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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #430

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Welcome to the four hundred and thirtieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twenty-nine. This week, the whole column is devoted to legends about the final issue of Power Man/Iron Fist and the “death” of Iron Fist in that issue.

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

Recently, I did a column about how John Byrne eventually retconned the death of Iron Fist in the last issue of Power Man and Iron Fist in the pages of Byrne’s run on Namor. So many folks wanted to discuss various legends about the “death” of Iron Fist in Power Man and Iron Fist #125 that I figured it best to just do a whole edition devoted to the issue.

COMIC LEGEND: Christopher Priest (then Jim Owsley) was ordered to have Iron Fist killed due to his editor’s anger over the cancelation of the title.

STATUS: I’m Going With True

As noted in the linked piece above, the death of Iron Fist in the final issue of Power Man and Iron Fist (which was written by Jim Owsley and penciled by M.D. “Doc” Bright) was a total shocker. Iron Fist had just seemingly succeeded (with help from the Avengers and Mister Fantastic) to keep a super-powered child (who turned into an adult “Captain Hero”) from dying.

Everyone left and Power Man and Iron Fist both went to sleep…

The boy, though, suddenly woke up in extreme pain and, in his Captain Hero form, beat Iron Fist to death and then died, turning into energy, leaving only Luke Cage as a suspect in Iron Fist’s murder…

So that was the status quo for a few years, Luke Cage on the run, falsely accused of the murder of his best friend.

It’s a pretty downbeat ending to a series, right? Well, as it turns out, that was exactly how editor Denny O’Neil wanted it.

Christopher Priest (who wrote the series at the time under the name Jim Owsley) discussed the situation on his website a number of years back:

The expedient thing to say is, Iron Fist’s death wasn’t my idea. It was my idea in the sense of that is how I chose for him to die— brutally and senselessly. I was ordered to kill IF because the editor was deeply resentful of Marvel’s decision to cancel the book, a book the editor (comics legend Denny O’Neil) invested himself in and worked _very_ hard with myself and artist MD “Doc” Bright. We were all pretty upset, but Denny was outraged. POWER MAN & IRON FIST was a critical success and was selling in excess of 100,000 copies; not a major hit in those days but the book was certainly profitable. Then the company, for no apparent reason, decided to change the publishing schedule from a monthly release to bi-monthly, which automatically depresses sales, and, once the sales projections skewed downward, that became justification enough to cancel the book to make room on the schedule for a new line of books that became the infamous and notorious “New Universe.”

Angered by the slight to our work on the book, in an editorial meeting Denny’s assistant suggested we kill Iron Fist and cast the blame on Power Man. Doc and I really did not like the idea, but the editors were adamant, insisting if we didn’t write the story he’d assign it out to someone else. I agreed to write the story on the condition that IF’s death be senseless and, actually, extant to the story itself. The story and plotlines had resolved themselves by the time Iron Fist fell asleep in the hospital and was subsequently killed. It was shocking and unexpected and completely meaningless— which is how we all felt the company had treated us.

Oddly enough, when O’Neil left Marvel soon afterwards he went to DC to become an editor there. O’Neil was in charge of Action Comics Weekly a few years later when he then hired Owsley (who had by then also left Marvel) to write the Green Lantern feature and once again, in the very first issue, O’Neil had Owsley kill off the retired Green Lantern Katma Tui…

Death_of_Katma_Tui_01

Owsley got quite a reputation there for a while based just on stuff that O’Neil had him write!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!

Was the Original Recording of Jimi Hendrix on Happening With Lulu Saved by a BBC Engineer Hiding it on Tape Containing a Train Documentary?

Did a Sci-Fi Comedy Movie Seriously Have to Change Its Title Because of the Trayvon Martin Case?

Did Delbert McClinton Really Teach John Lennon How to Play the Harmonica?

Did Doris Roberts Hide a Back Injury While Auditioning For Remington Steele?

Did the Cure Put a Disclaimer Sticker on a Compilation Album to Make Sure People Wouldn’t Misinterpret One of the Songs on the Album?
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

On the next page, learn which writer was going to bring Iron Fist back in the pages of the Avengers!

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72 Comments

I didn’t think it was possible to hate Owsley any more than I did until I read that blog post (and others). Has comics ever produced a more immature and spiteful jerk? In the case of both Ned Leeds and Iron Fist, he didn’t like the fact that he had been (wisely) fired, so what does he do? Confront his bosses? Appeal to the fan press? No, he takes advantage of the power vacuum at the time (as Shooter was being slowly forced out) and LASHES OUT AT THE LITTLE KIDS WHO READ HIS BOOKS.

