Welcome to the two-hundred and ninety-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 ninety-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 Movie Legends Revealed for the truth behind the famous quip Laurence Olivier supposedly said to Dustin Hoffman while filming The Marathon Man. Also, which famous movie star was actually publicly censured by the United States Congress for her adultery?!
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With the end of one year and the beginning of a new year coming up, this week’s legends are all somehow related to TIME!
COMIC LEGEND: O.M.A.C. was originally a “Captain America in the future” concept.
More than a few times during his career Jack Kirby found himself in awkward situations from a creative standpoint.
One of these times was the late 1960s/early 1970s, when he was still working for Marvel Comics. Kirby was still a Marvel employee, but, just like Rosemary in the classic Bob Dylan tune Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, “She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts.” Similarly, Kirby was with Marvel, but he was leaning in another direction. In 1968, he did not necessarily know what direction that might be – it might have still been with Marvel, just in a different role (Kirby certainly gave Marvel every opportunity to keep him around), but he knew that he was increasingly displeased with his situation as it was at Marvel. So it would not be surprising at all if Kirby began to doubt whether he wanted to provide new characters to his current company when he might want to leave. We know that as he got closer to departing Marvel, that that is exactly what he began to do (hold on to new characters for use at his next company), but, of course, that does not mean that every idea he chose not to use was for that reason. Ideas go unused for all sorts of reasons. It’s only an interesting possibility that perhaps as early as 1968 he was thinking about a possible future beyond Marvel.
In any event, while working on Captain America in 1968 with Stan Lee and Syd Shores…
Kirby came up with the idea of introducing the Captain America of the future. The idea ended up not being used, but it clearly stuck in the back of his head.
Fast forward to 1974, when Kirby was in another awkward situation. He was under contract to DC Comics, but they had already canceled his biggest and most notable idea for them, his Fourth World line of comics and had also just canceled one of the next series he created for them, the Demon. He was still doing Kamandi, the far-out adventures of a teen in a post-apocalyptic future, which was doing well for DC.
By this time, Kirby was already thinking that perhaps DC was no better of a situation for him than Marvel was, and began to give serious thought to leaving the company. However, he was still under contract, and the terms of his contract demanded a remarkably large output of work (fifteen pages of art and story per week!), so you would have a period where Kirby would practically be an idea factory, tossing out new idea after new idea after new idea, hoping some of them would catch on like Kamandi did.
Almost certainly with the success of Kamandi in mind, Kirby went back to his unused “Captain America of the future” concept and introduced O.M.A.C….One Man Army Corps in mid-1974!
As you can see from these pages of O.M.A.C. #1, the parallels to the origin of Captain America are striking…
and then when Buddy gets his powers…
It basically is “Captain America of the future,” although naturally with a bit more of a dystopic flavor to it that I don’t know if Kirby necessarily had in mind in the late 1960s.
Thanks to Mark Evanier for the information behind O.M.A.C.’s origins, which he detailed in DC’s recent hardcover collection of the eight issues of O.M.A.C. (it also did not exactly catch on, and by the time it abruptly finished, Kirby was on his way back to Marvel for a second try)!
Here’s that hardcover…
STATUS: A Nice False/True Blend, Mostly on the False End
In Uncanny X-Men #282, a mutant from the future was introduced named Bishop…
In Uncanny X-Men #287, he joined the team, but not before we learn that Bishop discovered something about the past while in the future – that the X-Men were killed by one of their own!!
Eventually, the story was explained as it being Professor Xavier who was the traitor, as Xavier’s dark side merged with Magneto’s dark side to create the malevolent being known as Onslaught.
However, obviously, since Onslaught did not exist at the time, he could not have been what Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio had in mind for the X-Traitor.
As you might imagine, tons of speculations has accumulated over the years over who the X-Traitor was supposed to be, including a sizable group of fans who thought that it would turn out to be Bishop himself!
Earlier this year, Vaneta Rogers over at Newsarama addressed this specific question when she asked Lee and Portacio about the X-Traitor.
And, in a refrain that you will find familiar after reading the previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed where we learned how Scott Lobdell introduced the concept of Onslaught without having a particular character in mind, the X-Traitor, too, was created without one specific character in mind.
That isn’t to say that there wasn’t ANY character in mind, but just that there was not a specific character in mind.
From Rogers’ column, Lee notes that “there were a couple possibilities that would work depending on which fandom was guessing. The choices we had would work with the hints we were laying down” and Portacio recalls, “And yes there was discussion on Bishop being that traitor, though to my recollection, no decision was ever made. I never drew a page to that effect.”
So there’s definitely a bit of a mix here between true and false, but I think it enough of a false to go with “false.”
Chronos, by John Francis Moore and Paul Guinan (with inks mostly by Steve Leialoha and Denis Rodier), was a fun comic book by DC in the late 1990s.
It starred Walker Gabriel, a fairly amoral fellow who took over as Chronos after the earlier Chronos died.
The series was filled with impressively intelligent musings on history and the nature of time travel, while also having time for more offbeat stuff, like having superheroes from the past show up.
It was a really clever series, and one of the few modern titles seemingly to receive the Grant Morrison seal of approval, as he gave Walker Gabriel a key role in DC One Million and recently, Gabriel showed up in the pages of Superman Beyond.
However, it was one of those comics where, like the very similar comic (which was also out at the same time), Chase, it seemed perhaps a bit TOO out of the ordinary to succeed in the modern comic book marketplace.
So when it ended after issue #11 (the 12th issue of the series, counting its “one millionth” issue tie-in with DC One Million), pretty much everyone chalked it up as yet another “Brilliant But Canceled” comic book series, like Chase, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics, etc.
That, though, was not the case.
As artist Paul Guinan pointed out at the time, telling Comic Book Resources’ Beau Yarbrough :
Yes, John Francis Moore has ‘pulled the plug’ on ‘Chronos,’ and in fact used that very phrase himself.
Among the reasons he gave me were: a deadline schedule that didn’t allow him to spend the time he needed on his scripts, editorial circumstances that contributed to the book going in a direction he didn’t care for, aesthetic disappointments, and low sales.
You can go to Beau’s site here to read Paul’s full letter, which goes into minute detail over the circumstances behind Moore deciding to end the series when he did.
Now, is this a case of quitting right before you’re fired? Perhaps, as Chronos’ sales were low enough that had the book not turned things around dramatically, it likely WOULD have been canceled a few months later. However, DC was giving it a shot at turning things around, so who knows what might have happened?
So when you discuss Brilliant But Canceled comics (and there are a lot of them!), do note that Chronos technically does not belong amongst their number.
Thanks to Beau and Paul for the information!
Okay, that’s it for this week! I wish you all a Very Happy New Year!!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).
The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(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!