Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-seventh 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 fifty-six. This week, did Northstar nearly get his own solo comic book by John Byrne over twenty years ago? Does Marvel own a trademark on the word “Marvel” in comic book titles? And how did Peter David celebrate the firing of a nemesis of his in the Star Trek licensing department?
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 nearly had a Northstar ongoing series from John Byrne over 20 years ago.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
My pal at JohnByrneDraws suggested that I feature this one.
John Byrne helped to change the landscape of the Marvel Universe when he created the first gay Marvel superhero, Northstar, in the pages of Alpha Flight.
Interestingly enough, Byrne almost made ANOTHER first a decade or so later during his second stint at Marvel during the late 1980s/early 1990s. Byrne nearly launched an ongoing series starring Northstar!
Byrne told the story on his forum that he was approached by a Marvel editor for a duo book starring Northstar and, oddly enough, Ironclad, the Thing analogue in the villainous version of the Fantastic Four, the U-Foes (Byrne had just recently used the U-Foes, so maybe that’s why it piqued the editor’s interest)…
Ironclad would be dating Northstar’s twin sister, Aurora, which would be the connection between the two. The book would be dubbed North and South. The book would display Northstar’s sexuality the same way that any straight character would be handled. It certainly wouldn’t be hidden.
As Byrne recalls it, it was soon after Andy and Adam Kubert got big raises to stay with Marvel, so it would have to be around late 1991/early 1992. Byrne says that he asked for roughly half their then-current pay rate to both write and draw (pencils AND inks) the series, but Marvel ultimately said no, citing that it wasn’t financially doable even with Byrne taking a lower rate. Byrne and the editor suspected there were reasons other than the monetary ones that Marvel cited, but I guess we’ll never know.
Marvel eventually DID give Northstar his own mini-series in 1994 but it really didn’t do anything with his sexuality at all.
Thanks to JohnByrneDraws for the suggestion!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did former First Lady Barbara Bush really write an apology letter to Marge Simpson!?
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Reader DL wrote in in the comments to note:
Brian, even if DC had purchased Marvelman, I wonder how they could have effectively marketed the character, as they (and all publishers) are legally barred from using the word “marvel” on their covers? Would they have called the series “Kimota!?”
DL, I imagine, is confusing this with Captain Marvel, which is a trademark that Marvel DOES own…
and have used to keep DC from naming any book with THEIR Captain Marvel, well, Captain Marvel…
It IS true that Marvel sent a cease and desist letter to Quality when they did their Marvelman Special in the early 1980s…
but what it boiled down to was Marvel arguing for something that they do not necessarily legally have, but making it a situation where a smaller company would rather just change the name instead of fighting the issue. To wit, Marvel sent a similar cease and desist letter to Valiant when they debuted X-O Manowar, under a similar theory that having a book open with X was too similar to their popular X-Men comic books. So yes, if a company tried to call their character Mr. Marvel or Marvel Dude or whatever, I am sure Marvel would send a cease and desist, but unlike with Captain Marvel, they don’t actually own a trademark on the use of the word Marvel on all comic book titles. As a comic book COMPANY, of course, and on stuff like Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, absolutely, but not the word Marvel in general.
That said, had DC purchased Marvelman back in the 1980s, I bet they would have changed the name as well, just to avoid the hassle.
Awesome commenter Jeff Nettleton had just replied to DL when I moderated DL to use this for a future column, so I’ll make it up to Jeff by sharing his comment here, where he basically said the same thing I was going to say in this column (although, to be fair, the great X-O Manowar example was all his – I was going to go a different direction but the X-O Manowar example was perfect)…
That’s not correct by any means. Marvel owns the trademark for Marvel Comics, but that doesn’t mean they own the word “marvel” outright. It’s all about context. DC would probably avoid using the word in a cover title, just to sidestep any legal hassles, even if a judge ruled in their favor. These things can drag on for a long time and cost far more than they are worth, which is exactly what Marvel was hoping when they threatened Dez Skinn over Marvelman. Since Marvelman predated Marvel in the UK, and no connection was ever implied to Marvel or Marvel UK, chances are that Skinn could have probably won in a court fight. However, he couldn’t afford the fight, as Marvel’s pockets were far deeper. This ticked off Alan Moore to no end, and killed any chances of him ever working for them again. Moore was hardly being pissy; he was standing up for his own rights. Marvel attempted to do the same thing to Valiant, several years later, over X-O Manowar. Valiant wasn’t quite so intimidated and pretty much ignored Marvel, all but daring them to, “Bring it on!” Marvel never followed through. Chances are Marvel wouldn’t have filed suit over Marvelman, either. Their objection wasn’t the name, but the title Marvelman Special, which featured reprints of some of the Mick Anglo material. They didn’t mind when Miarvelman was part of Warrior, but did when his name appeared as the title of a book.
If you look at DC’s 70?s Shazam run, you will notice the name of Captain Marvel many times. DC couldn’t call the book Captain Marvel, since Marvel picked up that trademark,; but, they couldn’t stop DC from using the name. DC probably wouldn’t have titled the book Marvelman, but they could have kept calling the character Marvelman, if they so chose. I doubt they would have, going the Miracleman route instead. However, Marvelman was a Captain Marvel clone in its inception and DC had the original, so why would they need a second? Well, apart from the fact that Moore was writing rings around everyone in comics, at that point…
Thanks to DL for the question and thanks again to Jeff for his great comment!
Check out some Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed!
Was AC/DC Named After a Slang Term for Bisexuality?
More than a few times over the years I’ve spoken about the problems that Peter David had dealing with the licensing department at Paramount when writing Star Trek comic book stories. Specifically, David had issues with a fellow named Richard Arnold. Here‘s a story about how a story that was turned down when written by David was approved when written by David under a pseudonym. Here‘s a story about how Arnold approved the use of Star Trek animated characters and then changed his mind after the issue was already drawn.
Anyhow, one of the characters he forced out of the comic was David’s creation R.J. Blaise…
After Arnold was relieved of his duties at Paramount a few years later, though, David brought Blaise back in a special (with Rod Whigham art)…
that also subtly made fun of Arnold’s tenure at Paramount (note that Darrich and Landor are anagrams of Richard Arnold)…
My buddy Rich Handley suggested this one and he even suggested that the reveal of Blaise’s first name was, in effect, an attempt by David to pull one last “raspberry” on Arnold…
I dunno about THAT, but the rest is definitely true!
Thanks to Rich Handley for the suggestion!
Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed involving Star Trek!
Did Star Trek once have a surreptitious crossover with Dreadstar?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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