Welcome to the four hundred and forty-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 forty-one. This week, just WHO invented Thor? Stan Lee or Jack Kirby? Plus, what comic book classics are responsible for the dreaded Comic Sans font? Finally, how close did we come to a new John Byrne Fantastic Four story from Marvel a few years ago?
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: Stan Lee invented Thor on his own.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
When it comes to disputes between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over the creation of most of the most famous characters of Marvel’s Silver Age, there are three major roadblocks to getting to the “truth” of the matter.
1. These characters were not intended to be still discussed fifty years later, so no one was exactly taking detailed notes at the time of the creation.
2. Stan Lee has a terrible memory
3. Jack Kirby didn’t often speak publicly about his involvement in the creation of the characters until a period in the late 1980s/early 1990s when he was so pissed off at Marvel that he made a number of exaggerated public claims.
Still, I figure we can at least shed SOME light on the issue, especially the most popular depiction of Thor’s creation, which is being disseminated with Marvel’s film products, namely that Stan Lee came up with the idea on his own, like this 2002 telling of the story, where he posited that Thor evolved from a desire to make someone stronger than the Hulk…
How do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don’t make him human — make him a god. I decided readers were already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. It might be fun to delve into the old Norse legends… Besides, I pictured Norse gods looking like Vikings of old, with the flowing beards, horned helmets, and battle clubs. …Journey into Mystery needed a shot in the arm, so I picked Thor … to headline the book. After writing an outline depicting the story and the characters I had in mind, I asked my brother, Larry, to write the script because I didn’t have time. …and it was only natural for me to assign the penciling to Jack Kirby
The one person who seems to be the most straightforward on this matter is Larry Lieber, who confirms that he was, indeed, given a plot idea and he then scripted it and then Jack Kirby drew that strip. That much seems to be definitely true. The question just becomes, “Where did the plot idea COME from?”
In 1990, Kirby spoke of Thor’s creation thusly to Gary Groth in The Comics Journal:
I loved Thor because I loved legends. I’ve always loved legends. Stan Lee was the type of guy who would never know about Balder and who would never know about the rest of the characters. I had to build up that legend of Thor in the comics.
Jack Kirby famously wrote and drew a Sandman story in the early 1940s where the heroes fought against Thor…
And Kirby also did another story for DC in the late 1950s in Tales of the Unexpected featuring Thor.
Does Kirby’s early Thor work prove that he came up with the idea? Of course not. But when Stan Lee gave his deposition a while back in the Kirby vs. Marvel lawsuit, his take on it seems a bit off…
I was looking for something different and bigger than anything else and I figured, what could be bigger than a god? People were pretty much into the Roman and the Greek gods by then, and I thought the Norse gods might be good. I liked the sound of the name Thor and Asgaard and the Twilight of the Gods’ Ragnarok and all of that. Jack was very much into that, more so than me, so when I told Jack about that, he was really thrilled.
Obviously, Kirby WAS really into the Norse Gods. But wouldn’t it make more sense then that Kirby, the guy who had already adapted Thor into comics twice over the years, would have been the one to make the Norse Gods connection and not Lee? Or at least, not Lee by himself?
Notably, Lee has spoken on the matter in the past, and notice the slight difference in this version of the story when Lee told it in a radio interview ALONG WITH KIRBY (they were both guests on the show) in 1967…
I always say that Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. When we kicked Thor around, and we came out with him, and I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest fictional characters there are. In fact, I should let Jack say this, but just on the chance that he won’t, somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything, and I think a priceless answer, Jack said that they’re not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn’t be authentic enough. But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.
Knowing that Lee and Kirby would confer on ideas, I think it is fair to say that Stan Lee came up with the idea for Thor WITH Jack Kirby, not a matter of Lee coming up with the idea and then assigning it to Kirby. Maybe I’m wrong and it was Kirby who came up with the idea and brought it to Lee, but I definitely don’t think it was a case of Lee coming up with the idea on his own. Enough so that I’m willing to go with a false here.
Thanks to Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gary Groth, Mike Hodel (the fellow who had the radio show that Lee and Kirby were on in 1967) and commenter kevinjwoods, who reminded me of this story the other week when he mentioned the early Thor stories by Kirby.
