Welcome to the three hundred and seventy-first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn whether Marvel actually had a ban on the words “hell” and “damn” in the early 1990s. Plus, did Ray Bradbury really write the classic EC Comic story “Judgment Day”? And was Larry Hama really THAT nice to G.I. Joe fans during the 1980s?!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seventy.
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel had a ban on characters using the words “hell” and “damn” in the early 1990s.
Reader Gavin asked a few years back:
I’m sure I read a letter column (remember those?) in an early 90s Marvel book that made reference to the fact that the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ were prohibited in all Marvel books. After reading this I started noticing a whole lot of “go to blazes” and “darn”s in Marvel books. It seems a little old fashioned a policy for such a recent period, so did I imagine this or is there a story behind it?
I checked with both Toms DeFalco and Brevoort, and they both confirmed that yes, Marvel did, indeed, have an internal guideline where the words “hell” and “damn” were not allowed in Marvel Comics (I presume they meant in the dialogue, since, as commenter Jesse pointed out, the Hellfire Club was still around).
The examples are likely endless. If anyone wants to e-mail me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) an issue that had a particularly amusing “darn” or “blazes” or “blasted,” then I’ll feature them. However, just looking at literally the first comic I picked up from the era, Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 from 1994, notice Spider-Man’s internal monologue…
Thirteen years later, in another Spider-Man Annual (Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 – also, no joke, the first comic I picked up from this era to find an example of a “hell” or a “damn”), which was labeled for “All Audiences”…
Tom Brevoort had a great anecdote about this era in Marvel history, specifically a 1993 Editorial Retreat:
At that time, the Image books were ascendant, and other companies such as Valiant were becoming legitimate competition in the marketplace. As a result, there was a bit of pressure internally to loosen up some of the restrictions on our material, to allow people to depict a greater amount of violence, and use some harsher language. This was going to be a topic discussed at this Editorial Retreat, and the night before, Tom and publisher Mike Hobson met privately and decided to loosen some of the restrictions, and allow some of this language.
Well, at the retreat proper, the debate was long and spirited, but at the end of the day the editorial staff took the position that Marvel didn’t need to use such language or show such graphic violence in order to compete effectively or to tell compelling stories. So the restrictions remained in place—and both Tom and Hobson felt great pride towards the editorial team they’d assembled.
Thanks to Gavin for the suggestion and thanks to both Toms for their information. Special thanks to Tom Brevoort for that excellent story. My room got really dusty while I was reading that story. It kept getting in my eyes.
COMIC LEGEND: The classic EC Comic tale “Judgment Day” was adapted from a Ray Bradbury short story.
Science fiction legend Ray Bradbury died ten days ago. Besides being a famed novelist and short story writer, Bradbury is well known to comic book readers for a number of critically acclaimed adaptations that EC Comics did of his work (after first adapting his work without his permission, as I detailed in an old Comic Book Legends installment here). Pretty much every month in 1953 they had a Bradbury adaptation in one of their various comic book magazines. Many of them were amazing. I recently did a bit over at the Huffington Post as to what I felt were the 8 best adaptations (you can read that here).
Anyhow, I think I have noticed something interesting about Bradbury’s adaptations. They have become SO famous that he is beginning to get credit for stories he didn’t even do!
In early 1953, Weird Fantasy #18 came out, proclaiming to the world on the cover that it had a Ray Bradbury story inside…
However, that tale was “Zero Hour,” a decent enough story about Martians invading through the help of children…
Later in the issue, though, was “Judgment Day,” an EC Comics classic by Al Feldstein and artist Joe Orlando about a space explorer sent to a planet of robots to see if they are ready to join the Galactic Empire of Earth. However, there are hints that something is not quite right about the planet…
Further exploration uncovers deep seated bigotry…
And, then, of course, the twist…
Great story. Also one that the Comics Code tried to make EC change from a black astronaut to a white astronaut when EC reprinted it in 1955 (check out this installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed for the low down on what happened).
In the wake of Bradbury’s death, I’ve seen a number of sites reference this story as being based on a Bradbury story (I’ve seen sites mention it being a Bradbury adaptation a few years back, as well). However, this was an Al Feldstein story through and through. Feldstein referred to it as one of his “preachies,” allegorical science fiction passion plays.
Bradbury WAS a big fan of “Judgment Day,” by the way. He wrote to EC about it stating, “”I realize you’ve been battling in the sea of comics to try and do better things. You have certainly succeeded in ‘Judgment Day’, which should be required reading for every man, woman, and child in the United States.” Man, Bradbury sure seemed like a swell guy.
COMIC LEGEND: Larry Hama used to write a postcard response to every fan letter he received back when he was writing G.I. Joe for Marvel Comics (not counting hate mail or no-prize requests).
STATUS: Technically False, but I think True Enough for a True (True with an unimportant caveat)
Reader R. wrote in awhile back to ask:
Is it true that Larry Hama wrote everyone who wrote in to the G. I. JOE letters page a personal postcard response (unless they sent hate mail or a no-prize request)?
I asked Larry Hama about it and here is what he had to say:
No, not EVERYONE. I got hundreds of letters a week. And I read them all. I answered something like 20 or 30 letters a week with a short personalized sentence or two on postcards that Marvel had printed up for that purpose. I also sent out no=prizes when they were deserved. I answered the letters that actually posed questions or pointed out something interesting. At least 50% of letters are “print trollers” or people who have a form complimentary letter that they send to every title to try to get their name into a letters page. “I really liked issue #______ of ________! It was excellent! I liked it when _________ fought ___________! That was so cool!” Those, and the nasty hate letters got thrown out. If somebody had legitimate criticism and wasn’t being a jerk about it, I sent them a reply.
Come on, that’s close enough, right?
Man, Larry Hama rules.
Here he is signing for fans at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Midtown Manhattan.
Thanks to R for the question and thanks to Larry for both the question and for being a neat guy.
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!
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See you all next week!
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