Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-ninth 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-eight. This week, did Superman comics help Allied spies during World War II? How did the British version of G.I. Joe deal with their properties being merged in the 1980s? And did Marvel have to pulp an entire print run of a comic because they didn’t get clearance from the licencors before printing began?
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: Allied spies would use the secret code from Superman comics.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
In my 2009 book, Was Superman a Spy? and Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (go buy it!), the legend the book was named after dealt with the United States Government worrying that Superman comic books were giving out a little too much information about the United States nuclear power. Well, reader Adam W. wrote in wondering if Superman might have been helping American spies in a different capacity.
Shortly after the Pearl harbour Attack, DC had a gimmick across several of their comics, whereby Superman had a coded message which kids could then decode using a code card from the Superman Radio show membership club. The code cards themselves were actually used by real spies to decrypt codes printed elsewhere and if searched, could be explained away as merely a kids toy.
Here is an example of the code Adam is referring to from the Supermen of America fan club…
First off, after researching this one pretty heavily I have found no evidence of this ever happening.
Secondly, though, it really doesn’t make sense once you see the Superman code. Check it out…
Now, on the one hand, that’s pretty damn complicated for kids to understand. I can’t even imagine a company trying something like that nowadays. However, as far as codes go, it is extremely simple. Beyond being a very simple substitution cipher, all the spy would have to do is remember the codes for each of the substitution patterns (and since there are only nine of them, that should be quite simple) and then he could do the substitutions himself without needing the code sheet. So having the code sheet would be a risk that would not be worth it, as it is only an aide towards what you should be able to do on your own quite simply (Code Jupiter, move each letter four places, Code Pluto, move each letter eight places, etc.).
So I’m going with a false here. It’s definitely a cool story, though. Thanks for the suggestion, Adam!
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: If Lost in Space didn’t coin the phrase “Does Not Compute,” what surprising TV sitcom DID?
On the next page, who is Baron Ironblood and how did he become Cobra Commander?
Action Force was the British equivalent of G.I. Joe. After G.I. Joe became really popular here in the United States in the early 1980s with the 3 inch figures, Palitoy Limited came out with a version in England called Action Force based originally on their Action Man toy series. Their line of soldier toys sold very well and eventually they began re-painting Hasbro G.I. Joe figures and vehicles.
The toy line proved popular enough that it soon added a feature in long-running British war comic, Battle Picture Weekly. It grew SO popular that the comic was even renamed from Battle Action to Battle Action Force!
In 1985, Hasbro purchased Action Force from Palitoy and just officially made it the British version of G.I. Joe. Same figures, just called Action Force.
However, a problem with the transition was the fact that in the comics, the bad guys were Baron Ironblood and the Red Shadows.
So in a storyline in Battle Action Force #507-513, Ironblood decides to break up the Red Shadows and re-invent himself…
One of the surviving members of the Red Shadows, the Red Jackal, tracks him down and check out the awesome transformations into recognizable characters…
Isn’t that fascinating? Rather than just rebooting the comic, they went through all that effort.
Thanks to Anthony Durrant for the head’s up about this one!
COMIC LEGEND: Marvel had to pulp the original printing of their Battlestar Galactica adaptation because they didn’t have approval from their licensor.
Marvel Super Special #8 was Marvel’s adaptation (by writer Roger McKenzie and artist Ernie Colon) of the then-new Battlestar Galactica in 1978 (the special was later adapted into the first three issues of Marvel’s ongoing series adapting the TV show).
However, amusingly enough, the comic that was released as the Super Special was the SECOND printing of the comic!
You see, originally, Marvel printed a glossy magazine version of the story with a painted cover by Bob Larkin before they got official approval on the usage of the likenesses and the script from Universal Studios! When Universal found out, they forced Marvel to pull the comic before they would approve it. Marvel had to destroy hundreds of thousands of copies of the original comic.
And then, of course, Universal then approved the comic, but now Marvel couldn’t afford to print it as a magazine anymore so they did it as a Super Special.
The editor behind the project, Richard Marshall, soon left Marvel Comics.
Interestingly enough, the Super Special was adapted from an early script for the extra-long pilot for the series (back when the series was originally going to be a series of TV movies) and as a result, it killed off a character, Cassiopeia , who ends up living in the series.
When the comic was adapted into the ongoing series, they fixed that mistake.
Similarly, in the original version of the pilot, Baltar is killed (indeed, in the theatrical release of the pilot, he IS killed – that was edited out when the pilot was shown on television). The Super Special followed that plot point…
And then again, had to fix it in the ongoing series…
My buddy Atomic Kommie Comics has the ORIGINAL magazine pages up at his site here. Check ’em out!
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 email@example.com. 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!