scary and evil. She has beaten the shit out of people, like her boyfriend, and threatened to murder a friend and myself as well at different points. Yet in her case, people kept giving her chances saying that “Oh, she’s just bipolar,” as if that excuses unrepentant and evil behavior. Thankfully, after too many terrible and terrifying incidents, she appears to have carried her behavior out of that sphere and into another.

Mental illness does not define people. Mental illness has no defining qualities on individual’s personality or “soul.” Mental illness has no defining virtues in and of itself on what we like to view as “good” or “evil” (especially in comics).

Of the two bipolar people aforementioned, the first is now dead at too young an age because most people assumed he was dangerous and stupid and not worth their while. He sure as hell was. The second is ties for the most evil, destructive and dangerous person I have ever met. The fact that both were bipolar indicates absolutely nothing about the goodness in either of their hearts or their actions.

This topic needs to be extended, and in all media, the pervasive issue of mental illness really needs to be fleshed out both intelligently and with professional research in order to help educate the many, I’d say majority, of people who essentially depend on mass media to define how they view mental illness in daily life.

Sure, but it isn’t the job of superhero adventure comix to educate anyone.
Nor to coddle the most easily-offended (as was mentioned, usually on someone else’s behalf) among us.

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