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Comic Book Legends Revealed #458

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COMIC LEGEND: Since working on American comics, Alan Moore has followed a strict rule for how many words he would use on each page.

STATUS: False/True

Reader Bob H. wrote in about an odd story he heard that since Alan Moore first began working in American comics that he specifically limits how many words he uses on each page.

What Bob is referring to is a “Rule” that Alan Moore has discussed in a fascinating interview with Daniel Whiston in 2002:

But anyway, Mort Weisinger, because he was the toughest of the editors, I thought: “Alright, I’ll take his standard as the strictest”. What he said was: if you’ve got 6 panels on a page, then the maximum number of words that you should have in each panel, is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s gonna look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for balloon size. Right, once you’ve taken on board those two simple rules, laying out comics pages – it gives you somewhere to start – you sort of know: “OK, so 6 panels, 35 words a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum”.

DW: And if you’ve got one panel you’d have 210…

AM:…and if you’ve got 2 panels you’d have 105 each. If you’ve got 9 panels it’s about 23-24 words – that’ll be about the right balance of words and pictures. So that is why I obsessively count all the words, to make sure that I’m not gonna overwhelm the pictures, that I’m not gonna make – oh, I’ve seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire of the background –

So Moore referring to that RULE made it seemed as though Moore actually followed that rule to the letter, and of course he didn’t. Watchmen, for instance, routinely had over 210 words per page.

watchmen-08-01

However, not MUCH more than 210 words. Because he IS saying that the idea of limiting your words per word balloon, panel and page is a very good idea. So he uses that rule as a GUIDE to himself so as to not overload the page. Not that he actually holds himself to a strict word limit per page. But yes, he does count his words to make sure that he is not putting too many words in each panel. So it is very close to being true, but I think that the whole “Alan Moore follows a strict rule” is so enticing that the RULE part gets oversold and that has become a legend of its own right.

Heck, even Weisinger didn’t always go by this strict rule…

weisinger

Because lines in the sand are always silly. Rough guidelines for the win!

Thanks to Bob for the suggestion and thanks to Moore and Whiston for the info! Really go read that interview. Moore drops some awesome information about how he approaches comic book writing from a technical standpoint.

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Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did Robin Williams vow to not work for Disney anymore after a dispute over the size of the Genie on the Aladdin movie poster?
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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!

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Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

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57 Comments

So what WAS the ending that Kirby was going to use before he saw RotJ? The article doesn’t make that clear.

Sorry, I edited it to make it clear that I don’t know what his ending would have been exactly. The implication is that Darkseid would have been redeemed, but I don’t know for sure.

I read that Ronin Ro book, and it was frustrating because of exactly what you describe here. At some points it would be chock full of information, and at other points it would be maddeningly unclear about something that could have easily been fixed with a little more attention to clarity.

That Ronin Ro book is terrible.

LOVE
THAT
CHICKEN

She’s still HOT, even for the 80s guy like yours truly!

“I’m Supergirl and I’m here to protect THIS CHICKEN!!!”

I don’t know; I have trouble seeing Kirby ending the series that way. It just doesn’t seem to fit his style of storytelling. Darkseid was probably his most layered villain (that is, without Stan’s involvement); but I have trouble seeing an ending that similar to ROTJ. I can see Darkseid protecting Orion from an attack by Desaad, or some other figure, but Darkseid still remains the main threat. Kirby had said that Darkseid represented every evil he ever witnessed, the worst traits of every double-dealing publisher, crook, or Nazi. Yet, he also gave him a nobility. I could see where he might alter things because of the physical battle between Vader and Luke being similar to what he had in mind between Darkseid and Orion; maybe a similarity between the Force lightning and Darkseid’s Omega Blast (or Orion’s Astro Force). Probably one of those mysteries that will always remain.

You aren’t kidding about Supergirl’s costume being as just “of the time,” in the 70s, as the 80s. During her run in Adventure Comics, she had all kinds of variations that just scream the 70s. Issue # 397 features a cover, with Supergirl looking at various costume sketches, which included one that would debut in two issues: A blue tunic/dress, with red thigh boots. That hung around for a while. Then, in issue #409, she had a very 70s blue hot pants and halter top. #410 debuted the blue blouse and red hot pants, which would last through the 70s (my personal favorite), though issues 412-413 had her in a blue bodysuit, with no red trunks or skirt (still had the red cape and boots, but also red gloves). Then, she reverted back to the hot pants look. I would have to dig through my collection, but I think they were fan suggestions and part of an attempt to court more girls. Around the same time, there were suggestions for a new Robin costume in a Batman 100-page issue. The Wasp is the only other female character who seemed to go through more wardrobe changes than Supergirl.