Did Owsley really think that his bosses would care that he had “hurt” their IP? Did he not know that the powers that be could just resurrect these characters at any time, if they cared to? Did he not figure out that the only people who would be upset by this were the kids reading the books? The kids, after all, had invested years of their young lives into caring about these characters and their stories, only to see those stories end anti-climactically and meaninglessly. I can tell you that at the time both stories felt like Marvel was giving me a contemptuous slap in the face, and I didn’t know why.

Now I discover Owsley’s blog and find out that, in both cases, it was supposed to feel that way. Who lashes out at little kids? What a sorry excuse for a human being.

“Now I discover Owsley’s blog and find out that, in both cases, it was supposed to feel that way.”

I’m confused. The books were cancelled, meaning that no matter what, the stories were going to end anti-climactically and meaninglessly. Owsley managed to make you actually feel that, and you accurately directed that feeling at the people who had forced the situation where the story ended anti-climactically and meaninglessly — Marvel, the company that cancelled the book.

I don’t understand what you want from the stories beyond them making you feel an actual emotional reaction, especially the ending of the story.

AverageJoeEveryman

August 2, 2013 at 10:26 am

wow that is one crazy comment

Jeez. I guess Matt Bird took Ned Leeds and Iron Fist’s deaths hard, huh?

Also, did Owsley just write the stories the editors required him to write?

I can agree with Matt Bird… I think a lot of what’s wrong with comics today is due to the fact that editors, writers, and sometimes artists, don’t have a sense that people CARE about the characters. These characters and “IP’s” are part of a collective culture… The powers that be are not just their owners/creators/writers… they are the STEWARDS of these characters. I feel it’s part of their responsibility to not only provide entertaining works, but to ensure the characters outlive them, and all of us. I don’t just mean in the sense of the characters not being “killed off”, but that they are respectfully utilized, and if killed, not killed off at a vindictive whim, just to teach someone in the real world a “lesson”, or to boost sales. These characters are bigger than all of us, and mean something to people… wholesale changes, deaths, redesigns, etc. just to prove a point or get a monthly sales boost are only serving to erode them in the long run.

Too bad the first comment is so loony.

I love when people say “Blast!” in comics. My personal fave was in an issue of World War Tales, wherein Robert Kanigher (I think) came up with this gem:

“Blast you, yellow Jap! Blast you to Hades!”

Remembering the days when second teir books sold a 100,000 issues a month.

If I ever write Avengers, I’m going to have Dazzler, Silver Surfer, and Rom all join, just to make a clean sweep of that cover.

If I ever write Avengers, I’m going to have Dazzler, Silver Surfer, and Rom join, just to make a clean sweep of that cover.

If I ever write Avengers, Marvel’s really going to have fallen on hard times.

So what was supposed to be the deal with Tyler King then? Man, that’s a cliffhanger. Not remembering is worse than guessing wrong dang it!
*whines* I wanna know!

Apparently Matt Bird’s reading comprehension is lacking. Priest DID NOT want to kill Iron Fist, it was the editor’s idea. Also, Priest was NOT fired off of the book. PM/IF was selling over a 100,000 copies a month and was a critical success when Marvel decided to make the book bi-monthly. That asinine decision caused the book to become less profitable and Marvel decided to cancel it.

Was the inker on PM & IF clued in on the whole “Tyrone King doesn’t cast a shadow or reflection” thing? Because if not, I think it’s a bit rude to say he was “arrogant” in adding them to the artwork or in assuming he thought Bright’s work was “shabby.” People cast shadows and reflections, and a good artist (hell, even a bad one) would notice their absence. If he wasn’t given specific instruction to leave them out then, as far as he was concerned, he was just doing his job. And if the writer or editor or penciler failed to inform him of the plan (esp. if it was a repeated occurrence) then they weren’t doing theirs.

I remember reading the issues of Namor when Byrne did the whole Iron Fist resurrection storyline. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the heck I was reading a Power Man & Iron Fist comic every month when I thought I was buying one featuring the Sub-Mariner. It was a clear case of a writer saying “I have this story I really want to tell. It doesn’t make any sense to tell it here, but hey, this is the comic I’m currently writing so this is where I’m going to tell it.”

I don’t know why they didn’t just let Byrne do a Heroes For Hire miniseries or something. Giving over a significant number of months of Namor to tell a story that had absolutely nothing to do with the title character made as much sense as it would to take six months of the X-Men to feature Millie the Model fighting Howard the Duck, while the X-Men hung around in the background.

Roquefort Raider

August 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

“It wasn’t a kid, it was really the Super Skrull in disguise!”
“Danny didn’t die, it was all an illusion!”
“It wasn’t Alicia you married, it was a skrull spy!”
“It wasn’t Magneto who played Xorn, it was… gawd, I have no idea who it was in the end”.
“It wasn’t Wanda you had sex with, it was a Doombot!”

