Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-third 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 fifty-two.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is 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 you check out this installment of Board Game Legends Revealed for a special edition focused solely on legends related to the game of Monopoly, including the bizarre origins of the game!
COMIC LEGEND: The Phantom ended up becoming purple because Lee Falk was out of the country when it came time to decide what color to make the Phantom, so without his input they made him purple.
The “false” aspect of this legend is pretty simple, but the true parts of the story are a good deal more interesting.
Let’s get the “false” stuff out of the way right off the bat.
On Lee Falk’s IMDB trivia page, it reads:
Originally intended The Phantom’s costume to be gray. However, when Lee was traveling around the world, syndicate King Features had to find a color to the costume without his permission, and thereby The Phantom received his trademark purple outfit.
Well, as we already discussed back the last time Lee Falk came up in Comic Book Legends Revealed (this installment), this was not true as Falk never left the United States until after World War II (Phantom became purple in 1939), and until the War, he never even traveled much within the United States ITSELF (he stuck mostly to the Midwest).
So yeah, that was not why the Phantom became purple, which he has remained colored ever since…
The actual reason, to be frank, is a bit of a mystery.
According to Falk on a few occasions, it was a printing error, but I’ve never seen that confirmed. The other rumor was that it was an intentional decision because Falk’s preference, gray, would not appear consistent in the strip (this was the same basic reason why the Hulk became green). Honestly, either one makes sense.
What’s more interesting to me, though, is just the odd history of the character’s coloring period.
When the Phantom debuted in 1936, he was clearly intended to be gray. Heck, Falk originally wanted to call him The Gray Ghost, but changed his mind.
However, the Phantom appeared in black and white, so while Falk could INTEND him to be gray, there was no definitive color scheme for the character that his Syndicate would send out to other people.
And as time went by and people began to put the Phantom into collections, well, let’s just say that they all pretty much did whatever they wanted.
In a 1937 Italian collection of the strips, he was colored all different colors…
When he was first collected in America in 1938, the costume was colored red/orange…
In Australia in 1938, he was lime green!
Interestingly enough, though, Falk did not shy about the color WITHIN the comic, it was just that, well, who is going to notice a small reference here and there over a few years?
But soon after the Phantom debuted, he is described in a 1936 strip…
And in 1938…
Finally, in 1939, King Features, Falk’s syndicate, began doing the Phantom strip as a Sunday strip, which meant that they finally HAD to color the Phantom.
And they went with purple (the part about them not consulting with Falk is true – we just don’t know if they didn’t consult with Falk and just decided to go with purple or if they didn’t consult with Falk and meant to make him gray and just screwed up).
However, hilariously, Falk just ignored this during his daily strips!
He just kept having the Phantom be gray!!
all the way up until 1953!!!
Finally, in 1956, Falk relented…
Eventually, he even came up with an explanation for the coloring of the costume in the strips (something about the dye from berries).
Pretty crazy, huh? For almost twenty years, he was gray in the daily strip and purple in the Sunday strip!
Thanks to the amazing Bryan Sheddon for collecting all these panels and for having one of the greatest Phantom site the internet will likely ever see, The Deep Woods. Be sure to check it out!
COMIC LEGEND: Sappho was among the initial group of beings who lent Mary Marvel her powers!
Mary Marvel first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in 1942, about a year after the first Captain Marvel spin-off (Captain Marvel, Jr.) debuted (she was Billy Batson’s long lost twin sister).
Created by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze (she was designed by Swayze), Mary Marvel was shocking to the senses of young Billy Batson (and I’m sure young boys everywhere), as she was a superhero but also a GIRL!
However, luckily, while Mary Marvel had powers like her brother, the wizard Shazam wouldn’t dream of sullying the good names of the folks who lent part of their powers to create Captain Marvel’s magic word, “Shazam” (S for the wisdom of Solomon, H for the strength of Hercules, A for the stamina of Atlas, Z for the power of Zeus A for the courage of Achilles and M for the speed of Mercury) by making them give their powers to a GIRL, too (Yuck! A GIRL!).
So instead, he looked to a different group of folks to give Mary HER magic word “Shazam.”
It’s an eclectic group, including: Selena for grace, Hippolyta for strength, Ariadne for skill, Zephyrus for fleetness (and flight), Aurora for beauty, and Minerva for wisdom.
As you might notice, that’s a weird mix because you got yourself…
A Greek goddess, an Amazon, an ex-girlfriend of Theseus, a Greek GOD (for some reason they chose to use the male version of Zephyr, Zephyrus, but when it came time to depict them all, Zephyrus was drawn as a woman like all the rest), another Greek goddess and finally, a Roman goddess.
In current continuity, Mary just shared the same folks as Billy.
In any event, oddly enough, it was not Selena who originally gave Mary the “S” in Shazam, but rather, Sappho!
Yes, Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess from the Isle of Lesbos whose name (and place of origin) gave rise to the adjectives “sapphic” and “lesbian,” which ultimately became references to female homosexuality.