The Alan Moore thing does illustrate the point that comics are a visual medium and you need to have the flow of the text work with the artwork. Some writers forget that a single illustration can convey more information than the longest word balloon. Don McGregor could be pretty bad about that, in the 70s. I loved his stories, but he did tend to drone on. However, he did know when to rein it in to allow the artist to do something spectacular, like P Craig Russell’s action or splash pages in Killraven or Billy Graham’s powerful scenes in the Black Panther saga, “Panther’s Rage.” Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway could be bad about that, too, though it varied a bit. I’ve been rereading the early Invaders and Roy gets pretty wordy (and rather hokey); but, it gets better when the team of Frank Robbins and Frank Springer really gel, and the book really hit its stride (issues 7-20).

I agree with Anonymous about the Ronin Ro book. It’s got just enough stuff wrong to call much of the rest of it into doubt. If another source agrees with Ro, chances are it’s got merit. If the only source is Ro, it’s pretty questionable.

I’m not sure which is worse, the headband or the bad wig (in the test photo). Helen Slater really deserved a better script…

“Last month, I wrote about how Jack Kirby originally intended to finish his Fourth World Saga with both Darkseid and Orion dead but then DC essentially told him that he could not do that. ”

That was due to the launch of the Super Powers toy line, which featured Darkseid and Orion.
On the up-side, Kirby was able to collect royalties on the Fourth World characters by re-desiging them for the toy line.
Paul Levitz, wanting to help Kirby, then claimed to the accountants they were “new” characters, enabling the King to receive royalties for their use in toys and other media due to new writer/artist contracts implemented in the early 1980s.
(The previous contract Kirby worked under in the early 1970s when he initially-created the characters didn’t give him any rights)
Levitz and publisher Jeanette Kahn did receive flack from higher-ups at Time/Warner, but it blew over fairly quickly.
Thus, Kirby (and now his estate) now receive a royalty whenever the characters are used…

Supergirl’s revolving door of costumes and Diana Prince’s equally often shifting garb in the mod WW era would make an awesome Tumblr.

Ahh, Helen Slater. Yes, she deserved a much better script.

Not to be a grammar jerk, but in the first legend question, the movie is an itself, not a themselves.

I loved the Supergirl movie for all its ridiculousness, but it’s a shame it was responsible for such a stupid costume.

Completely off-topic, but as a kid (I suppose even now), I wondered what was that >choke< noise in the dialog represented; it seemed like Mort was fond of it (I recall seeing it mostly in the Superman comics), but I never knew WHAT exactly it was supposed to be. A throat-clearing? Voice breaking with emotion? I guess that it was somewhat of a play on words, like "choked up with emotion," but that was always a full stop for me whenever I would see that in a word balloon.

I'm just curious how others interpetted it…

@ Fraser:

Ahh, Helen Slater. Yes, she deserved a much better script.

She deserved a much better everything.

Helen Slater followed the Chris Reeve model of playing it straight and she was really well cast. Her Supergirl was actually pretty good. The movie, on the other hand, was epically terrible. The tone shifted radically from scene to scene. The plot was a confused mess. The effects that weren’t imported from the Superman films were laughable.

It was a godawful movie and, yet, the lead performance was kinda good.

It was the voice breaking with emotion, as it was always used in those circumstances.

Am I the only one who thinks that Supergirl’s 80′s costume was her best? I’m not much of a fan or her one way or the other, but I’ve always thought that most of her costumes were horrid, this one is at least serviceable.

The headband is a bit much though.

What? A costume reflects the decade during which it was designed? How is that possible?!?!??

Even chicken needs a hero.

I always took “choke” as a choked sob of emotion. Never bothered me much.

Despite having a skirt, it was one of Supergirl’s best costumes ever, particularly with the headband.

It sure beats the incredibly cheap skin showpiece that she used for so much of the 2000s and that made she look like something that should not exist.