Ooooh, how I hate retcons… If there was a need to bring back Iron Fist, Owsley had left a perfectly good way to do it (by comic-book logic). Right before the end, IF poured his Qi into the ailing Bobby’s body; that’s why Danny was so wasted. And when Bobby died after pummeling his saviour to pulp, he dissipated into a cloud of energy, as if he were Wildfire. It would have been the matter of two pages to have someone like Doctor Strange say to his pal Namor “Say, there is a strange cloud of energy hovering over New York city… and by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, part of it is the spiritual energy of Iron Fist! Let’s hocus-pocus him back onto the physical plane!”

I believe that’s basically what Priest intended if he was ever given the opportunity to bring Iron Fist back himself.

I’m happy to have helped; you could fill a lot of columns by mining Priest’s site – the man wrote rather candidly about his years in comics.

I may have mentioned this on the previous article about Iron Fist’s death, but my reasoning for thinking Tyrone King was a vampire was actually really stupid on my part. 1. He was a black guy in a trenchcoat that rode a motorcycle around at night, like Blade. 2. He had the same surname as Blade’s friend, Hannibal King.

It’s a pretty interesting topic, now I need to brush up on my Iron Fist/Luke Cage mythology. I had no idea he was killed off! I’ve only read the old Claremont/Byrne issues of Iron Fist. How many ret-cons has Byrne had his hands in? On a side note, I think Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest gets too much unnecessary hate lobbed at him. The guy is a pretty good writer, his work on Green Lantern and the original Quantum and Woody were gems among a lot of badly written 90s garbage. LEAVE OWSLEY/PRIEST ALONE, YOU’RE LUCKY HE PERFORMS FOR YOU PEOPLE!!!

LouReedRichards

August 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

@Kalorama

100% agreement – that stuck out to me too. “Arrogant” seems rather harsh for someone who was just trying to do their job.

Christopher Priest is easily one of my all-time favorite comic book writers. I’m just sad that he no longer writes them.

So a successful book got pushed aside for the New Universe? I’m sure Marvel thought that was a smart move, but remembering those books it’s hard to see how they could.

Katma’s death was so senseless and gratuitous, Denny O’Neil should be horsewhipped. And if I had a horse, I’d do it.

@Blade X: according to Priest’s site (and my memory), PM/IF suffered from becoming monthly (and therefore losing a bit of its per-issue sales).

Pete Woodhouse

August 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Count me in for another one bemused by Matt’s opening comment. Reading a few things on his blogs, Christopher Priest comes across as one of the most insightful and intelligent people to have worked in comics.

He’s not afraid to point out his own foibles; and many a time ‘tells a story against himself’, saying he regretted what he did, etc. He’s sometimes brutally self-critical. If only more people in comics (and people in general) could display that sort of honesty and self-awareness.

As a kid I was so depressed when the series ended. This was the first instance of a character I was following dying. And the last 10 or so issues are still one of my favorite runs. Of course now that I know that any character dying in comics is going to return in a year or so kind of ruins any death in comics.

Christopher Priest no longer working in comics is a huge loss. Reading his blog makes his reasoning crystal clear however. It’s unfortunate that the industry has treated so many of its best creators so shabbily.

I assumed the dig at the inker was said in jest.

I was going through the cover thinking the same thing.

Michael P
August 2, 2013 at 11:48 am

If I ever write Avengers, I’m going to have Dazzler, Silver Surfer, and Rom join, just to make a clean sweep of that cover.

Brian, are you sure that O’Neil ordered Fist killed. Because O’Neil had left Marvel before Power Man and Iron Fist ended- the last two issues were edited by Bob Harras. If Priest really didn’t want to kill Iron Fist, couldn’t he have just asked Harras if he could change the ending?

I read some of Priest’s blog entries with last week Comic Book Legends, and I think he wrote that the inker had been told that King was not supposed to have a reflection, but I could be wrong.

Count me as one of Priest’s fans. I do not think every thing he has ever done is gold, but he has done some great stuff. I loved his Green Lantern in Action Comics Weekly with ‘Doc’ Bright. I will also second the comments about how open and intelligent his blog is (from what I have read). If I was running a comic company, I would try and get some work from him.

In regards to that Avengers cover, I think it is part of the reason Bendis put Wolverine, Spider Woman, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man on the team. I remember reading a quote from him saying that it was because of the cover that he ‘asked every day if Marvel had the rights to Rom back’.

