Welcome to the four hundred and forty-eighth 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-seven. This week, was the hit film Man of Steel the result of a legal obligation on DC’s part? Plus, in honor of Fred Van Lente Day, two legends suggested by Fred himself! Was Marvel responsible for Conan being known as Conan the Barbarian? Did Barry Windsor-Smith re-use his Archer and Armstrong characters in his Storyteller series?
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: DC had to make Man of Steel to fulfill a legal obligation.
STATUS: Basically True
Reader Luis A. wrote in about this one a while back.
You see, one of the interesting side effects to the various court cases that DC has had with the estate of Jerry Siegel is that when it comes to the Siegel’s rights to the Superman character, there was an additional argument that went beyond the argument that the Siegels were part owners of the character. This additional argument was over HOW much money DC owed them due to their disputed part-ownership of the character.
One of these major areas of debate was over how much money DC was getting paid from their parent company, Warner Brothers, to adapt Superman comics into films. The Siegel estate argued that DC was effectively selling the character at below cost to Warner Brothers and that the Siegels should be able to go after Warner Brothers directly for more money. The courts ultimately ruled that the Warner Brothers/DC Comics arrangement was a fair market deal and that the Siegels could not go after Warner Brothers.
However, one area where the courts did more or less side with the Siegels was over the concept of whether DC Comics was optimizing the Superman property. The charge by the Siegels was that DC owed them a right to make as much money off of the character as they possibly could, and that DC was screwing things up by not making Superman movies (just one movie was made since the late 1980s).
The court basically sided with the Siegels on this issue and ruled that if DC did not begin work on a Superman movie by 2011, then the Siegels would be able to sue over misuse of the character and be theoretically eligible to get some money from DC Comics for not making the best use of the character.
All they “won” was the right to sue if that did not happen, but DC, of course, did not want to let it even go that far, so they were under a particular time crunch to get a movie into production by that deadline (they wanted to make a new Superman movie ANYways, of course, but they specifically HAD to get one into production to avoid the lawsuit), and that was a major factor in the exact timeline on what eventually turned into the 2013 blockbuster The Man of Steel…
Here‘s a Variety article on the 2009 ruling.
Of course, earlier this year, a Court of Appeals ruled that the Siegels didn’t actually own any rights to Superman anymore (ruling that the Siegels had sold their rights in 2001 to DC for a large financial settlement), which makes the whole thing a non-issue going forward.
Thanks to Luis for the suggestion!
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On the next page, the first Fred Van Lente suggestion – was Conan not a Barbarian before his Marvel series?
STATUS: True Enough for a True
COMIC LEGEND: Barry Windsor-Smith became the artist on Conan the Barbarian due to cost cutting on the book.
Here’s the first of the Fred Van Lente suggestions!
It is interesting, I think I’ve gone into Conan’s origins in my first book, Was Superman A Spy?, but never in this column.
Sort of famously, Roy Thomas was given $150 (per issue) to get the license to a “sword and sorcery” character for Marvel to make into a comic book. On his own volition, Thomas decided to up the ante to $200 and made the pitch to get Robert E. Howard’s Conan character rather than the character Stan Lee wanted him to try for, Lin Carter’s Thongor (Lee figured that it would be easier to get the less notable character, plus Thongor sure sounds like a Marvel character, doesn’t it?) and it worked.
Also sort of famously, Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman decided to include the license fee as part of the production costs of the comic, so as a result, Marvel could not afford either of the two artists who most wanted to draw the Conan comic, John Buscema (their biggest artist at the time) and Gil Kane (not far from Buscema in stardom).
So Thomas had to instead find a much cheaper artist and he ended up going with young Barry Windsor-Smith, and obviously things worked out…
That’s all pretty much part of established comic book lore, but Fred mentioned something to me that had never really occurred to me before.
Nowadays, Conan IS “Conan the Barbarian.” That’s just part of his identity.
At the time, though, that was not the case. He was just “Conan.”
In fact, Robert E. Howard never actually referred to the character as “Conan the Barbarian” in ANY of the Conan short stories (he comes close, but never precisely “Conan the Barbarian”).
The only use of that title was in 1954, in the second volume of Gnome Press’ hardcover collections of Howard Conan stories (the first time Howard’s Conan stories had ever been collected).
By the time Thomas was planning on using Conan in comics, the Conan that everyone knew in fandom were the Lancer/Ace paperback editions, the ones that had Frazetta covers on a bunch of them.
Here were the titles of those books (up until the point when Thomas began adapting the character):
Conan the Adventurer (1966)
Conan the Warrior (1967)
Conan the Conqueror (AKA The Hour of the Dragon) (1967)
Conan the Usurper (1967)
Conan the Freebooter (1968)
Conan the Avenger (AKA The Return of Conan) (1968)
Conan the Wanderer (1968)
Conan of Cimmeria (1969)
So Thomas did not want this new series to be seen by the Conan people as being in direct competition with their books, so he specifically chose a title that they were not using and had not been used since the hardcover edition in 1954, Conan the Barbarian…
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Thanks to Roy Thomas for always being so informative about Conan’s comic book history.
Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to Conan!
How did Roy Thomas “get back” at Neal Adams sneaking a monster that looked like female genitalia into a Conan story?
On the next page, the next Fred Van Lente suggestion – Was Barry Windsor-Smith’s Freebooters a re-working of his Archer and Armstrong series?
STATUS: Basically False
Here is the second suggestion by Fred Van Lente, writer of the current Archer and Armstrong series for Valiant.
Barry Windsor-Smith is well known for re-purposing older projects for newer ones (why let a good story go to waste, right?).
Fred, meanwhile, wondered if that wasn’t what happened with Barry Windsor-Smith’s Freebooters series he did for Storyteller…
Could it be based on Barry Windsor-Smith’s Archer and Armstrong?
As it turns out, though, it was actually the REVERSE!
Barry Windsor-Smith explained it all to Gary Groth in a great Comics Journal interview in 1996:
Because I thought I would never get to the stage where I thought that the Freebooters, which had a different name in those days, called The Journals of Aran, or something, I never thought I would ever get to the stage in my career where I would be able to pull this sort of thing off all on my own. When I was doing Archer and Armstrong I just started to adapt from a 10-year-old set of characters — characters from what is now called The Freebooters. I thought this was the only way I could get that kind of material out in front of the public, this sort of humorous stuff, fairly sophisticated adult-oriented humor. So I’m actually sorry that I cannibalized myself on that. !
So it was more a matter of Windsor-Smith using the visuals he had developed for the Journals of Aran stories (specifically the main character’s look – the sort of older, fatter Conan) for the Archer and Armstrong stories more than anything else.
Thanks to Windsor-Smith and Groth for the information!
Happy Fred Van Lente Day everyone!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did viewer protests change the original ending of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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