ParanoidObsessive

February 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm

The first thing I thought when reading Kirby reacted to RotJ was the similarity in the relationship between Darkseid and Orion. But that doesn’t really seem to make sense (I’d agree with people that it doesn’t seem like Darkseid was ever meant to be redeemed in any way). And you can’t even go with the revelation of parentage, since they already knew they were related long before Star Wars.

It is kind of frustrating not knowing what the original plan was, though. Has anyone ever asked Mark Evanier about it? It seems like if anyone would know, he would be the one.

I still think Supergirl could work as a film right now, if they did it properly. The biggest change is that they can’t try to make it this massive EPIC film that they would want to. If the threat would be that big, then where would Supes and company be? The movie would have to be more personal for Supergirl and not her just smacking around bad guys.

If only Supergirl had the right script back in the day. Could you imagine where we could be now with women as film leads? Kelly might have very little to write about in that regard then ;P

Brian from Canada

February 14, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Jeff Nettleton is right about the Supergirl of the 1970s: DC seemed to enjoy courting readers with requests for costume redesigns every so often to keep the character current. They’d also ask about her alter ego Linda’s hairstyles.

Reading those back issues, I was struck at just how great a mechanism it was for keeping the character current for its fashion-conscious readers. Sadly, they don’t do it today: if I brought Supergirl into Earth culture, I’d be asking readers how she should look — and if I brought back the alter-ego, what kind of clothing she’d wear. It just makes the character more… real.

Too bad the movie didn’t. And this is coming from someone who hunted down that “director’s cut” DVD when it came out!

The fashion thing is a double-edged sword; it makes the characters loo current, but then dated, in reprints. Superman, pre-Crisis, seemed to be stuck in the late 50s/early 60s, in terms of much of the wardrobe. Lois and Lana got some updating (Lois had far more in her solo comics, in the 70s); but, Clark never deviated, other than the tie. I can’t recall seeing him in any kind of lounge wear, other than a sweater, and I still think he had a tie on, even then! That was one of the marked contrasts in the Byrne era and beyond, wardrobes beyond just stock designs. Meanwhile, if you want to talk fashion, look at those comics for Lois and the rest of the ladies in big shoulder pads, tiny skirts (Byrne did like his minis), big hair (or a brief flirtation with a short ‘do, for Lois), and huge earrings.

Wasp was a character where the constant costume changing sort of worked, thanks to the personality and history of the character, once her facial design was fully settled. She had a few costumes that I wouldn’t mind seeing revisited, but most worked best in the short term. I still remember the purple one she had in an Ultron storyline, where Hank has suffered a breakdown and believes he is still Ant-Man, in the early Avengers days. I believe it was a Perez design (he was the artist). She looked rather like some of the hookers that hung outside the naval base in Charleston, SC, where I was stationed. That was the same issue that debuted Wonder Man’s god-awful costume, designed by the Beast; the red and green and yellow one. Yeesh!

If you read the next page, it is clear what they think the original plan was-

“I don’t know what Kirby’s original ending would have been, but I suspect that Ro is implying that it would have ended with Darkseid redeeming himself. I don’t know for sure, though.”

Hey, the Supergirl movie even shared the same title font as the comic. Was that also part of the attempt at synergy, or was it something the movie adopted from the comics?

Now that I’ve looked it up, that title font ALSO debuted with issue 13. Hmm.

My favorite Supergirl costume is the one she was wearing when I was introduced to her in the 1970s, the simple one with the smaller S-shield to one side.

http://metropolisplus.com/Supergirl/supergirl_1_splash%20colors.jpg
http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Brave_and_the_Bold_Vol_1_147

I also like her original Silver Age costume just fine, though the skirt would have been pretty dated by the 1980s.

Clark wore some pretty gaudy suits when he became a TV reporter in the 1970s. But at least they were still suits.

I always liked the SuperGirl outfit that had the choker and the hot shorts. That was my favorite.

Yeah, that’s the best one I can think of too, by a pretty wide margin, though the (completely accurate) description makes it sound kinda dodgy.

They should have gone whole hog and gave her red go-go boots to complete the outfit. In the early appearances of the costume, she is wearing slippers/booties. In later ones, she’s essentially wearing the same style as Superman. A couple of cover artists had her in something close to go-go style.

If you want real 70s style, though, you need to look at Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell’s Legion costume designs. Most of the ladies look like they are going to a disco, and some of the guys were looking a bit odd. Cosmic Boy was the one whose costume always looked strange to me, as a kid. When I was an adult, I realized what the problem was; it was a corset! Cockrum modified his original, but kept the pink areas. Grell removed the pink and replaced it with bare skin. It made Cosmic Boy look like a refugee from a 30th Century fetish club!

