Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the five hundred and ninety-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, did world-famous author Kurt Vonnegut almost write a “Silver Surfer” comic book? Did the JSA almost get their own Earth after “Zero Hour”? And was “Green Lantern” nearly banned in Florida?
Kurt Vonnegut almost wrote a “Silver Surfer” project
Reader Ruben G. wrote in a little while back to ask the following:
I once heard Marvel tried hiring famous writers to to work on their comics like Kurt Vonnegut. Apparently, Vonnegut even pitched an idea about the Silver Surfer. I was curious to know why and how it fell apart.
It is true that Marvel, over the years, have tried to get all sorts of creative talent involved in making comics. However, in this instance, we’re dealing with one of the more amusing situations when it comes to legends, which is that when enough time has passed after a satirical article is written it begins to be taken seriously. We saw that happen with Mark Millar’s classic article for CBR about Orson Welles doing a Batman film, and apparently, the same thing happened with an article written in 1984 for National Lampoon.
Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs, who later became comic book writers themselves (with Jones in particular having an excellent career in comics — his “Green Lantern Mosaic” series was especially good), worked at “National Lampoon” from 1983 to 1988, and they turned their attention to a subject they knew a lot about (they would write a book about comics called “The Comic Book Heroes: The First History of Modern Comic Books – From the Silver Age to the Present” in 1985 and Jones, of course, later wrote the brilliant book about comics, “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book,” in 2006). “The Surfer Scripts” in the February 1984 issue of “National Lampoon” is a satirical look at what it would be like if famous writers decided to do pitches for a “Silver Surfer” comic book.
Here is a snippet:
(This is one of the few pages without a lot of profanity; the Charles Bukowski sample pages are hilarious, but really profane.)
Anyhow, here is one of the final bits from the article:
Other scripts discovered but unread by researchers Jacobs and Jones include: “Semi-Cosmic” by Dan Jenkins, about what wacky funkiness really goes on behind the scenes among space-heralds;; “The Silver Hotel” by D.M. Thomas, in which the Surfer gets psychoanalyzed and exterminated; “God Bless You, Mr. Galactus” by Kurt Vonnegut, in which our hero says “So it goes” a lot (this was rejected outright because Stan Lee insisted he only say “So be it!”), “Slouching Toward Zenn-La” by Joan Didion (still in its unopened envelope); and “The Planet-Baggers” by Harold Robbins, a lusty, brawling saga which ripped the lid off the planet-eating business.
So no, it was just a joke. A funny joke, but a joke nevertheless!
Thanks for the suggestion, Ruben!
Check out some Halloween-themed legends from Legends Revealed:
“Zero Hour” was originally going to end with the Justice Society of America on their own separate Earth.
During the 1994 DC Comics crossover “Zero Hour” by Dan Jurgens, Wally West was seemingly killed (but not really), so this inspired Jay Garrick and his buddies in the Justice Society of America to take down the big bad guy, Extant.
However, when they actually run into Extant, it does not go very well for them …
Ultimately, most of them end up dead and the few survivors are now too old to continue as superheroes …
It took a number of years before James Robinson, David Goyer and Geoff Johns were able to pull the JSA out of the funk they were in post-“Zero Hour,” so most Justice Society fans don’t think fondly of the event. However, originally, Jurgens had a much better fate in store for the veteran heroes.
My buddy Christopher Irving (who is awesome — go check out his site) wrote to me about an article he did for the “Comics Buyers Guide” 15 years ago where Jurgens revealed some fascinating information about the original plans for “Zero Hour.” Here is Chris’ article:
“It wasn’t that there was a hard-core decision to kill members of the JSA, it was more of a decision based off the fact that there was a problem with the various ages between the Silver Age characters and the JSA characters,” Zero Hour writer and artist Dan Jurgens said. “What was happening was that by virtue of the fact that you were aging the Silver Age characters, the same had to hold true for the JSA characters. What you got into was this eternal dichotomy that exists in comics: when the Golden Age characters were reintroduced in the 1960’s, they would have been about those ages, around 45 to 50, which is why it was okay for Jay Garrick to have a little silver around the temples. All of a sudden, all of our Silver Age characters, for better or worse, had gotten to the point where they’d gotten to those ages. Also, the JSA had always had a very firm tie-in to World War II. The JSA has always been tied firmly into World War II; consequently, these guys are all about 85 to 90 years old.”
