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Comic Book Legends Revealed #419

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COMIC LEGEND: Brian K. Vaughan offered to reveal the secret identity of a character to the first person who discovered a crude joke in a Batman story he wrote.


Someone suggested this to me years ago but I don’t have their name in my notes. More recently, though, a reader named Jacob wrote to CBR’s head honcho Jonah Weiland about it and he passed it along to me and I thought, “Oh yeah, I meant to write something about this years ago.”

In any event, in 2000’s Batman: Gotham City Secret Files and Origins #1, Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin introduced a character called the Skeleton who was using the files on the Joker, Mr. Freeze and the Riddler (plus equipment based on theirs) to essentially BECOME each of the villains..



all as part of a mysterious vendetta against Bruce Wayne.


Obviously, the character has never been revealed since Vaughan moved on to other things.

However, in the collection of Vaughan’s DC superhero stories, False Faces, Vaughan made a challenge. He would reveal the identity of the Skeleton to

the first person who finds the obscenely juvenile punchline that I hid somewhere in the story

The punchline in question, of course, appear on the first page…


The same way that he used Boron, Argon and Fluorine to spell out “B-AR-F,” he also used Copper and Niton to spell….Cu and Nt.

You get it.

So the question now becomes, has Vaughan ever revealed the identity to anyone? Care to help us out, Brian?

Thanks to Jacob for reminding me to spotlight this one.


Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to hidden messages/jokes!

Jim Aparo used to hide hints in Brave and the Bold for who Batman would be teaming up in the next issue.

An issue of New Mutants had some profane dialogue “hidden” in translated demon dialogue.

Mike Sekowsky protested the quality of a comic he was drawing by sneaking a cuss word into the book.

Al Milgrom sneaked an insult of Bob Harras into the background of a comic book.

On the next page, did Marvel update the look for Spider-Man’s supporting cast when they reprinted Ditko comics in the 1980s?

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Oh, goodness….thanks for bringing up the now-13 year unresolved mystery of the Skeleton’s identity. Every so often, I stumble across my copy of that Secret Files and wonder why DC would introduce something like that and NEVER do anything with it. (I had a vague notion that he might be Lucius Fox because he said he knew Bruce Wayne, but other than that, no idea.)

Maybe if they ever do another Spider-Man/Batman crossover, the villains can be the Skeleton and F.A.C.A.D.E.

Niton is another name for Radon. Clever.

Ethan Shuster

May 17, 2013 at 10:33 am

With the New 52 and all that confusion, does that story even count anymore? If it does, why not make it Bruce’s secret long lost brother, who I think was recently introduced, but know nothing more about?

@Adam: My theory is that F.A.C.A.D.E. is actually a reborn Ned Leeds. He has the connections to Lance Bannon and Betty Brant, being a co-worker of the former and the ex-husband of the latter. He has supervillain experience as the Hobgoblin (I’m not even attempting to claim which number he was). Leeds was blonde-ish, but he could be dyeing his hair or the dark hair could have been because of the coloring. Plus, the unreveal of his identity in “Dark Reign Files” was in a file created for Norman Osborn’s perusal, and Osborn would want to know about the status of previous Goblins.

If such a resurrection seems implausible, keep in mind that at the time the F.A.C.A.D.E. story was being written, they were bringing back the Jackal, the Spider-Clone, Norman Osborn and Aunt May, so Ned Leeds wouldn’t be too weird of a comeback.

The Bob Layton book looked to be highly impressive.

Yeah, it looks like it would really have been quite good.

That Spiderman GN….with the team of Paul Smith and Barry Windsor-Smith with what sounds like a great story.

Would have bought that in a heartbeat.

If the “Avengers: Endless Wartime” OGN does well, maybe they could release the Layton/Smith/Windsor-Smith book under that line?

Man that MArcos Martin artwork looks positively Byrne-like.

Niton ain’t no element I ever heard of.


May 17, 2013 at 11:27 am

@noob: Niton is more commonly today known as “radon.”

Paul Smith’s work on that Spider-Man story looks excellent.

Ironic that they call the changes from the Spidey story TOO extreme in the light of Superior Spiderman.