Hey, the Supergirl movie even shared the same title font as the comic. Was that also part of the attempt at synergy, or was it something the movie adopted from the comics?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet that yes, it was an attempt at synergy.

Something about movie Supergirl standing overdramatically in front of a Popeye’s is really quite funny to me.

For what it’s worth, I liked both SGirl’s costumes on the animated Superman and Justice League shows, from the casual t-shirt, denim skirt, gloves and Gwen Stacy hairband to the later blue top and red skirt. And her character had a good development arc, from bored kid from an advanced planet to seasoned League professional.

I think the Nu 52 costume with bare knees and red crotch shield (!) is the worst ever. The larger cape and collar are ok though, looking a teensy bit functional.

I don’t know if Supergirl standing outside a Popeyes was product placement in the movie (I haven’t seen it in nearly thirty years) or if it was just a bad choice for a production still. (If the restaurant actually appeared in the movie, toy tie-ins would have been ideal.) Back then, having an Oscar winner like Faye Dunaway in a comic book movie was a disastrous career move; look at the situation now, where it seems every working actor does a comic book movie. This makes for interesting comic book trivia for movies like American Hustle where nearly every major actor in that film has done a comic book movie. (One of my favorites is in Boogie Nights where Tom Jane kills Alfred Molina…in a sense, the Punisher killing Dr Octopus!)
As for the Robin costume contest, I don’t recall one in the 100 Pagers, but Batman Family 13 (Sept 77) has the results of one, with a submission by a teenage Norm Breyfogle. His talent shone through even then, as his entry is the best drawn piece on the page. Breyfogle was my favorite 90s Batman artist!

Part of my problem with the Supergirl script that the big issue in her fight with Faye Dunaway seemed more “Who gets the hunky male co-star?” than “Can Supergirl save the world?”

I didn’t really have a problem with the 80′s costume, except for the headband, absolutely ridiculous looking. At least they didn’t give her the Flashdance torn shirt. I guess my favorite costume would be what they went with in the movie.

Popeyes Chicken is Supergirl’s kryptonite.

I wish I could get the issue and scan the page (unfortunately, the comic is almost completely inaccessible at the moment–another story entirely) but there was an issue of “Adventure Comics” from the early 1970s–I want to say about 1972–where Supergirl has been asked out on a date and she gets all dressed up in this oh-so-awful FULL-LENGTH SUPERGOWN. Yes, folks. Just imagine the “classic” Supergirl outfit, but as a sleeveless, full-length gown. Thankfully, because the date was just a plot designed to destroy Supergirl, the outfit never came out again. (And in all honesty, the gown alone was enough to destroy Supergirl.)

I really wish I could get that gown scanned. You really have to see it to still not believe it.

Actually, I did a little Googling and found it. Well, it’s not the EXACT image–it’s a reproduction–but about 1/3 down the page, you’ll see it. http://metropolisplus.com/Supergirl/Index.htm (The site also has a couple of pages that featured some costume designs sent in by readers.)

I assume Supergirl is investigating claims the sky is falling and is there to save the day…

I can’t recall if they ever explained how she changed her costumer around. Superman’s was supposed to have been woven from thread from his blankets. If Suprergirl’s was some variation of that, she’d have to keep unraveling the costume and re-weave it. Then, you have the problem of the boots. How the heck do you go from calf-length to thigh-high? Maybe she made trips to the bottle city of Kandor and went to a super dress shop.

The 1980′s costume (without the headband) is one of her best costumes (even with the headband it’s great)!
Yes, the skirt is short, but the top is modest. The extra red really “popped” well with her golden tresses, as with the introduction of the yellow on the boots. (I’m torn between this, the hot pants costume and the one seen in Adventure Comics ## 412 and 413, modest yet striking.) In a letter to the mag later on, a reader noted that Kara’s new look could be considered reminiscent of the GA Wonder Woman, who wore her tiara over her hair and had curls.

Her costume was not indestructible except for the cape. In the comics, it was shown that her costume was almost completely wrecked from a previous fight. Coming home for a visit, her mom, Mrs. Danvers, showed her a design for a costume, and because Kara loved it, needed a new costume, and she herself admitted her then-current costume was in need of an update, she super-sewed the tatters into the new costume. The new costume was seen in DC Sampler #1 prior Supergirl #13 … Over 30 years ago … Wow, I think I’ll go cry now.