According to Jurgens, however, it was never his contention to leave the JSAers completely out of action by the end of Zero Hour. The failed attempt by the rogue Silver Age Green Lantern to rebuild the multiverse was originally meant to end differently:
“What would have happened if the Hal Jordan/ Parallax character create other Earths, I wanted one Earth to survive to put the JSA on, and give them back Earth-2. If you had that separation, they would always have a place to be where time could exist on its own, and they could exist with the DC Universe.
“More than anything, it was an editorial decision that DC did not want to go through with it. Often the final decision that sees print, is one of consensus, which doesn’t always make it the best decision. At that time, I wanted to go with the separate Earth that would have had the JSA exist at a different point in time than the DCU. For a variety of reasons, we decided not to go that way.”
Isn’t that amazing? That’s basically what the DC Universe ended up doing Post-“Final Crisis” and Post-“New 52,” but done in 1994 instead would have been MUCH different and, I dare say, probably a bit more similar to old school Justice Society stories (we were only two or so years removed from the awesome “Justice Society of America” ongoing series by Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck).
Thanks so much to Christopher Irving for the information and, of course, thanks to Dan Jurgens for letting Chris know about it back then!
Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed at CBR: What is the secret origin of the Great Pumpkin from the Halloween classic, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”?
The governor of Florida threatened to stop distributing “Green Lantern.”
Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ run on “Green Lantern” mostly came about because “Green Lantern” was in a bit of a sales slump, so it was basically a case of “Try whatever you want, we’re planning on canceling it otherwise.” Therefore, O’Neil and Adams tried some rather experimental stuff for the period, including dealing with societal issues like racism. However, they also did some other stuff that was kind of weirder. Basically anything that amused themselves. This was in part because DC was giving them a free pass and editor Julius Schwartz was also protecting them from any blowback from upstairs (Neal Adams later joked about how, when people started wanting to write about the avant garde series, it would be DC Publisher Carmine Infantino that they would talk to and he would have to pretend to know what was going on in the series – and take credit for it, of course).
This came to a head with “Green Lantern” #83, which features a super-powered little girl who looked like Richard Nixon being controlled by an older man who looked like Spiro Agnew (yes, it is as insane as it sounds).
That’s the inside, but check out the cover …
Covers, of course, cause a lot more trouble than interiors because, well, duh — more people see them.
And one person who saw that cover and was not happy was none other than the governor of Florida, Reubin Askew, who took issue with the depiction of the vice president on the cover of the comic.
Neal Adams has told this story many times (at least once in front of Denny O’Neil, who didn’t disagree with it, so I buy that the story is legit), but here’s one from Allen Wright’s awesome Green Arrow website:
We got a letter from the governor of Florida who wrote a letter that said “How dare you insult the Vice President of the United States like that! That’s the most outrageous thing I ever seen in a comic book. It will ruin children’s minds. If you ever do such a thing again, I will see to it that DC Comics are not distributed in the state of Florida. So the governor sent a letter and the executives that owned DC at that time, I forget — they were funeral owners or whatever — they came to see me, because Denny wasn’t there, because Denny was rarely in the studio, and they said “Look at this letter” and handed me the letter. But of course I resisted breaking out in laughter. I said “Yeah, I noticed they didn’t notice that the little girl is Richard Nixon”, who again was the ugliest little girl in comic books. “She was?” “Yes, she was.” Apparently they didn’t notice that. They said “Well, what are we going to do about this?” I said “Well, I guess we’re not going to do it again.” [rich laughter] You idiots.
That’s hilarious. Can you imagine a comic book creator having that much freedom at DC or Marvel nowadays?
Thanks to Neal Adams and Allen Wright for the information!
OK, that’s it for this week!
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