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On the next page, which comic book classics inspired Comic Sans?
Microsoft’s Comic Sans font is one of the more controversial fonts ever, especially since fonts are rarely, you know, actually controversial.
However, did you know that Comics Sans’ origin came in two of the most acclaimed comics of all-time?
Before we get to that, let’s look back at the context of Comic Sans’ start.
In 1994, Microsoft was getting ready for the launch of Windows 95, perhaps their biggest product launch yet. An idea that they had to help users understand Windows 95 was something called Windows Bob, a software program that would help people with Windows 95, through simple cartoon characters who would “talk” through speech balloons. Well, Microsoft designer Vincent Connare felt that the font used for the cartoon characters did not look very appropriate, so he developed a new font.
He took his inspiration from two comic collections laying around his office, The Dark Knight Returns (lettered by John Costanza)…
and Watchmen (lettered by Dave Gibbons)…
The new font, dubbed Comic Sans, was developed too late to make it on to Microsoft Bob, but it was soon one of the most used fonts with Windows products and the rest, as they say, was history, as it soon became so popular that there was a backlash to the font by critics who felt that it was perhaps TOO childish for most usages (I’m sure there are many other criticisms of the font, I’m just throwing one out there).
And we owe it all to Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns!
Thanks to reader Greg B., who suggested this one all the way back in 2009!
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On the next page, how close did we come to seeing new John Byrne Fantastic Four comics a few years ago?
COMIC LEGEND: John Byrne nearly returned to Marvel a few years ago to continue his Fantastic Four run.
STATUS: Basically True
A few years back, in 2009, Marvel came up with the novel idea of having Chris Claremont pick up where he left off on his original X-Men run.
Dubbed X-Men Forever, it gave Claremont the freedom to roughly follow the original plans he had for the title (I say roughly because there’s no way Claremont ever would have ever gotten most of this stuff through Marvel editorial even if he HAD stayed on the title, as some of the changes he made were far too sweeping for Marvel to let ANY writer do, so I think “original plans” here means more “what Claremont would have done if X-Men was completely untied to any larger continuity”)…
It lasted for two volumes and forty-three issues in total (24 issues of the first volume, 16 of the second and three one-shots).
Its success led to Marvel trying the approach with other creators, from
New Mutants Forever (Claremont again continuing where he left off on his New Mutants run)…
X-Factor Forever (Louise Simonson continuing where she left off on her X-Factor run)…
and more recently, an adaptation of the concept with Iron Man #258.1, where Bob Layton and David Michelinie continued where they left off on their second Iron Man run…
However, one title that never got off the ground that nearly happened was a continuation of John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run!
Back in 2009, Marvel approached Byrne about the project. Byrne famously had refused to work for Marvel ever since they canceled his X-Men: The Hidden Years series back in 2001.
I believe Byrne was irritated less over the book’s cancelation itself and more over how the cancelation was presented to the press at the time (with the “official” reason behind the cancellation changing a few times). He essentially felt disrespected.
Anyhow, the idea of being able to pick up where he left off and have complete freedom on the project obviously appealed to Byrne and he even worked out a logo for the project, dubbing it 4ever…
And even did a splash page for the first issue!
Byrne then realized that he couldn’t get over his feelings towards Marvel so he squelched the project, but not before coming up with two years’ worth of new plots for the book (NOTE: He actually drew the splash page AFTER he decided to drop the project. He drew that to sort of get it out of his system).
Some of Byrne’s ideas involved picking the book up with the Fantastic Four still trapped in Central City and the Thing returning from the Beyonder’s planet. The Thing would fight the Super-Skrull and in the battle, the Thing is killed as well as Alica Masters and Franklin Richards. The Fantastic Four go back in time and manage to save Ben but they arrive after the battle had begun, so Alicia and Franklin still die (basically they only were allowed one shot at fixing things. Now that they were there, they couldn’t return to the moment again).
It’s a shame. It sounds like it would have been a cool book.
Thanks to John Byrne and the great Tumblr JohnByrneDraws for the information and the art! Check out his site here for even more information about what Byrne would have done on the book!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did a short-lived Matthew Perry sitcom correctly predict the year of Moammar Gadhafi’s death?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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