Hi, guys. I’ve been away from the internet since I posted my comment. Glad it amused everyone. Some follow-up points:

1. It may or may not have been O’Neil’s idea to kill Danny (we only have Owsley’s word on that, and it doesn’t make much sense, since O’Neil wasn’t the editor on that issue, and had in fact left Marvel by that time), but Owsley specifically says in the blog post that he himself was the one who insisted that the death be meaningless because he was pissed about his book being cancelled. In another blog entry, he says something similar about killing Ned Leeds off-panel in an unrelated one-shot because he was pissed off about being fired from Spider-Man and wanted to get his revenge by screwing up the Hobgoblin storyline. Surely I can’t be the only one to find this to be dick-ish behavior, right?

2. Just because a book is cancelled doesn’t mean that it has to end in an idiotic or meaningless fashion. If Owsley really was ordered to kill off Danny, that’s perfectly fine: there were hundreds of meaningful and/or heroic ways for that character to die. Comic book characters die off all the time and readers (even little kids) have no problem with that. Claremont was ordered to kill Jean Grey off, against his wishes, and, as a result, rose to the challenge and created one of the greatest comic stories of all time. That’s what a professional writer does. But Danny’s death seemed, even at the time, like some kind of bizarre, absurd FU to the fans. And now he admits that it was SUPPOSED to seem like a bizarre FU. So yeah, that kinda pisses me off.

I have to say that I sympathize with the first comment. I’ve never even read Iron Fist, but from these articles it seems like his was an exceptionally pointless and shabbily-written death, to such an extent that it actually makes the hilariously-convoluted retcon look good. Like Matt Bird’s response says, it’s perfectly possible to writers roll with editorially-demanded deaths and make them a memorable – even classic – send-off to the character. Instead, Priest/Owsley (what was with the pseudonym, anyway?) *intentionally* wrote a weak story in order to, when you strip away the pretentious meta-commentary rhetoric, throw a temper tantrum over being cancelled. Even in an era when no one expects characters to stay dead for more than a few years, it just seems like such a petty and mean-spirited thing to do.

On an unrelated note, I’m getting a “Page Not Found” message when trying to access last week’s CBLR (#429).

Mr. Speck asks parenthetically:
“Priest/Owsley (what was with the pseudonym, anyway?)”

Though pseudonyms have an illustrious and sometimes confusing history in our beloved four-color hobby, that wasn’t really the case here. He actually changed his named. He both wrote and edited comics for a few years under his given name Jim Owsley and then made the decision to change his name to Christopher Priest, which I believe he did both personally and professionally.

I thought at the time: Christopher Priest is a spiffier name, so more power to him.

I remember him joking in a comics text page at the time (was it the late 80′s when he made the change? It was definitely pre-internet.) that he decided upon the change because he had ended a serious relationship and needed a change. He didn’t specify if it was with a wife or a serious girlfriend. He explained that while they were still in love, he had told his lady love, “If you ever leave me, I’ll become a priest!”, which he did with the name change.

Bird and Speck are clearly deciding for themselves how to read O’Neil’s and Priest’s comments.

As for the rest of us, we have clearly appreciated Priest’s attitude and work in the comicbook industry. In fact, it is absolutely criminal that Priest’s unbelievably brilliant Black Panther series has never been reprinted in trade collections. Hell, issues 1-49 should be an omnibus!

Oh, and just fyi… Priest followed up on his PM/IF run (looping in some of the dangling plotlines) in the pages of said Black Panther series. Good stuff.

Harlock: what comments from O’Neil? Nobody quotes him. In fact, Owsley says it was an assistant’s idea to kill off IF.

And Brian’s comment that Owsley ironically got a bad rep for bleak deaths based on other people’s editorial mandates seems a little nutty to me. That rep started when Owsley was an editor himself, pushing the Spider-Man books in a darker direction. When Peter David did a story about a kid who accidentally kills his mom (which is already pretty damn dark), then gets chased by SHIELD and seemingly killed by them despite Spider-Man’s attempts to save him, the story was supposed to cut to a final page showing that no, the kid was instead in a SHIELD “witness-protection” type program for kids with dangerous powers, but Owsley just cut those pages out over David’s objection, so that the issue (as so many of the Owsley-edited issues did) with a bleak fade-to-black as Spider-Man held the dying kid. (David later gave the story the follow-up he wanted in an issue of Hulk)

Whoops, insert: >ended< with a bleak fade-to-black

ParanoidObsessive

August 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm

If I ever write Avengers, I’m going to have Dazzler, Silver Surfer, and Rom all join, just to make a clean sweep of that cover.

I was thinking sort of along the same lines myself – that it was funny just how many of those people became Avengers AFTER that issue.

Sadly, odds are you’re never going to get to write that issue with Rom, because the licensing hell there has pretty much killed any realistic chance we have of ever seeing him in a Marvel comic again. Sure, Disney could probably make a deal with Hasbro to get control over the rights… but I don’t see anyone involved thinking it would be a worthwhile deal to make.

