Welcome to the three hundredth and sixty-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, in honor of the opening of the Avengers this weekend, it is an ALL-AVENGERS EDITION! Discover the Avengers issue that was edited at the last minute because of a possibly ribald sequence in the original story, learn whether Stan Lee wrote the Captain America theme song and marvel at how the Comics Code changed Captain America’s origin!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and sixty-four.
COMIC LEGEND: An issue of Avengers West Coast was edited at the last moment because of a scene that could be interpreted as one character performing oral sex on another.
During John Byrne’s run on Avengers West Coast, he had the Scarlet Witch go through a bit of a bad time.
First, her husband, the Vision, was taken apart from the government and now had no emotional bond to her anymore…
Next, even more devastatingly, she discovered that her two children with the Vision were actually created by her power and did not actually exist…
She was in such bad shape that it is unsurprising that she had a mental breakdown
and became a bit of a villain for a time…
In her mentally unbalanced state, she decided to torment Wonder Man (who was in love with her but she did return the sentiment)…
Not cool, Wanda, NOT COOL!
Now, that is how the issues appeared when they were PRINTED, but when they were drawn it was a different state of affairs all together.
I’ll let Len Kamniski, who was Assistant Editor on the book (with Howard Mackie as the editor), explain the situation…
During this period John’s working method was to dispense with plots, scripts and etc., and just go straight to drawing the story. Obviously this saved precious time in terms of meeting production deadlines. John would send in the completed book, inked (when he inked himself, of course) [This issue was inked by Paul Ryan – BC] and lettered (his computer printed balloons already pasted down).
Saved a boatload of time, that. We managed to get the completed book into production in the nick of time every month, instead of bowel-shrivelingly late like most other stuff. And you have to give John his due, having the confidence to just charge ahead, plotting, drawing and dialoging from panel to panel.
Cut to: the day the book Must go the printer. It arrives first thing in the morning from the colorist. Editor Howard Mackie quickly reads through it, declares it good, drops it on my desk to proofread, after which I’m to finesse it through Production and have Mark Gruenwald sign it out. I don’t recall if Tom DeFalco was out that day, which technically was the only time the process was allowed to skip him, or if was one of the times you waited for Tom to go to lunch or something, then take to Mark, plead screaming lateness (usually true anyway), and get him to autograph the release forms WITHOUT READING the book.
Everything up till that last bit was Standard Operating Procedure in Editorial. But Mark NEVER skipped the final read-through; even when Tom was IN, Mark’d read it first, then pass it to Tom. Yeah, some of it was his continuity cop fixation, but there were plenty of times he’d catch a typo that got through and do the corrections himself with a pen and whiteout (this sort of thing was SIMPLY NOT DONE by editors; no matter how late the book might be, corrections were done by production (unless the Assistant Editor had the skills; Assistant Editors who failed to HIDE any art, lettering, or coloring abilities never got to leave the building, and were given water at LEAST once a week). But that was Mark…
ANYWAY, Mark virtually never signed out a book without reading it, and on those occasions ONLY for guys who belonged to the Former Assistant Editors to Mark Gruenwald Club. I believe there were two. Howard was one of them. (I sorta got to be an honorary member later on, thanks to Mark and I hitting it off when I got Managing Editor status on QUASAR).
To sum up: The editor has read the book and passed it. The acting EIC is ready to rubber-stamp it sight unseen. From there, straight to the printer.
They say it’s the things you don’t do that you later regret, and usually I agree with that. In this case, I have to confess that there are times I think back and REALLY hate myself for what I did next.
I started proofreading. Screeched to a rubber-shredding halt on page 7, Slammed it into reverse and re-read page 6 three times before I was sure there was more going on there than just my depraved imagination. Held the page up and said, “Uh, Howard… could you read this page again and tell me if it’s me, or… um…”
Howard takes the page. I see his eyes scan it quickly… then start over, slower this time. I note the veins in his forehead throbbing, his eyesockets beginning to smolder, the smell of burning beard hair that always preceded his transformation into THE SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE… “Must… TALK to John… only one chance to –” he gasped.
Looking over the page, several of my brain cells collided and produced something resembling ideas. “Y’know,” I said, “this might not be that hard to fix…” Yes, the SHOCKING REVELATION: the hidden hand behind the “corrections” was, in fact, ME.
Of course, John didn’t exactly make it THAT hard a job.
Len tells me he has the corrected pages in his possession somewhere, but he could not find them, so he instead used Photoshop to give me a rough idea of what the original page looked like. Here is Len’s Photoshop of the previously shown page from Avengers West Coast #56, along with his notes on the page:
Okay, here’s a quick and dirty recreation of the original WCA page in question. Since I’d spend years more noodling with it in pshop if I let myself, it’s pretty rough, thus additional comments:
Panels 4 and 5: No sparkly hex effect from Wanda’s hands. No gouging of Wonder Man’s flesh. No tearing of his shirt, either; fingers might have been repositioned slightly, I don’t exactly recall. But the original art had Wanda simply trailing her hand down his chest… and beyond.
Panels 6 and 7: No top of Wanda’s head visible. Wonder Man’s balloons (give or take a minor stylistic difference) were as I’ve redone them. I’d bet money the revised ones that saw print were done by Chris Eliopoulos, who was on staff back then.
