Welcome to the five hundred and fifty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, was Marvel’s classic 1980s Squadron Supreme series a mini-series because DC threatened to sue if it became an ongoing? Did Stan Lee really have Dan Adkins swipe Steve Ditko panels for Adkins’ Doctor Strange run? And did Harlan Ellison and John Romita Jr. nearly do a Doctor Strange series together?
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: Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme was going to be an ongoing series until DC Comics threatened to sue if the series kept going
As I wrote about years ago, Marvel invented the Squadron Supreme for a sort of “crossover” between the Avengers and the Justice League of America, with the Squadron working as stand-ins for the Justice League. The Squadron, though, evolved and expanded and would very often appear in the pages of the Avengers and other Marvel titles (the original Squadron became villains and the Avengers eventually traveled to a universe where GOOD versions of the Squadron Supreme lived – these good versions became longtime allies of the Avengers – one of the villainous Squadron members eventually became the longtime Defender Nighthawk).
Anyhow, in 1985, Mark Gruenwald wrote an ambitious maxi-series that was basically “What if the Justice League decided to fix all of the world’s problems?” Hyperion, the Superman character, explains the plan…
Nighthawk, the Batman of the group, decides he has to kill Hyperion before the plan can go into action. But can he truly kill his friend?
His decision to let things go leads into the rest of the epic 12-issue series examining whether it was RIGHT for superheroes to solve all of the world’s problems and whether that is even POSSIBLE. Nighthawk decides to try to stop his friend and the whole thing ends in tragedy. The remarkably thoughtful series actually predated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen by a full YEAR! Gruenwald rightly viewed it as his masterpiece, and after he died, his ashes were mixed in with a printing of a trade paperback collection of Squadron Supreme (one of my very first comic book legends way back when).
So, almost eight years ago, reader Ken R. wrote in with the following legend:
Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme series was originally planned to be ongoing, but DC said they would sue Marvel if the published a continuing series featuring characters known to be copies of their characters.
The lawsuit stuff was basically correct, with Gruenwald telling Davis Smay in Amazing Heroes #97, after Smay brought up the Justice League connection:
Well, I guess I am a little sensitive about it because we were threatened with a lawsuit. And somehow we got out of it because the characters had passed beyond the statute of limitations [DC didn’t act when the Squadron Supreme first appeared several years back].
(Generally speaking, the statute of limitations on copyright infringement is three years of the discovery of the infringement – clearly, DC knew about it back in the early 1970s because they were PART of the debut of the Squadron Supreme!)
In that same interview, however, Gruenwald explained the real reason why the series didn’t go past a maxi-series, “I have approval to do a Squadron Supreme one-shot Annual special – double-sized – originally intended as an epilogue. However, there’s not a great demand for a continuation of the series.”
That one-shot presumably evolved into the bleak 1989 graphic novel, Death of a Universe…
So the series was done in by the most evil of villains – low sales.
Thanks to Ken for the question and thanks to the late, great Mark Gruenwald and David Smay for the answers!
Check out some recent entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
On the next page, the first of back-to-back Doctor Strange legends! Did Stan Lee have Dan Adkins intentionally swipe Steve Ditko’s art for Adkins’ run on Doctor Strange?
COMIC LEGEND: Dan Adkins was asked to swipe from Steve Ditko to make his Doctor Strange look like Ditko’s Doctor Strange
STATUS: I’m Going With True
One of the problems with losing an artist like Steve Ditko from a strip like Doctor Strange was that Ditko was SO inventive and SO creative on the book that it was jarring to go from him to another creator.
Bill Everett was the first artist to take over, but right right from the get go, Lee had a number of Ditko panels literally just re-posted in the first Strange story following Ditko’s departure, Strange Tales #147. Everett lasted a few issues and then Marie Severin got a shot. Dan Adkins finally took over with Strange Tales #161.
Speaking of his artwork on the book to Jon B. Cook in Comic Book Artist #7, Adkins remarked:
[My art] started out looking like Ditko, because I was told to draw like Ditko. I was never told to draw like Kirby – but I was told to draw like Ditko. I was actually told to swipe Ditko, and this was by Stan, up front. So, I did, but then I started going towards my own style, which is realistic and just a different style.
Sure enough, here are some examples from Adkins’ first couple of issues.