“In another blog entry, he says something similar about killing Ned Leeds off-panel in an unrelated one-shot because he was pissed off about being fired from Spider-Man and wanted to get his revenge by screwing up the Hobgoblin storyline.”

Do you have a source for this? I’ve never seen that claim – as I understood it, that scene was written under the assumption that Leeds was not the Hobgoblin, a situation which suddenly changed when Priest (and DeFalco) were off the books.

The name change from Owsley to Priest also seemed to come with a change in attitude, or the attitude change came some time later.

At least by the time I knew of Priest the comic book writer, he seemed a bit of a humbler man. He certainly seemed to want to distance himself from how he acted when he used the name Owsley. As Priest, he didn’t like office politics and particularly didn’t like to go over old war stories and office dirt, which he lived and was part of as Owsley.

The attitude change I think actually hurt Priest a bit, at least in the later years of his comic book writing at Marvel. By that point, he pretty much refused to stand up to his bosses for what he believed in, or to speak out against others. That hurt things like his run on Deadpool. Sure, his Deadpool run wasn’t amazing, but he had an artist that completely butchered the scripts. The artist didn’t just lose visual gags, he was taking detailed descriptions (Priest posted a couple of pages of his script online once) and produced work that was completely incomprehensible. But Priest didn’t want to make waves, so he wouldn’t say anything about the artist to the editor. (There were a few stories like that from Priest’s later Marvel books. Like when he did fight to get Brevoort as his editor, Brevoort wanted Priest to use a rather bad story idea that Priest didn’t like, but Priest ran with it instead of saying something. The storyline was terrible. And not long after that, Priest was removed from the book.)

I was a big fan of Power Man & Iron Fist at the time, and I was much sadder about the series ending than about Iron Fist dying. I found it a well-written story at the time, and the senselessless of the death actually made it more powerful for me than if he’d gone out in a typical blaze of glory. It certainly would have never occurred to me to take it personally.

Ferb Morgendorffer

August 3, 2013 at 1:13 am

@Harlock99 It’s a common affliction among under-bridge dwelling beings. They know how deep a hole they’ve dug themselves into, but are too proud to just admit they were wrong, so they double down.

I remember Jim Shooter announcing in a Bullpen Bulletins page how Marvel was cancelling several long-running titles such as ROM, The Defenders, and Power Man/Iron Fist in order to make room for the New Universe line. I was pissed off then as now, thinking back to how pointless it all turned out to be given the NU’s failure. Half the books were cancelled after their first year, not unlike DC’s New 52.

I had been following Luke and Danny’s book off and on since issue #99. I stayed with the series from #119 through the cancellation. Danny’s death was completely pointless, but it gave Luke a fresh start given how everything had come (as he said himself) full circle to where he’d started back in Hero For Hire #1. Marvel teased from time to time about Luke getting a solo series again but it didn’t happen until 1992 and the character had been visually revamped by then.

My main regret remains not seeing Luke join the Avengers as Power Man under Roger Stern ‘s pen. I’m sure Stern would have done a great job of incorporating the duo into the team as he did with She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Starfox. Also, I liked Tyrone King and wished he had gone on to better things instead of ending up as Master Khan in disguise. Priest looked to be setting King up to be a major player in PM/IF just before the series was axed.

“In another blog entry, he says something similar about killing Ned Leeds off-panel in an unrelated one-shot because he was pissed off about being fired from Spider-Man and wanted to get his revenge by screwing up the Hobgoblin storyline.”

Do you have a source for this? I’ve never seen that claim – as I understood it, that scene was written under the assumption that Leeds was not the Hobgoblin, a situation which suddenly changed when Priest (and DeFalco) were off the books.
.

I’m pretty sure the latter is supposed the truth. I remember reading some Peter David interview where he says that after Stern and DeFalco had left, Hopgoblin’s real identity wasn’t “locked” even among Spider-Man writers/editors. So when it came the time to reveal who he was, they felt Ned Leeds was the only proper candidate, so they had to use him, even though Owsley had already killed him, thinking he wasn’t Hopgoblin. (This lead to the odd situation where a supposedly superpowered Leeds was killed by common assassins, a discrepancy that Stern used in Hopgoblin Lives to explain why Leeds couldn’t have been the Hopgoblin.) This extended article on the whole Hopgoblin mess quotes a DeFalco interview, where he says that Ned Leeds was “only a red herring”, and that he intended Hopgoblin to Richard Fisk. If this was the case, Owsley probably knew of DeFalco’s plans, and therefore thought it was okay to kill Ned Leeds.