Now do note that in the original version, Byrne leaves it up to the reader’s imagination what actually happens, just like in the published pages. It is just more heavily implied that what is possibly happening is that Wanda is performing oral sex on Wonder Man.
In any event, now that the change was made, Len continues his story:
Book fixed. Goes to printer. Ends up funny story, no hard feelings, everybody laughs. Howard and John remained pals. As it turned out, some people got the wrong idea anyway… we got outraged, horrified letters from folks that thought what was happening on the page was Wanda CASTRATING Simon. Some days it just doesn’t pay to chew your way through the leather straps…
Thanks so much for the amazing foray into Avengers history, Len! Everyone go friend Len on Facebook!
Len also notes that while the incident turned out to not be a big deal in and of itself, it might have drawn extra attention from editorial to the book which could have played a part in the eventual conflict between Byrne and DeFalco which saw Byrne quit the title soon after the above issue came out (I did an old Comic Book Legends Revealed installment on what Byrne had planned for the title had he stayed. You can check it out here).
Check out some Sports Legends Revealed, like:
Was the Olympic Torch Relay invented by the Nazis?
On the next page, did Stan Lee really write the lyrics to Captain America’s cartoon series (the one that went “When Captain America throws his mighty shield…”)?
COMIC LEGEND: Stan Lee wrote the lyrics to the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes TV series, including most famously “When Captain America throws his mighty shield”…
Marvel Super Heroes was a cartoon series produced by the short-lived animation studio, Grantray-Lawrence Animation. It featured “animated” versions of five of Marvel’s heroes – Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Namor. The animation mostly involved just directly copying the art from Marvel comic books with crude animation (typically just the lips moving, but occasionally a leg or an arm, as needed).
There were seven minute adaptations of Marvel comics and three seven-minute adaptations of a specific hero would air as an episode, with Cap on Mondays, Hulk on Tuesdays, Iron Man on Wednesdays, Thor on Thursdays and Namor on Fridays.
The Captain America episodes also adapted Avengers issues, as well as Cap stories.
The short-lived series (it ran from September to December in 1966) is perhaps best known for its memorable theme songs, unique to each hero. Here are the theme songs….
and, most famously, Captain America, with the classic lyrics “When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his mighty shield must yield”…
Well, speaking of that theme song, my buddy Adam P. Knave wrote me a few years back to ask:
I’ve been hearing Stan Lee wrote all the old theme songs for the 60s Marvel cartoons, you know “When Captain America throws his mighty shield” and the Thor one and Iron Man and so on. But I haven’t been able to find a credit for them, and I just wonder if it’s TRUE.
This is a legend that has been making the rounds for some time, and in 2004, in an article for the Jack Kirby Collecter #41, Adam McGovern did a feature on Marvel Super Heroes, including interviewing Robert Lawrence (the Lawrence part of Grantray-Lawrence Animation) along with Arlen Schumer. They asked Lawrence if Stan Lee wrote the lyrics to the theme song and he said no, he did not (Lee did do work on the series, but just dialogue and the like). However, it is fair to note that Lawrence did not know for sure who DID write the lyrics, as he recalled that Paul Francis Webster wrote the lyrics to the theme songs. Webster wrote the theme song to the Spider-Man theme song, that is true, but there is no official record of him writing the lyrics to the other series, and it is very possible that Lawrence (who passed away soon after the interview saw print) was conflating Webster’s Spider-Man work with the other series.
However, McGovern then interviewed Stan Lee about the series, and he replied, “I wish I could claim to have written [the theme song] lyrics because I think they’re brilliant, but alas, I didn’t.”
While Stan’s memory is obviously not the greatest, this is the sort of thing I think he’d remember and his answer sure seemed to be definitive (rather than “I’m pretty sure I didn’t write them), so I’m willing to go with a false here.
Thanks to Adam for the question and thanks to Adam McGovern, Arlen Schumer, the late Bob Lawrence and the legendary Stan Lee for the information!
Check out some Sports Legends Revealed, like:
On the next page, learn how the Comics Code led to a change in Captain America’s origin!
COMIC LEGEND: Captain America’s origin was changed because of the Comics Code.
STATUS: I’m Going with True
A couple of years ago, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed installment on how Two-Face had his original origin bowdlerized during the Silver Age due to the Comics Code (you can read about it here).
As it turns out, a certain patriotic superhero joined Two-Face in the ranks of the bowdlerized superhero origin.
Here’s the original origin from the first issue of Captain America Comics in 1940 (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby)…
Over a decade later, though, the Comics Code Authority was established.
While drug use was actually not specifically codified in the Code, the part of the Code that stated “All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency” was used to eliminate stuff like using a needle to inject a person so when Captain America’s origin was retold in 1964’s Tales of Suspense #63 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia, gone was the needle and in was an oral serum…
Nearly five years later, in Captain America #109 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Syd Shores), they cleverly got around the injection scene by having it already happen.
This origin introduced the “Vita-Ray” part of the origin…
This origin is also the first time that Cap actually KILLS the assassin instead of the bad guy accidentally killing himself.
Not even in the 1940s origin (an era that tended not to shy from violence) had Cap do that.
In Captain America #255, John Byrne, Roger Stern and Joe Rubinstein put all of the origins together to form what I believe is still the “official” take on the origin…
What a great issue by Byrne, Stern and Rubinstein.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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See you all next week!