Welcome to the three hundredth and first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred.
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 Music Legends Revealed to learn about a trio of legends involving the effect of jingles on popular music history (and in one case, popular CEREAL history)!
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COMIC LEGEND: The creation of World’s Fair Comics eventually led to dramatic change in both the Superman and Batman mythos.
STATUS: Effectively True
When National Comics first got started, they inherited two editors from the fellow that they took over the company from, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Those two editors were Vin Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth. Ellsworth, however, felt that there was no money to be made in comics, so he left to California to find work there. So when Action Comics #1 came out, Vin Sullivan was THE editor for National Comics. It was Sullivan, for instance, who actually decided to put Superman into the first issue of Action Comics.
And it was Sullivan who bought the first Batman feature for Detective Comics #27.
Sullivan was very creator-friendly. However, he also had a view toward “creators’ rights,” so when he came up with the idea of doing a comic book tie-in with the 1939 World’s Fair, he cut a deal with National to get a percentage of the sales of the comic.
Well, those royalties never seemed to exactly come to Sullivan, and when he discovered that World’s Fair Comics was going to continue in 1940 (without his involvement)…
Well, he just about had it and quit, later noting that he just did not want to be involved with people who were going to treat him like that.
So Whitney Ellsworth returned from California and become the new head editor for National Comics.
And soon after Ellsworth returned, he quickly established that National Comics was in charge of these characters, not Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel or Joe Shuster.
This became evident when Ellsworth made notable changes in Batman #1, decreeing that…
A. the Joker will not be killed off (having panels added to note that Joker survived his seemingly fatal fight with Batman in the issue) (see here for the Comic Book Legends Revealed installment dealing with that story).
B. that Batman will no longer use a gun or kill people.
Soon afterward, Ellsworth nixed Siegel’s idea of having Superman reveal his secret identity to Lois Lane (a story that also introduced an element from the planet Krypton that could kill Superman) (see here for the Comic Book Legends Revealed installment dealing with that story).
I cannot state to a certainty that Sullivan would have approved those stories, but he definitely was a much more laid-back editor (and as we saw, he already allowed Batman to kill people, so he didn’t seem to have a problem with it), so you would tend to believe he would have gone along with what his creative teams wanted. In which case…wow…talk about a change in history!!
Sullivan was hired by the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate to create a new comic book company. Sullivan left that company (Columbia Comics) after a few years when they were reluctant to introduce new series. He formed his own company, Magazine Entertainment, and stuck around until 1958, when he left comics for good (Magazine Entertainment, of course, had some issues with creator’s rights of its own, as noted in this installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed). Sullivan passed away in 1999.
In 1941, by the way, DC followed up their World’s Fair comics with a new series called World’s Best Comics…
which, instead of being an annual thing, became an ongoing series, with the second issue being retitled…
I think you know what happened with THAT comic.
COMIC LEGEND: Black Hand was originally intended to appear in Grant Morrison’s JLA: Classified storyline.
During the JLA: Classified storyline that led into his Seven Soldiers project…
The Justice League vanish into a pocket universe (the “real world”) chasing a new super villain known as Black Death. Here are a few pages with him and the League trying to stop him…
Notice his style. Keeping notes like that? That’s very reminiscent of the original depiction of the Green Lantern villain, the Black Hand, who I featured in an installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed here.
That is not a coincidence, as Morrison was originally planning on USING Black Hand as the villain here, but when he learned that Geoff Johns had plans for the villain, both in Green Lantern: Rebirth…
and also the forthcoming follow-up series…
Morrison changed the character to a brand-new villain with the same M.O.
Morrison mentioned this in an interview for Newsarama that sadly is no longer online, so I can’t link you to it.
Thanks to reader Omar Karindu for suggesting this one!
COMIC LEGEND: Charles Addams’ Addams Family cartoon was used to diagnose lunacy.
Beginning with his first Addams Family cartoon in the New Yorker in 1938, Charles Addams’ grotesque (but not evil) family became quite a sensation, ultimately leading to a TV series…
a movie series…
and even, currently, a Broadway musical!!
While they seem almost quaint nowadays, Addams’ cartoons were quite “on the edge” for their time (think of how the Simpsons was treated when it debuted, and that was just 21 years ago!).
Therefore, one popular story about the strip (repeated here at the neat website, Weird Tales):
Legend has it that one of his cartoons was used to gauge lunacy levels in asylum patients.
If you look into Addams, you’ll see that reference a lot, although often “allegedly” will be thrown in there, as well.
However, it was never even ALLEGEDLY used to gauge lunacy levels. Like the game of telephone, this story can be traced back to a singular source, which has been since mangled beyond recognition. You see, Wolcott Gibbs, the noted playwright, editor, humorist (etc. etc.) and also, friend of Addams (and drama critic for the New Yorker), wrote the introduction to Addams and Evil, a collection of Addams’ cartoons.
In it, Gibbs jokes that Addams’ cartoons should be used to diagnose incipient lunacy in patients. The theory being that if you think you can explain certain Addams pictures, the lunacy is no longer incipient.
This clear joke has somehow been transformed over the years into first A. a serious suggestion and B. an actual claim.
It is not.
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 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!