Bruce Wayne’s secret long lost brother? Don’t tell me they’ve brought back Thomas Wayne, Jr. a.k.a. The Boomerang Killer, from Bob Haney’s World’s Finest run!

It’s been a while since I’ve read Vaughan’s Batman, but I always favored the idea of Bruce Wayne’s neighbor J. Devlin Davenport as a likely suspect for the Skeleton’s real identity. He had a few appearances in some late 90s Batman stories where he was somewhat of an antagonist for Bruce at Gotham social functions and had a small role in the “Aftershocks” story-arc. I think Vaughan may have been the first to re-introduce Davenport back into the Bat-cast after the end of “No Man’s Land”, but I don’t remember him doing anything memorable with him.

Cei-U, in the Court of Owls plotline one of the Talons (enforcers for the owls) claims that he’s really Bruce’s brother, raised in an orphanage (I forget if it was illegitimate pregnancy or what that explained that) and therefore pissed as hell that Bruce got to grow up pampered and rich while he lived in a hellhole. So after murdering the Court, he attacks Bruce and apparently dies in a big explosion (yes, I know). Alfred researches the issue and concludes it could be true, but short of getting a DNA sample, there’s no way to know for sure.
So not the same as the mentally handicapped Thomas Wayne, but not that far off.

The place he claims to be from is Wildwood Asylum, which was the asylum where the Bob Haney version was held.

Thomas Wayne Jr. had sort of returned even before then, of course, as the secret identity of the antimatter Earth version of Owlman created by Grant Morrison over in JLA: Earth-2.

Also, as I recall, the Talons’ gimmick as that they were all people who were supposed to have died. Thomas Jr. apparently died when Martha was in a car crash, but had in fact been spirited away by the Court of Owls. It wasn’t an illegitimate pregnancy, but rather a “lost” baby that the Waynes had deliberately tried to move on from.

So wait… what WAS the change in status quo that the Spidey GN was to have brought on? I assume it’s not the affair, because that could just have been safely ignored in the main books (as many graphic novel and one-shot stories are.) Same for the shooting. Was the mob wife to have become a recurring character? Would have had mob connections?
Maybe I’m missing something.

Peter married Mary Jane just before Shooter left and DeFalco became editor-in-chief. (I can’t remember for sure, but the actual wedding issue might’ve been the very month of the change. It was very close, I know that for sure. But there had been a few issues leading up to the wedding, so obviously, the decision to have the marriage occured before the change in leadership.) If the romance was too important to cut from the story (and it sounds like that was probably the case), then they really had no choice but to cancel the graphic novel by the time DeFalco took over.

How does payment work at Marvel et al. when a project is cancelled? Does everybody get paid for the amount of work done? That would be a pain for people farther down the production schedule. The writer would probably have done a full plot or script & been paid, the penciller may have a certain number of pages done, but the inker, letterer, etc. may have turned down other work. Is everybody just SOL? Does it change if the project is junked by the publisher instead of a creator backing out? Anybody know?

I just want to say the Marvel Tales was pretty funny. For a few seconds I thought it was from a European reprint.

Captain Haddock

May 17, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Wow, Paul Smith’s art looks amaaaaazing. I wish we could have more “Leave it to Chance” stories by him and James Robinson, that was great stuff. Anyone else share that opinion?

Captain Haddock, you’re not alone, brother. Couldn’t agree more.

How does payment work at Marvel et al. when a project is cancelled? Does everybody get paid for the amount of work done? That would be a pain for people farther down the production schedule. The writer would probably have done a full plot or script & been paid, the penciller may have a certain number of pages done, but the inker, letterer, etc. may have turned down other work. Is everybody just SOL? Does it change if the project is junked by the publisher instead of a creator backing out? Anybody know?

I believe everyone got paid as if the work had been completed. DeFalco took care of them.

It is true that the Spider-Man marriage made the story REALLY not work, but I think even besides that, the idea of Spider-Man carrying on an affair with a married woman was probably a bit much, as well. Also, the idea of Spider-Man getting shot nine times was a BIG deal and perhaps it didn’t really fit in with the title at the time. Also, I think Layton was going for an R-Rated feel for the book, and Marvel has been very hesitant to ever do an R-Rated Spider-Man story. In other words, while I can’t exactly pinpoint the precise reason DeFalco turned it down, there were PLENTY of reasons to turn it down. It was a bold experiment by Layton.