Anyway, this costume is very iconic, and is currently seen on many products. There’s the “traditional” Kara appearing on many merchandise, (including a shot glass!), but the “80′s” version is on lots of “retro” clothing, even on a Hot Wheels car last year! In 2011, it was “this” Supergirl that appeared on and in a 2011, DC calendar – the art was seen in a DC style guide around that time.

Even if I were to agree that this, including headband, was a bad costume – I don’t but if I did – seeing a strong, enthusiastic, and happy Supergirl in this costume is still countless times better than the angry, angsty, hateful (and now vomiting blood) crotch-shield/ super-diaper wearing Kara in comics today!

Oh, as for her that gown mentioned above, it was designed by a reader, and was used for a public appearance Kara put in, and not meant as a uniform to fight evil in. Her costumes were designed by readers but prior to this, there had even been a contest of sorts as to which hairstyle Linda Lee Danvers should wear. She was going to be in college and by then many readers felt her braids had to go!

I think it was pretty cool that DC incorporated the fans/ customers’ input directly into comics! How different now, where readers’ input is vocally mocked or shunned. Imagine if “The New 52″ had been borne through votes and submissions and so on for the designs and more; how much bigger buzz, input, and possibly even respect!

(Another fun project was DC’s 1980′s “Dial ‘H’ For Hero,” where readers got a chance to see their creations printed in the comics.)

“Maybe she made trips to the bottle city of Kandor and went to a super dress shop.”

That makes so much sense, they really should have used that idea back in the day!

I love it when comic artist/writer changes a character’s costume and feels the need for some story justification. Supergirl couldn’t have just decided to wear a headband? It had to be a Kryptonian symbol?

I don’t see any reason why these characters, like real people, can’t just decide to get some new clothes.

@buttler – Late to this post and all, but that Supergirl costume really is my favorite, and only partly because that period was my introduction to the character. It just has the right amount of sex appeal for male readers while still being fashionable for the time and actually functional as a superhero costume, which is something that can be said for far too few female characters. If done right, I think it could’ve made sense for the movie.

I like the 80s costume too, but not the head band.

@JosephW
Nice link. I like the costume that is basically a one piece bathing suit with a giant ‘S’, thigh boots, gloves and a red scarf, but I guess she never wore that one.

@Ethan Shuster: I totally agree. In fact, I would love to see a superhero or heroine who has multiple designs of costume and switches between them day-to-day. I know no comic publisher is likely to do that with a major character (they need one look to be iconic and merchandisable), but it’d be cool to see a secondary character or villain with a revolving wardrobe.

[quote]The problem was, of course, that the movie then changed their mind and went with a more traditional Supergirl costume in the final film…[/quote]

I find it odd to call it “traditional” when she had never worn a costume like that in the comics. Okay, fine, it’s “more traditional” than the headband and perm look.

I do like the Helen Slater movie look, but I also find it odd that a lot of people (the sort of people who would think Wonder Woman’s lasso was always a lasso of truth) tend to think the “red skirt” costume worn in the movie is “classic” Supergirl when she never wore anything like it in the comics until “Matrix” Supergirl showed up.

I was never a fan of the “blue skirt” original Supergirl costume. The red short-shorts costume with the puffy sleeves is what I think of as classic Supergirl. I would’ve been happy with that costume from the cover of Supergirl #13, but the headband and perm made it not look good. It’s a shame she died with such a horrible look that therefore is forever etched into history.

[quote]I love it when comic artist/writer changes a character’s costume and feels the need for some story justification. Supergirl couldn’t have just decided to wear a headband? It had to be a Kryptonian symbol?[/quote]

And the odd thing is that it was established as being something that only *male* Kryptonians wore when they became an adult. I think there may have been some sort of women’s lib issues being addressed here. (Women can wear clothes that are traditionally male.)

The best Supergirl outfit was the animated series’, as it wasn’t just a female version of Supes’ suit. Best Supergirl design, as well.

I feel the Matrix costume was the ultimate.
Yeah, that’s what the stays quo was when I was a kid, but I also think it’s just the perfection of the original design, much like Wally West’s Flash suit perfects the original Infantino suit (IMO).

s/forever locking that cover/forever locking that costume/

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