Welcome to the two-hundred and eighteenth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and seventeen.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend last week’s Movie Legends Revealed, which was an all-Tom Hanks edition of the column!
COMIC LEGEND: Thomas Nast came up with the idea of having the Democratic Party symbolized by a donkey.
This type of situation comes up frequently – whoever is the most famous user of a particular style or idea often ends up getting the credit for ORIGINATING the idea, whether that is accurate or not. Thomas Nast is quite possibly the most famous editorial cartoonist in United States history, so he often gets credit where it is not due.
One such instance is the creation of the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party. This is actually even trickier, because if you say “who created the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party?” you’re basically saying, “Who POPULARIZED it,” in which case, yeah, the answer would be Thomas Nast. He popularized the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party.
That’s fair enough.
But he did not ORIGINATE the idea of using a donkey as the symbol for the Democratic Party. In fact, he was over thirty years late to get that honor!
That honor goes to a cartoonist whose name has been lost to history.
In a cartoon published in 1837, outgoing President Andrew Jackson is show trying to still lead the Democrats (his party) even though he is no longer President. The Democrats are symbolized by a donkey (which was basically an animal that Jackson had actually aligned his campaign with originally, as he viewed himself as stubborn as a mule, etc.).
The comic is titled “The Modern Balaam and his ass.”
This is in reference to the Bible story about Balaam who is kept from proceeding because he is stopped by the Angel (working on God’s behalf). Balaam’s donkey actually speaks to him, which is one of the extremely rare examples of an animal speaking in the Bible (by extremely rare, I think it’s one of, like, two animals who talk in the entire Bible). Here is a famous Rembrandt painting of the scene…
So as you can see, the donkey had already been shown to symbolize the Democratic Party decades before Nast came up with the notion in 1870.
In fact, Nast tried pushing the Fox as the symbol of the Democatic Party for awhile, but ended up on the donkey.
Here’s Nast’s first usage of the Donkey to stand for the Democrats – it is Nast complaining about Democrats talking smack about the recently deceased Former U.S. Attorney General, Former U.S. Secretary of War and then current Supreme Court Justice Edwin M. Stanton.
Since Nast was so popular, this cartoon DID lead to the Democrats being associated with the Donkey.
And Nast DID come up with the idea of associating the Republicans with Elephants, so he’s got that going for him!
Towards the end of the 1980s, John Marc DeMatteis had an idea for a Batman/Joker story. What would happen if Joker actually killed Batman? Obviously, he did not mean ACTUALLY kill him, but what if the Joker honestly felt that he had killed Batman? What would he do next? How would he handle such a situation?
DeMatteis theorized that it would, in effect, turn the Joker “sane.”
So he pitched the idea to DC, but they ended up turning him down because they had other plans for the Joker.
So DeMatteis changed the piece, this time making Hugo Strange the villain of the piece.
This approach, too, was turned down.
Not wanting to let a good idea go to disuse, DeMatteis pitched the idea to Marvel, only now re-formulated to Spider-Man and the villain Kraven.
Thus, we got Kraven’s Last Hunt (with art by the amazing Mike Zeck), where we see what Kraven would do next if he ever actually “killed” Spider-Man (here’s a hint – it does not end well for Kraven).
The story, which Marvel cleverly spread out over all the three Spider-Man monthly books of the time (which gave the story a bit more of an “event” feel to it), was a big success, critically and commercially.
Well, sure enough, in the ensuing time between DeMatteis’ first pitch and the publication of Kraven’s Last Hunt, DC debuts a new comic book titled Legends of the Dark Knight. This book is where stories that wouldn’t necessarily fit in the regular books would go.
And wouldn’t you know it, with this new series going, in 1994, DC brings DeMatteis in to write the Batman/Joker story that he pitched to them some 6-7 years ago!!
The storyline, drawn by the great Joe Staton, is called Going Sane, and it is quite good, if a bit overlooked. That is, it was overlooked until just recently, when DC actually put it into a trade paperback collection!
Apparently, the latest issue of Back Issue magazine (Michael Eury’s excellent comic history magazine) has a piece on this story, as well. I have not read it, but I’m sure it’s great – so it’s well worth checking out!
COMIC LEGEND: Jay Z named his comeback album Kingdom Come in honor of Superman’s “comeback” in the Elseworlds mini-series, Kingdom Come.
In 2003, Jay-Z seemed to “retire,” if not from rap itself (as that was not going to happen, obviously), at least perhaps from using the name Jay-Z, as there were murmors that his “comeback” album in 2006 would be released under his real name, Shaun Carter.
When the album came out, though, it was under the name Jay-Z.
However, the name of the ALBUM is even more curious. The term “Kingdom Come” is a popular one, as it comes from a very popular prayer. But could it have something to do with DC’s 1995 smash hit Elseworlds mini-series, set in the future where SUPERMAN effectively makes a “comeback” to superheroing?
As a matter of fact, it did!
Here’s Mark Waid, the writer of Kingdom Come (alongside artist Alex Ross), explaining the situation in a great guest spot Waid did as a Guest DJ at KCRW’s awesome “Guest DJ Project” (where celebrities come in and play 5 songs that mean something to them and discuss the five songs). I’ve linked to this Project a couple of times before in the past, and it’s well worth checking out, if only to see (like I do) which celebrities pick Dylan songs (thanks, Sam Mendes!).
In any event, here, from Mark Waid’s Guest DJ transcript (you can read the whole thing here), is the situation explained…
In 1996, artist Alex Ross and I worked together on this graphic novel called “Kingdom Come” for DC Comics, which got a lot of attention. It’s a story about what happens when Superman retires then is drawn back out of retirement by this next generation of superheroes who have gone awry because they don’t have that North Star. They don’t have that…he didn’t realize what an inspiration he was to them and what a guiding force he was to them. He retires and then everything in the world just goes hilt, and he’s got to come back. So, a couple years ago, Jay Z, he’s been running Def Jam for a while, and he’s thinking about coming back into the studio and doing something new, and his engineer gives him a copy of Kingdom Come and he sees such a parallel between himself and Superman in the sense of ‘I’ve been away, I’m not sure I like the way things have gone in my absence, I’m coming back’ that he based the comeback album on this graphic novel. The title song talks about Superman, Bruce Wayne, and comics in general and that’s what I call a career highlight.
That about explains that, no?
Pretty cool stuff.
Thanks to Mark Waid for the explanation and thanks to KRCW for doing their awesome Guest DJ Project!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, at the end of April, my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you next week!