Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and twenty-one. This week, did Marvel really back out on making Ultimate Captain America black because of the response to their mini-series Truth: Red, White and Black? Plus, two legends involving Conan the Barbarian during the 1970s. First, did Marvel really cancel Conan after just seven issues? And finally, how did Roy Thomas get “revenge” on Neal Adams drawing a monster in an issue of Conan with a mouth that, well, evoked the genitalia of a woman?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel decided not to make Ultimate Captain America black after seeing the response to their series Truth: Red, White and Black.
Reader David A. wrote in a couple of weeks ago to ask:
I was thinking about something the other day that I thought you had covered but I did a search online and couldn’t find anything. Anyway, a few yeas ago seem to remember that at the birth of the Ultimate Marvel universe the plan was to make the Captain America of that universe African American. But because of the negative fan reaction Kyle Baker’s (Truth was it?) comic series that basically said that the first Captain America was a group of African American soldiers that were used as Guinea pigs for the super soldier serum before it was perfected. So the idea was scrapped and Ultimate Nick Fury was instead made African American. Bendis actually gave this a nod when in Ultimate Secret he revealed Fury was actually the first person to receive the super soldier serum.
Simply put, no, that’s not how it happened.
To wit, Truth #1 came out in December of 2002…
So no, Ultimate Captain America was not based on any sort of reaction to Truth.
Here, from an article in the Daily News by Jerome Maida about the release of Truth (which was a good series with amazing Kyle Baker art and a strong story from the late Robert Morales), Joe Quesada explains the REAL connection between Truth and Ultimate Captain America…
“We were in the process of creating this new line of Marvel Comics called the Ultimate line, which is sort of a re-envisioning of our Marvel superheroes,” he recalled, “and the idea of a black Captain America came out of that meeting.”
Marvel CEO Bill Jemas gets the credit, Quesada continued. “He just thought it was an interesting idea, because so much of America’s military is African-American. He just felt that it would only make sense that an African-American male would most likely be Captain America.”
Fiscal considerations scuttled the idea at first.
“We have so many companies that license out the image of Captain America, and that particular image of Captain America is of Steve Rogers, a white American male,” Quesada said. “So we couldn’t go in that direction with Cap.”
But Marvel wouldn’t let the idea die. Fan reaction was too strong, though it wasn’t necessarily positive.
“The first time I had heard [the idea],” said “Truth” editor Axel Alonso, “was when I heard what a response it had evoked from people on the Internet . . . 90 percent of whom were severely angry and uncomfortable with the notion of a black man in the Captain America outfit.
“From there, a common-sense question emerged, which is ‘Why would it make people uncomfortable?'”
And eventually that took us to Truth.
Thanks for the suggestion, David!
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
Did Michelangelo Have a Prideful Response to People Doubting his Creation of the Pietà?
On the next page, was Conan really canceled after less than a year’s worth of issues came out?
In 1970, Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (with inks by the late, great Dan Adkins) debuted their adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic adventurer, Conan the Barbarian.
The first issue was a major sensation. It sold very well and Barry Windsor-Smith had clearly established himself as a superstar artist.
Everyone naturally was really pumped about the series, especially its writer, Roy Thomas.
Then a funny thing happened. Despite the book continuing to be a high quality affairs, the sales dropped steadily for each of the next SIX issues!
The book was quickly turned into a monthly book soon after it debuted (as it debuted so strong) but after the sales reports came in for Conan #7 (which would be about the time that issue #13 was being produced), Stan Lee (who was then still “just” the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel. Martin Goodman was still around as the Publisher) had made a decision. It was not just that Conan had poor sales, but it was also that Lee saw that Smith was clearly a major star, so Lee wanted to get Smith on to superhero titles. So Lee canceled Conan.
Roy Thomas, of course, was not in the office when this happened. He was at home doing some writing (Thomas would split his weeks between his home and the Marvel office). When Thomas showed up the next day, he naturally hit the roof. He argued vociferously for the book. If Lee wanted to pull Smith from the book, then fine, do that, but then just give the book another artist, don’t cancel it!
Eventually, Thomas won Lee over and Conan was un-canceled, although it was sent back to bi-monthly status with Conan #14.
By the time Conan had hit #20, the book was already back to monthly status and was only heading upwards in sales. It soon became one of Marvel’s biggest hits of the 1970s (and it remained monthly until the book finished at Marvel in the 1990s).
And it all could have been over with before a year’s worth of stories had even saw print!
Thanks to Roy Thomas for detailing the story in his excellent series of afterwords in the Dark Horse reprints of the Marvel Conan series, The Chronicles of Conan (Volume 3, to be precise). Besides Dark Horse’s excellent quality production values in the reprints, these books are almost worth purchasing just for the insights Thomas shares in the afterwords. Like the legend on the next page…
In the history of Conan the Barbarian, Neal Adams only penciled a single issue, 1974’s Conan the Barbarian #37.
In the issue, Conan faces a monster (as he is wont to do). Adams decided that the mouth of the monster would appear to be female genitalia (it makes these next few pages extra bizarre)…
Thomas noticed, of course, but figured, eh, if the Comics Code misses it, he would let Adams “sneak” it by him.
Thomas didn’t want to let the incident pass without ANY response, though, so in Conan #45, penciled by John Buscema, Thomas had Buscema add these two circular objects to the monster that Conan was fighting in the issue (as Conan was wont to do). Warning, if you’re a man, these next couple of pages might make you wince a bit…
Thomas presumes Buscema understood what Thomas had asked him to add to the monster design, but if he knew or not, Buscema was too much of an old pro to comment on it either way.
Thanks again to Roy Thomas for the information from Chronicles of Conan (Volume 7, this time around).
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did Michael Corleone originally avenge his murdered wife in EACH of the first two Godfather movies, only to see the scene cut from each film?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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