Welcome to the three hundredth and seventy-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, did DC Comics do an anti-drug storyline in a 1990s Batman comic at the behest of the government? Plus, a Marvel comic in the 1990s killed by the Comics Code! Also, an interesting “crossover” in DC Comics where Supergirl hears other books in the New 52!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seventy-four.
COMIC LEGEND: A government agency paid DC to do an anti-drug comic storyline in Batman: Shadow of the Bat.
I think this takes the cake for the longest time between the question being asked and me answering it (although A. I’m probably mistaken about that and B. The longer the column runs, the longer the gaps will be, I suppose).
Back in Aught Seven, reader Nate P. asked:
Is it true that the “Leaves of Grass” story that ran in Batman: Shadow of the Bat 56-58 was paid for by the Office of National Drug Control Policy?
I had heard that the ONDNP gave money to DC to publish a story with a strong anti-marijuana message. And so DC got Alan Grant to do come up with something for the Narcs, and he did: a propaganda Batman story with Jason Woodrue making genetically-enhanced super-duper-reefer, and an ensuing drug war.
The storyline IS about marijuana, but I don’t think it is a propaganda story. Here are some pages from the first part. It sure looks like Grant is being even-handed here…
But anyhow, WAS DC paid to do it?
I asked the great Alan Grant himself and he gave me the fascinating lowdown on the story:
As a lover of conspiracy theories myself, I’d be very happy if the ONDCP had paid DC to have an anti-marijuana storyline (or if High Times had paid DC for a pro-marijuana storyline).
The reality is unfortunately not so intriguing.
I wanted to do a drugs storyline, neither pro nor con, but showing how Robin as a 15-year-old was bound to have come into contact at school etc with illegal drugs. If anything, I myself am for the legalisation – or at least the decriminalisation – of marijuana. My editor, Denny o’Neil, had no problems with the storyline, but the feeling in the higher echelons of the company was that I might be trying to sneak pro-drugs propaganda into a DC comic (something I’d either do openly or not at all).
Consequently each script for the 3-part series (“Leaves of Grass”, Shadow of the Bat 56/57/58) was personally vetted by DC’s top boss, Paul Levitz. To the best of my knowledge, Paul didn’t change a single
word in any of the scripts.
And the story didn’t change a thing in the real world… Ho hum. Such is life.
So sorry, Nate! Five years and not the answer I bet you were looking for.
Thanks for the question, though! And thanks, of course, to the always excellent Alan Grant for the answer.
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel canceled Satana at the last minute because their new line of horror comics now had to be Comics Code approved.
Check it out…
That snippet of the cover of Satana #1 by Jae Lee is pretty much the only remaining evidence of what would have been one of Marvel’s new line of comics called STRANGE TALES.
The books were going to be Man-Thing by J.M. DeMatteis and Liam Sharp, Werewolf by Night by Paul Jenkins and Leonardo Manco and, of course, Satana by Warren Ellis and Ariel Olivetti.
At the last moment, though, Marvel ownership decided that they wanted ALL of their books to be available to places like K-Mart and Wal-Mart, so they had to make THESE books Code approved, as well.
Warren Ellis, reflecting about the incident, noted:
Persons within the high managerial levels of Marvel — that is, above editorial — have decided that no comic bearing the Marvel colophon may be published without the Comics Code Authority stamp that ensures it is safe and decent reading for America’s children. I was approached, commissioned and given creative control under the promise — made under an earlier administration — that Satana would be a work of adult horror fiction, written without the strictures of children’s comic guidelines. The new administrators of the company decided that adult fiction is antithetical to their view of Marvel Comics. It should be pretty clear that that someone didn’t give a toss about breaking the company’s promises to me, either.
This led to re-writes for Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing #1 was, indeed, released, Code-approved….
But before Werewolf by Night #1 was released, Marvel reversed course and allowed some of their books to be released non Code-approved. They just would be left out of the Wal-Mart/K-Mart distribution deals.
They later did the same thing with some of the Marvel Knights books (most notably, Garth Ennis’ Punisher).
And then they obviously developed their MAX line.
Sadly, though, Ellis and Satana were done before Marvel reversed course, as while the other two books could be re-written to be Code-approved, Satana was a bit of a “disapproved just on the title” sort of thing. And obviously Ellis wasn’t going to change the book so dramatically that even the NAME was changed, ya know? Not after he was promised one thing and given the opposite.
Also sadly, while Warren Ellis had the full script up for #1 years ago on his website, I believe it is now gone. Anyone happen to have a copy?
The Strange Tales line, by the way, became a single anthology comic by the end of 1998…
and lasted only one month after that before it was canceled.
Thanks to commenters Kelly Davis and Cerebro for reminding me to feature this legend. And thanks to Warren Ellis for the quote!
COMIC LEGEND: The New 52 Supergirl #1 had a page featuring dialogue from at least three other New 52 books that month.
In last week’s Comic Book Legends Revealed, I detailed an issue of John Byrne’s Superman where Superman’s powers go out of control and he suddenly finds himself listening to over a dozen other DC comics released that month.
Well, as commenter Andrew pointed out, a very similar bit occurred in the first issue of the New 52 Supergirl #1 that came out last year. In the issue, written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson and drawn by Mahmud Asrar and Dan Green, Supergirl is adjusting to the powers she gained from being on Earth. It is a trying experience…
And sure enough, just like Byrne’s Superman issue, the three pieces of dialogue are from three DC comics that month (two of them even came out the same WEEK as Supergirl)…
and Birds of Prey #1…
Thanks for the head’s up, Andrew!
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. 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!