Now that all the principal players are back (namely Iron Fist) – another character that needs to be dusted off is Gordy, Agent of S.M.I.L.E…

it sounds from Priest’s description like the assistant offered the idea but the editors supported it (it’s hard to imagine the assistant got to rule the day if the editors weren’t behind it).
And yes, Brian’s multiple past discussions of the Hobgoblin reveal make it clear that Ned didn’t become the Hobgoblin until after he died (and that didn’t take, of course).

Brian from Canada

August 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

ParanoidObsessive is correct on ROM. Hasbro’s focused on keeping up its principal lines, especially in the wake of Battleship’s theatrical sinking and the failure to secure long-term series beyond Transformers on CN (and even then it’s been cancelled) — and ROM’s not one of them.

Sadly, Marvel can’t even pull a Josh Blaylock. Blaylock proposed a GI Joe series when Hasbro wasn’t looking for one and it sold well enough to pique interest in a movie. But if Marvel/Disney were to suggest ROM could generate some extra revenue, it’s more likely Hasbro will turn to IDW to publish it because they’re only interested in that company’s offerings via their deal with Paramount.

Brian from Canada

August 3, 2013 at 7:10 am

Billy:

I’d put Priest’s disillusion at Marvel more down to the departure of Bill Jemas than anything else. Jemas and Quesada wanted a quality control, pushing books they were proud of and not focusing on ones they didn’t. Black Panther was regularly amongst those that were in the former.

But after Jemas left, things start to go downhill. Rules are backtracked and it’s all about exploitation. The cancellation of Black Panther should never have happened, and the pushes afterwards — all for the sake of events and sales boosts — were clear indications it was no longer about stories, it was all about getting bought. In fact, by 2003/2004, IIRC, we were hearing about Sony looking to buy Marvel.

Obviously, it’s a big mess, and everybody chooses who they want to believe. Looking back, I couldn’t find a smoking gun blog post from Owsley, but his tone about the whole affair confirmed to me what I’d heard from others, so I went ahead and downloaded “Back Issue #35″, where they have the whole thing out. It’s available for instant digital download, cheap, and contains an excellent and exhaustive accounting of the whole sorry affair from everyone’s point of view. Here are some relevant passages. (I don’t know if it’s cool with Brian for me to cite so much of this. If not, please delete it.)

BACK ISSUE: To make matters even worse, in late 1986—four months before the identity of the Hobgoblin was finally revealed— Marvel released a special one-shot, Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, written by James Owsley. Among the most notable things about this one-shot was the shocking death of Ned Leeds, who was murdered while on an assignment in Berlin with Peter Parker for the Daily Bugle. Readers were not the only ones who were shocked by Ned’s sudden demise.

DeFALCO: Owsley came in the week before Spider-Man vs. Wolverine was going to be released, and fired me from The Amazing Spider-Man. I maintain that he knew that I was going to freak out when I saw that story, where he had Ned Leeds killed. Because Ned was a cast member of my book! And Owsley never warned me ahead of time that he was going to kill off Ned in this side project of his.

FRENZ: Owsley let Tom and I continue with our plans without telling us in advance that he was going to kill Ned. We had no heads up until Spider-Man vs. Wolverine came out that Ned Leeds was killed in that story. I can’t speak to why he did it, but I can speak to the way he did it. He kept it a big secret until we felt screwed.

DeFALCO: Later on, Owsley and Peter got together and tried to go through everything to see who else the Hobgoblin could be. And they couldn’t come up with anybody. So that’s why Peter had to do the story that showed, yes, it was Ned. There was no plan, and I blame that all on Owsley and not on Peter. Peter was given the assignment and was trying to do the best he could.

DAVID: Owsley comes into my office—I was working at Marvel [in the direct sales department] at the time— and he says, “We’re going to go out to lunch and dis- cuss who the Hobgoblin is going to be.” And I said, “What are you talking about? The Hobgoblin is Ned Leeds.” And he said, “No, he’s not Ned Leeds.” And I said, “What do you mean? We all discussed this at the writers conference. And those are the stories that Tom has been writing.” And Owsley said, “Tom’s not doing the book anymore. And it’s not going to be Ned Leeds. And I’m going to tell you who it’s going to be.” So we went out to lunch, and Owsley reveals to me that he’s killing off Ned Leeds in the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot. And I said, “What the (expletive) do you mean? Ned Leeds is the Hobgoblin!” And he said, “No.” And I said, “Why are you doing this?” And Owsley said, “To piss off DeFalco.” And I said, “Well, that’s kind of juvenile. Look, you’ve got to rethink this.” And he said, “It’s already drawn.”

DeFALCO: Owsley killed off Ned to screw up my continuity. Then he decided to fire me instead. He thought he’d throw me a curve ball by killing off Ned. I would’ve been annoyed about it, but it wouldn’t have been a curve ball for me because I never intended for the Hobgoblin to be Ned anyway. I just knew I couldn’t trust Owsley and this proved it.