From Strange Tales #161, here is the opening splash page…
And here, from Strange Tales #132 and 133, are the Ditko panels being swiped to form the above splash page…
From Strange Tales #162, here is the third page…
Check out the variety of Ditko issues he swiped for this page, including shockingly two side-by-side panels that he used for the above side-by-side panels to kick the page off…
From Strange Tales #130…
From Strange Tales #132…
From Strange Tales #139….
From Strange Tales #131…
From Strange Tales #144…
Adkins came into the business as an assistant for Wallace Wood, who would famously tell people:
“Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.”
When Cooke asked Adkins about his reputation for swiping, he said, “When I started out, Wally had loads of reference to work with that went way back; but I would swipe from something came out a couple of months ago when I was first swiping, and Is till hadn’t made up my mind whether it was bad to swipe or not. It’s bad to swipe the way I did.” Adkins noted that he did it because it was just too hard to keep up with deadlines withOUT swiping. This is why he stopped penciling comic books period. It just took too long.
Here, though, are some pages of his from Strange Tales #168 that I think show off his own style (feel free, people, to let me know if THESE pages are somehow swipes, as well)…
I suppose the only question of the veracity is whether you trust Adkins here. I don’t see any real reason for him to lie. He openly concedes that he used to swipe a lot on lots of other jobs (which ultimately led to him concentrating on inking, which he was really good at, because penciling without swiping was too darn hard), so it wasn’t like he claimed that this was the only time he ever did it. Heck, you could argue that Adkins’ known willingness to do it LED to Lee suggesting that he do it. In any event, I believe Adkins enough for a true here.
Reader Mark G. suggested this to me by linking me to a poster on the Marvel Masterworks Fansite message board (who appears to have since been banned or otherwise deleted his account, I dunno) who pointed out the specific panel swipes listed above.
Thanks to the late, great Dan Adkins (he passed away in 2013) and Jon B. Cooke for the information, thanks to Mark for the suggestion and thanks to the nameless poster for the Ditko panel sources!
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Why the heck was there a talking robot in Rocky IV?
On the next page, did Harlan Ellison and John Romita Jr. nearly do a Doctor Strange comic book for Marvel?
COMIC LEGEND: Harlan Ellison and John Romita Jr. nearly worked together on a Doctor Strange project for Marvel Comics.
STATUS: Basically True
Legendary author Harlan Ellison has mastered a variety of genres over the years, as well as a number of types of media, from books to movies to comic books.
During the 1990s, Ellison even wrote the plot for an episode of the Silver Surfer cartoon series!
That episode, “Antibody,” dealt with Surfer and a dying Galactus.
Later in the decade, Ellison decided to adapt his story another time, this time as a comic book for Marvel’s then-new Marvel Knights line of books, perhaps even illustrated by the head of Marvel Knights, Joe Quesada.
However, then Marvel went out and actually KILLED Galactus in late 1999 in Galactus the Devourer #6 by Louise Simonson, John Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz…
So then Ellison decided to try to RE-pitch the story as a Doctor Strange story now! This time with John Romita Jr. on artwork!
In a Wonder Con write-up by Comic Book Resources in 2000:
Romita – teased unmercifully at a panel on Friday by fellow creators for his loyalty to Marvel, which they spun in the worst possible light – announced Saturday that he will likely be working outside Marvel once his contract ends.
“Until I finish out my contract in December, I’ll be doing lots of miniseries.”
Among the projects he will be doing is a project with Scott Lobdell and a three part Dr. Strange mini-series written by Harlan Ellison, who hand-picked Romita for the assignment.
The miniseries was originally intended to be about the Silver Surfer, but with the recent death of Galactus, things got tweaked a bit.
“Dormammu is dying,” Romita said. “If he dies, it throws the whole netherworld off, and Dr. Strange has to go inside him.”
Rich Johnston, however, very astutely found the following quote from Tom Brevoort soon after…
“Not to be a wet blanket or anything, but my understanding is that this is another project that hasn’t really even been submitted yet, much less approved. So while it’s still possible for it to happen, it’s nowhere near definite, other than that JRJR and Harlan seem to want to do it. In other words, for the time being put it in line right behind that Grant Morrison FF project.”
And a year later, Romita Jr. told Mike Jozic of Silver Bullets, “No. Tom’s right. It’s gone and out of the world. Working on Doctor Strange is a possibility, but not that story.”
Well, maybe someday! It sounds like a cool story! And Ellison and Romita Jr? That’s a great team!
Thanks to the Sequential Ellison for the scoop, and, of course, Romita, Rich Johnston, Tom Brevoort and Mike Jozic for all the information in said scoop.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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