Daaaaamn, I had completely forgotten the Skeleton! Pretty cool introductory story, then NOTHING. Wonder how long it’ll be before someone dusts him off and does something with him? It’s only a matter of time; every character, no matter how obscure, gets revisited eventually.

The funny thing is with the mob story, is that whatever problems Marvel might have had with it in the past (i.e. An R-rated Spidey story, Spidey/Peter Parker sleeping around, Peter Parker/SPidey getting involved in organized crime etc) is that current Marvel has none of those hangups now.

Marvel still does not allow R-Rated Spider-Man stories. That’s their proverbial “line in the sand.” Note that there has not yet been a Spider-Man MAX. And Spider-Man has not slept with a married woman in the last thirty years, either.

Travis Pelkie

May 18, 2013 at 1:37 am

I haven’t read it, but wasn’t Spider-Man: Reign…close… to an “R-rating”? Even without the spiderdong?

The penis in Reign #1 was an error. Reign was supposed to be (and was labeled as) T+, same as a typical current issue of Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, off the top of my head, I dunno if Marvel MAKES a mainstream superhero comic that isn’t T+ these days.

Travis Pelkie

May 18, 2013 at 2:25 am

Ah. For some reason I remembered hearing that it was a little…”more” than some Spidey stories, even sans wang.

What a cool life you have, huh, that you can type the sentence “the penis was an error”? Fun!

Ah, so there at last is a Spider-Man story that could not be told with a married Spidey, but could with a single one…

I agree with Brian- there had to be other reasons than Peter’s marriage to MJ to cancel the story. They could have just included a footnote, “This takes place before Peter proposed to MJ”. The only other major continuity reference in Layton’s synopsis was that Peter knew Ben Urich at this point and there were several periods after Peter met Ben Urich and before Peter proposed to MJ when Peter wasn’t dating anyone.

Timothy Markin

May 18, 2013 at 6:16 am

Capt Haddock, first off, love the name. I am a HUGE Tintin fan from waaay back. I second your opinion of the Chance book. Pretty cool writing, fantastic Paul Smith art. Would make a great tv series. Been a Smith fan since his Howard the Duck story in Bizarre Adventures 34 ( the one with the skeleton in the Santa suit). Am I mistaken that Paul Smith did a Spidey mini in the 90s when Marvel was releasing a lot of them? (I remember “Hobgoblin Lives” and a Mysterio mini. Can anyone tell me if my memory is faulty? At any rate, that Smith Spidey art is just great!

My personal guess is that Peter having an affair with a married woman was the tipping point for someone (I must admit I’d be a little uncomfortable with it).

Travis Stephens

May 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Didn’t PP sort of fool around with Betty Brant while Ned was in Europe during Wolfman’s run?

Yeah, but that was in the 1970s. Standards were different. For instance, Spider-Man said “Hell” in the 1970s, which wasn’t allowed in the 1990s.

It’s kind of weird that he challenged people to find the joke he very clearly spelled out in the narration.

I can’t imagine Peter even considering letting someone die – not even a mob boss, or the husband of the woman he’s schtupping.

Writers had different views about that. In Michelinie’s run, at one point Peter seemed to consider accepting money from the Red Skull to look the other way while the Skull started a war between two countries. Admittedly, it was only for a few seconds but still…

I can’t imagine Peter even considering letting someone die – not even a mob boss, or the husband of the woman he’s schtupping.

I can definitely see him considering it under certain circumstances, like the DeFalco issue where he learns that the Kingpin is about to be killed. Peter has to at least CONSIDER just looking the other way, ya know? If it was an easy decision, then it wouldn’t be as heroic for him to end up choosing to still defend the Kingpin from the attack.

Actually J. Devlin Davenport was going to be revealed as the pirate villain Captain Fear who was seen in a few of Dixon’s Detective Comics issues.
For some reason (I think it was because Dixon had left the title at the time) we never saw this who the good old Captain was.

Aww Paul Smith is so good, wish we could’ve seen that! The Shooter era has a lot going for it when compared to the eras that followed it. But I think it picked up again with Jemas, Quesada, Alonso et al in the modern day. I’m just not a fan of 90:s comics.

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