This is not that odd for the time, as DC Comics at around the same time had Wonder Woman remarking “Suffering Sappho!” not infrequently…
But Fawcett editor Rod Reed was not a fan of the idea.
In Comics Interview #18, in an interview of Reed by John Pierce, Reed notes:
[H]ere’s a scoop. Selena represents the first letter in Mary’s SHAZAM, right. Well, man, the original was Sappho! I killed her. I was not then enlightened about the healthful effects of homosexuality and lesbianism. In a small way, I was the Anita Bryant of my time. But I said, “Ol’ Sappho must go,” and that’s how Selena got in.
Imagine if that had not been changed (actually, I bet it wouldn’t have been that much different back then, see Wonder Woman’s use of “Suffering Sappho!” without incident, but when DC picked the characters up in the 1970s I wonder if it would have been altered)!
Thanks to Comics Interview, John Pierce and Rod Reed for the information!
STATUS: True, at least definitely true at first.
Reader Eli wrote in a few weeks back to ask:
From Scott Shaw’s Facebook Page:
“People often refer to the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm AKA “The Thing” as “the orange guy made out of rocks”. (The FF’s Human Torch once described Ben as “a walking pile of peach pits” — then promptly got clobbered!) But according to Ben’s co-creator, the late, great Jack Kirby, he’s NEITHER! Joltin’ Jack once told my friend Pete Von Sholly that the Thing is “a super-strong gorilla covered with dinosaur hide”! Cool!”
Is this true?
It is true, Eli, but it is also somewhat misleading.
Apparently, a recent Jack Kirby Collector (#54) actually had a whole feature by Will Murray on this issue (thanks to reader Boomtuber for pointing it out), so I got some specific quotes for you all on it, as reader Corey wanted specific Kirby quotes, which is fair enough.
You see, first off, Kirby wanted the Thing to be like dinosaur hide. From Murray’s piece in the Jack Kirby Collector…
“If you’ll notice, the beginnings of Ben, he was kind of lumpy. I felt he had the power of a dinosaur, and I began to think along those lines. I wanted his flesh to look like dinosaur hide.”
And when you look at it, that seems pretty evident…
Even after he first made the Thing change appearance, Kirby was STILL thinking in terms of “dinosaur hard plates” rather than “rocks.”
From Murray’s piece…
“Dinosaurs had thick-plated hides, and of course that’s what the Thing had.”
You can see what Kirby meant when he inked the cover of Fantastic Four #8 by himself, rather than his then-inker, Dick Ayers…
Notice that the Thing does look “scaly” rather than “rocky.”
Dick Ayers could never figure out what Kirby wanted, but TRIED to at least move from the Thing being “muddy” to the Thing being “scaly,” but it was not until Goerge Roussos began inking the book that the Thing pretty much overnight became “rocky,” as Roussos tried to capture what he thought Kirby wanted.
Here’s Ayers’ last issue and then Roussos’ first issue…
Pretty big difference, huh?
At the time, though, Kirby kept penciling the Thing the same way – like a scaly/
plate-y” creature, it was just up to his inkers on how they interpreted the look.
Here’s a 1962 pencil drawing Kirby did for Jerry Bails’ legendary fanzine, Alter Ego…
See how it basically IS dinosaur-like? But it was up to his inkers on how to interpret Kirby’s take on The Thing, and Ayers and Roussos had a vastly different approach to it.
But when Joe Sinnott joined the book, things changed dramatically. First, he made the Thing look like the “rocky” Thing that we know (and love) today.
Here’s his first issue (#44), where you can see it beginning…
And then, after he had some more time on the book, here he is in #51 (do note that Stan Lee specifically told Sinnott to change anything he felt like changing about Kirby’s pencils – that was how respected Sinnott was as an artist at the time – no offense to the previous inkers of Kirby on FF, but Sinnott’s hiring was seen at the time as a sort of “Okay, this book is pretty darn popular, I suppose we can afford the best inker possible now” deal)…
This is the way the Thing appeared in comics basically ever since.
The big difference between Sinnott and everyone else, though, is that when Sinnott made a change to Kirby’s pencils, Kirby actually tended to pay attention (Sinnott also adjusted Reed’s appearance, making him look a bit more polished looking).
So under Sinnott, Kirby actually began to PENCIL the Thing differently based on how Sinnott was INKING him!
Check out these pages from FF #76…
and FF #89…
So yeah, originally, Kirby viewed the Thing as having “dinosaur hide,” but that ended up just being the first few years of the Thing’s existence (basically pre-Sinnott). For the rest of his career, when Kirby drew the Thing, he drew it the way we know him today.
Thanks for the question, Eli! And thanks to Will Murray and the Jack Kirby Collector for the great quotes! Also, thanks to Jack Kirby Collector #9 for the uninked Kirby pages (and the Jerry Bails penciled drawing).
This all being said, I surely don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t still tell people he drew the Thing like he had dinosaur hide. Pete Von Sholly nicely stopped by in the comments to say what the King said to him, and I have no doubt that Kirby did not qualify his statement to him about how he drew the Thing. Thanks a lot for stopping by, Pete!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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, last 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 all next week!