DAVID: I asked Owsley, “Well, then who’s the Hobgoblin going to be?” And he said to me, with great triumph, “The Foreigner!” And I said, “The (expletive) he is! From a character standpoint, it makes no sense for the Foreigner to be the Hobgoblin, to say nothing of the fact that we’ve been saying from the get-go that the Hobgoblin is someone who’s already part of Spider-Man’s cast. And the Foreigner was introduced after the Hobgoblin. This makes no sense, top to bottom.” And Owsley said, “Well, okay, you figure out something better.”

On a related note, a couple years back I found myself so curious to find out if Captain Hero was always intended to be the Super-Skrull that I took a chance and e-mailed Priest out of the blue to ask him. Soon after I got a reply (the answer is no, but Byrne checked with Priest before going ahead with it). So had the series not gotten cancelled, the Super-Skrull and Captain Hero would have remained separate characters!

I remember Jim Shooter announcing in a Bullpen Bulletins page how Marvel was cancelling several long-running titles such as ROM, The Defenders, and Power Man/Iron Fist in order to make room for the New Universe line. I was pissed off then as now, thinking back to how pointless it all turned out to be given the NU’s failure. Half the books were cancelled after their first year, not unlike DC’s New 52.

Yeah, that’s the aggravating part. All three of those cancelled titles you mention were great comics. And the New Universe? Not so much.

Andrew Collins

August 3, 2013 at 9:26 am

The death of Katma Tu always truck me as so weird and so needless, hitting out of the blue like it did. It came in that era in the late 80′s when comics were starting to show the Watchmen/Dark Knight effect of “darkening” up their superheroes and using death more and more as a shock device. Katma’s death felt like grown men sitting around and going “See? Look how dark and mature our comics are!” in the most immature manner possible. A waste of otherwise great talents like Gil Kane, Owlsey and O’Neil…

Rom isn’t owned by Hasbro, but Parker Brothers.

Also, I tend to look at Marvel’s New Universe as a test run for the original Valiant Universe, which was far superior.

Rom isn’t owned by Hasbro, but Parker Brothers.

And Hasbro owns Parker Brothers.

I agree with Matt Birds point. Owsley/Priest is an incredible writer, and has contributed a lot to comics. However that was a rather dick action and he makes it clear that it was willful. That doesn’t take away from how great he is or what he’s done. I also think that insinuating that Matt is a troll (“under-bridge dwelling beings”). That term is increasing being used for “someone I don’t happen to agree with”. Someone who’s views and opinions don’t match yours does not = Troll.

“Wire~ I remember reading the issues of Namor when Byrne did the whole Iron Fist resurrection storyline. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the heck I was reading a Power Man & Iron Fist comic every month when I thought I was buying one featuring the Sub-Mariner.”

I agree. At the time I didn’t really know that much about the Iron Fist history. It was an interesting story, that I would have cared about if I were an IF fan, but not what I bought Namor for. Those were the reasons I quit buying Namor.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the heck I was reading a Power Man & Iron Fist comic every month when I thought I was buying one featuring the Sub-Mariner.

I had the exact same feeling when, during this same time period in the Namor the Sub-Mariner series, the Punisher showed up, looking to kill corporate-rider-turned-drug-dealer Desmond Marrs. I kept expecting that Namor and the Punisher would at some point bump into each other, with Namor (who had been tricked into thinking Marrs was an honorable guy) trying to stop the Punisher from killing him, or something. But they never did meet. Instead, we just had a scene where Marrs committed suicide to rob the Punisher of the pleasure of killing him. I kept thinking to myself “Why didn’t Marvel just give John Byrne an issue of the Punisher’s regular series to tell this story?”

I can’t really reject the implication, given the intemperate tone of my first post. Everybody plays the troll, sometimes, there’s no exception to the rule.

And, now that I’ve read that “Back Issue”, allow me to correct some facts before I find next week’s ULR sets out to refute me (again): (1) The editorial vacuum was not due to Shooter being forced out (that was still a year away), but due to Shooter being distracted by the New Universe, and (2) Owsley seems to have killed Ned not to protest his own firing, since he hadn’t been fired yet (though it was already in the air), but because he wanted to piss off DeFalco.

Reading the issue, Owsley actually reminds me of myself at the same age (early ’20s), I had an immature flame-out at my first job, since I was in a professional situation that I wasn’t yet professional enough to handle. I think a lot of people go through that right out of college. I’m just glad that I wasn’t in charge of a (one day) billion-dollar franchise!

