Welcome to the four hundred and seventieth 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 sixty-nine. This week, did we nearly get a Spider-Man version of Batman: Arkham Asylum?! Did a comic artist produce the very first black doll? And what would have happened to Barry Allen if Crisis on Infinite Earths had never occurred?
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: Grant Morrison almost did a Spider-Man version of Batman: Arkham Asylum
One of the most surprising hit comics of all-time has got to be Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s original graphic novel, Batman: Arkham Asylum, from 1989. The dark examination of the minds of Batman’s villains had pretty much the most perfect timing you could ever expect for a comic. It was a high end book produced right at the height of the mania associated with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, and thus even though the comic was very different from the film, it sold an insane amount of copies. Just ridiculous numbers.
With something so popular, you would expect there to be a follow-up and there almost was…just not at DC Comics!
Morrison was in the early stages of following up Batman: Arkham Asylum with an original graphic novel starring Spider-Man, with artwork by Simon Bisley. Morrison described the story as: “It’s not Spider-Man in Arkham Asylum or anything – it’s action all the way with things blowing up from page one but it still won’t be a great deal like the Spider-Man that everyone is used to”
The comic would involve an attack by Mysterio that would end up with Spider-Man ending up in a parallel world where Aunt May died and Spider-Man never got married. Morrison further described it years later in 1999 as :
The Spider-Man of that world is a creepy, skinny Ditko guy, who lives on his own and is shunned by the neighbors.” said Morrison, “He only comes alive when he’s out on the rooftops leaping about and squirting jets of white stuff over everything. Freud would have loved the story as the creepy but ultimately decent Spider-Man meets his counterpart from a place where Peter married a supermodel and made lots of money. The story was based around that tension and the ultimate redemption of the creepy Ditko character. I’d do something different now.
As it turned out, when he got the chance to work for Marvel on a regular basis at around that time (1999), Morrison never actually DID do a Spider-Man project. In fact, he’s never done one during his career, which is odd, as he’s done work for pretty much every other major character out there.
Talk about a missed opportunity!
Here’s a Simon Bisley Spider-Man drawing from 1995 just to give you an idea of what it could have looked like…
Thanks so much to Ben Hansom and his awesome Morrison website Deep Space Tranmissions, for the information and the quotes!
Check out the latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Universal seriously sue Nintendo over Donkey Kong infringing on King Kong’s trademark…even though Universal didn’t HAVE a trademark on King Kong?
On the next page, did an African-American cartoonist create the first “black doll”?
COMIC LEGEND: The first black doll was produced by a comic strip artist.
While I would not say that it confuses me, per se, because I certainly understand WHY people do it, it still sort of disappoints me when you see exaggerated claims regarding the lives of people who were ALREADY extraordinary people.
Like, for instance, Jackie Ormes, who is generally regarded as the first successful African-American female cartoonist.
Ormes produced a series of strips over her long and impressive career. She first began in 1937 with a strip in the Pittsburgh Courier (a prominent African-American newspaper of the time) called Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem about a young woman trying to make it as a singer…
After she moved to Chicago in the 1940s, she began in the Chicago Defender (one of the MOST prominent African-American newspapers of the time) what is probably her most popular strip, Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, about two sisters where the older one is pretty but effectively mute while the younger one is clever and bold…
Later, when the Courier went to an all-color comic strip section, Ormes re-did Torchy Brown…
She even did fashion doll strips!
Awesome stuff, right?
However, it is ANOTHER awesome thing that she did that Ormes is often erroneously credited for doing a bit more than she ACTUALLY did.
In 1947, Ormes, sick of the paltry options available to young African-American girls with regards to dolls, produced a doll based on her Patty Jo character…
These dolls stood out in the market as being basically just like the white dolls out there, only featuring a black girl. They are highly sought after collectibles today.
However, quite often Ormes is then credited with creating the FIRST black doll (not counting racist Sambo depictions or stuff like that) and that’s clearly not the case, as black dolls had been offered in the United State since at least the early 1920s. Here’s an ad from 1921…
Ormes was an extraordinary woman, but she was not also the creator of the first “black doll.”
Thanks to Caitlin McGurk and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library for the Ormes comic strip drawings. Check out this piece by McGurk for even MORE sample strips!
On the next page, what would have happened to the Flash if Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened?
COMIC LEGEND: Originally Barry Allen was going to be found guilty in his trial and become a fugitive hero!
STATUS: Basically True
One of the stranger plotlines of the 1980s was the long-running “Trial of Barry Allen” in the pages of the Flash that ran for over a year until the end of the series.
Barry Allen describes the situation pretty well to his friend Hal Jordan here…
The thing was, very early on, longtime Flash writer Cary Bates knew that he was going to be ending the book with #350 and that Flash would be going off to Crisis to be killed, so that is a big part of why he stretched the storyline out so long. After all, why start a new story when you know the book is ending soon anyways?
Originally, the storyline ends with Barry being found guilty but he learns that the jury was tampered with. He decides to just leave our time and go to the future and live out the rest of his life with his wife, Iris, who had been sent to the future some time ago (as it turns out, “the rest of his life” wasn’t very much longer as he dies soon after in Crisis on Infinite Earths).
However, what if Crisis DIDN’T happen? What would Cary Bates have done THEN? In a fascinating interview over at the Speed Force with Greg Elias, Bates explains what he would have done and it sounds like it would have been an awesome story…
Because DC had given me over a year’s advance notice of the Crisis and Flash’s inevitable demise, I was focusing all my energies on the Trial storyline, since it would now carry through until the very end of the book’s run. So in all honesty I never contemplated what Flash’s life might have been like after the verdict. But the far more interesting question is what might have been had there been no Crisis event? Well, for one thing the Trial would’ve probably ended a good 8 or 9 issues earlier. Flash would’ve been vindicated and found not guilty in the court of public opinion—but perhaps not by the court system. In fact, before the Crisis entered into things, I do remember toying with the idea of Flash being found guilty and going “on the run” (literally). This would’ve kicked off a new story arc which would have had Flash continuing to do his good deeds as a wanted man with an arrest warrant hanging over his head (sort of a variation on the Green Hornet concept of a hero who the authorities view as a criminal). What I liked most about this idea was the delicious irony of a Flash who ends up joining his own Rogues Gallery.
I’d have liked to have seen that!
Thanks to Greg and Cary for the information!