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Welcome to the five hundred and fifty-sixth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, was Marvel not allowed to refer to Red Skull as a Nazi in the early 1990s? Was Grant Morrison forced to change the ending of Final Crisis to give it a happy ending? Why did Clark Kent go from working for the Daily Star to the Daily Planet?
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).
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel was not allowed to refer to Red Skull as a Nazi during the 1990s.
STATUS: False, With Some Truth to It
G. Kendall is doing a great weekly series on this here blog where he examines old issues of Wizard: The Guide to Comics. In any event, in Wizard #30 from late 1993, he came across an interview with then-new Homage Studios editor David Wohl explaining some of the reasons for why he left Marvel to go work for Marc Silvestri’s Homage. One of the reasons Wohl cited was that he felt that Marvel, as a public company, was far too concerned with what people might complain about, even if their complaints were unreasonable. As an example, he said:
We had a trading card with the Red Skull standing in front of a Nazi flag with a swastika on it, and someone wrote in objecting to it. The guy said that he didn’t want to have to explain to his ten-year old what a swastika was. Eventually the word came down that the Red Skull is not to be referred to as a Nazi. He’s just another villain.
Here’s the card in question, from Marvel’s 1990 trading card set…
Wohl was right that a father DID complain about the card and it DID have an impact on how the Red Skull was depicted in Marvel Comics, but not to the extent that Wohl recalled. I asked Tom Brevoort about it, and he noted that it was really a matter of the VISUAL depiction of the Red Skull, particularly when it came to licensed products. Essentially, stuff like trading cards and the like – the stuff that was most accessible to the outside world. In other words, don’t show him wearing swastikas. The comics followed that basic set-up, as well. He would still occasionally be referred to as a Nazi, like this bit from a 1991 Captain America issue…
but he wasn’t decked out in Swastika gear, and you would never see that stuff on licensed products.
That was basically the set-up that was in place when a Captain America animated series was proposed that would be set in World War II but not reference Nazis. The fear was that a general audience would freak out when seeing Nazis and Swastikas.
The comics, themselves, though, still continued to have the Nazi stuff in moderation, like Mark Waid’s first Cap stint (where Cap is trapped inside the Cosmic Cube, intent on killing Hitler, who was also trapped in the Cube)…
and then the infamous re-written Mark Waid Captain America issue still contains Nazi references and swastikas even after it was re-written…
But the basic idea that that trading card set off a change in how Marvel did things was correct, in a way. Just not to the extent Wohl described it.
Thanks to G. Kendall for the suggestion, thanks to David Wohl for the quote and thanks to Tom Brevoort for the information!
Check out some recent entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
Was Snakes on a Plane Re-Edited after a Parody Trailer of the Film?
On the next page, was Grant Mprrison forced to change the ending of Final Crisis to give it a happier ending?
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