Regarding the Iron Fist story in Namor, Byrne had Namor buy out a corporation, and it was Byrne’s aim to have the book Namor focus on the corporations in the Marvel universe. So the book used the Marrs siblings and Roxxon, and that is why the Iron Fist story was told in Namor, because Super Skrull was using Danny Rand’s identity to run Rand’s company.

Personally, I like it when creators care enough about characters they have worked on to revisit/rehabilitate/revive those characters.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about Star Sapphire’s powers, but I can’t figure out how she kills Katma Tui in those panels. First panel is a scratch in thin air, then it looks like she punches her, but then her bare hand is completely clean in the last panel. And is she holding her up with her left hand or is she still standing in the doorway? I’m surprised Kane wouldn’t be clearer.

Star Sapphire can create energy constructs and mind-over-matter effects with her gem, so she could cut up Katma with that alone.
Action Weekly was generally disappointing to me. Good talents, but it never felt like anyone knew how to pace things for short weekly stories–it was like full-length issues that just got chopped up at random intervals. Though nothing else was as bad as Katma’s death (Andrew sums it up pretty well above).

And regarding Star Sapphire killing Katma: this was back when “Star Sapphire” was a different personality from Carol’s regular personality. So she could get away with stuff like this and say, “Oh it wasn’t me, it was the gem that makes me become Star Sapphire.” And even so, at one point they “killed” the Star Sapphire personality, while Carol got to live. And then Star Sapphire came back one more time and they “killed” her definitively once more.

So it seems awfully weird these days when Carol Ferris is a superhero as Star Sapphire. And that John Stewart (who was married to Katma at the time) doesn’t seem to care that Carol Ferris is running around as Star Sapphire.

I’m not taking a side in the whole Owsley is/is not an asshole debate. I just wanted to say I could swear that I heard he took the name Christopher Priest from the novelist, and the novelist was not amused.

Steven Grant said in a forum that Owsley was unaware of Christopher Priest when he changed his name. All I know is that I was really disappointed when I picked up The Ray #1 only to find out that instead of being written by my favourite novelist it was actually by a writer whose work I’d never liked.

So, having no personal opinion of him before this (except for enjoying his writing, which is irrelevant to who he is as a person), it seems like the whole Owsley/Priest thing shakes out like this:

When he was a young editor, he was a willing participant in office politics/editorial mandates that ruffled the feathers of creative people, including (if we believe DeFalco and David, which I do) ordering a major change to the identity of a major character just to piss off a creator he didn’t like. Later, as years went on, he soured on this way of doing things, partially due to the fact that he was maturing as a person, and partially due to having been the victim of that sort of thing a few times himself (including the Iron Fist and Katma Tui deaths above). His new way of thinking was marked by a name-change (it was probably a bit more gradual than that, but there does seem to be some relation), and he went on to produce some of the best work of his career. Now, out of the industry and being able to look back with hindsight, Priest has become a humble and honest person who is willing to admit his own mistakes.

Both the pro- and anti-Owsley commenters seem to have some good points, and it looks like the truth is somewhere in the middle. Also, Matt Bird, kudos for being a big enough person to back up your points with hard facts, and to admit that you can see how your first post may have come off a little more harsh than you intended.

Adding to all of the above, and the Ned Leeds stuff, I remember “Spider-Man Versus Wolverine” as being pretty good. At least I thought so at the time.

@Harlock99 It’s a common affliction among under-bridge dwelling beings. They know how deep a hole they’ve dug themselves into, but are too proud to just admit they were wrong, so they double down.

In light of actual facts presented, this is all kinds of funny now.

And Marvel wiki agrees Harras edited the last 3 issues of PW&IF…so doesn’t that kinda blow the Legend completely out of the water? Between the quotes and the fact that O’Neil wasn’t around to order anyone to do anything it sounds like Brian fell for the Legend about the Legend.

Mark Bright did such an awesome job on Spider-Man vs. Wolverine.

Jerry Acerno’s inking on PM/IF was better than Mike Esposito’s – whatever he did could not detract from Doc’s magic.

Good to find out that plenty of comics readers think a sudden, senseless death is somehow necessarily less compelling than a multi-issue drama queen, fate-of-the-universe maudlin puppet show.

TV writers WISH they could throw gut punches like that without running up against actors’ contracts. And when I was a kid, I could take it and process it. Who are you people kidding?

Before long, Rom will be just about the last Marvel character who isn’t an Avenger. Since the Bendis era, any schmuck can walk in off the street and be an Avenger. Good guys, bad guys, CRAZY guys…doesn’t matter. I’m just waiting for Aunt May to be added to the Avengers…of course, they’ll have to make her near omnipotent and totally insane first, but I’m sure that story is already in the works.

Well, if they brought back her Golden Oldy super persona they could do just that. She did have the Power Cosmic after all.

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