This is the one-hundred and fifty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and fifty-seven. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This week also marks the third anniversary of this feature, so to celebrate, I figured I’d treat you all to something a little special – not just a DOUBLE-sized edition, but double-sized plus ONE! Why lucky seven? Because I thought that a nice way to make this a STAR-STUDDED anniversary would be to have one legend for each of the writers of the top five comic book runs. Since there were two co-writers in the top five, that makes seven!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Neil Gaiman reworked his Phantom Stranger proposal into Sandman.
STATUS: Basically True
It is fun to think of DC Comics in the late 1980s, where there was this influx of British writers who also brought with them an influx of creativity. This creativity was displayed with great effect as Alan Moore took a popular (but not THAT popular) DC character, Swamp Thing, and turned it into a critical darling.
In the late 1980s, DC wanted to know if similarly talented British creators could do the same, and writer Neil Gaiman’s first shot at doing a new take on an established DC character was 1988’s Black Orchid.
After that was a success, Karen Berger asked him to pick a new ongoing project.
Gaiman’s first answer was the Phantom Stranger.
He was told no, as DC did not think he was enough of a “hero” to sustain an ongoing series (and he had just had a mini-series anyways).
So Gaiman suggested the Demon.
Nope, just used by Matt Wagner.
Okay, how about Green Arrow?
Nope, sorry, Mike Grell is doing a Green Arrow series.
How about the Sandman?
Free and clear!
However, the specific wonder that reader RR Duran sent in to me a year ago was did Gaiman turn his Phantom Stranger idea into the Sandman?
And here, I’m going to give a tentative yes, but perhaps not the way that Duran is asking me. I believe Duran is asking whether Gaiman had a solid storyline all planned for the Phantom Stranger, then when that was rejected, Gaiman just changed the characters to Morpheus, et. al. Duran suggests this because of what he felt to be similarities between Gaiman’s initial Sandman plots and unresolved plots from the Phantom Stranger’s previous ongoing series.
Instead, what I think happened was that Gaiman had a certain amount of fantastical ideas, and where he initially planned on using the Phantom Stranger to achieve his goals of telling these stories, he instead came up with Morpheus. The two are really a lot alike, in the sense that they both mostly facilitate other people’s stories.
In an interview with Universo HQ a few years back, Gaiman goes into this point deeper, by discussing the similarities between Morpheus and the Phantom Stranger (he details a scrapped plot where he had the two talk for awhile before he realized it was just like the same person talking to himself – so decided against the idea), and specifically saying that any ideas he had for the Phantom Stranger series he had used up during his Sandman run.
So while it was not a direct “replace all usages of ‘Phantom Stranger’ with ‘Morpheus'” reworking, I think it is close enough to give it a basic true.
Here is Neil Gaiman himself clarifying the situation:
As I remember both Grant and I pitched our Phantom STranger stories on the same day, and they both involved Cassandra Craft . That time it was turned down because they’d just commissioned the Kupperberg series. I don’t honestly think that anything in the pitch I did was reworked in Sandman. Some months later, when I was asked what I’d like to do as a monthly series, I asked for the Stranger, and was told no, because he wasn’t a Hero. So took enormous pleasure in writing a series about someone much less a hero than the stranger ever was.
Sandman was plotted from the ground up, starting with the character, not reusing anything. I’m sure that if I’d done a Phantom Stranger series it would have covered as much history as Sandman did. But I got most of my desire to write Phantom Stranger characters out of my system in Books of Magic…
I’ve still got the Phantom Stranger / Morpheus scene from Sandman 24 somewhere, and you can see why it didn’t work – they stand there being gnomic at each other, and it really doesn’t make for drama, so after a page or so I gave it up as a bad job and just started the story a few moments later. But it wasn’t a plot, just a scene.
Thanks to RR Duran for the question, and thanks to Universo HQ and especially, Neil Gaiman for the information and clarifications!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Chris Claremont modeled an X-Men character after a translator he once had.
As noted in a previous installment, Chris Claremont commonly peppers in appearances of his friends in his comics.
However, apparently only a brief encounter with Claremont can lead to you making an appearance in an X-Men comic, as Lourdes Ortiz found out during the 1980s.
In 1985, Lourdes Ortiz worked as Chris Claremont’s translator when he attended the 1985 Barcelona Comic Convention in Barcelona, Spain.
Here she is with Mr. Claremont…
If you can read Spanish, here is a newspaper article account of Claremont’s Spanish tour.
About a year later, in Classic X-Men #7, Claremont delved into the background of one of the Hellfire Club (powerful, secretive business organization – made up of mostly pretty evil folks)’s leaders, Sebastian Shaw.
In the story, we see Sebastian Shaw torn between the head of the Hellfire Club, Ned Buckman, and Shaw’s lover, the mutant teleporter, Lourdes Chantel, a teleporter from…you guessed it!…Barcelona, Spain.
Both Lourdeses even look similar…
Chantel is killed in the story by the evil mutant-hunting robots, the Sentinels (which were sent by Buckman to kill Shaw), and her death leads Shaw to take control of the Hellfire Club, making the leaders of the group mutants.
So who knows who might appear in a Chris Claremont comic next? Watch out dry cleaners and accountants, your time may come next!!
Thanks to reader Julio for filling me in on this one!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: John Byrne drew She-Hulk’s nipples in a Marvel Graphic Novel.
Reader yo go re asked me the following last year:
Did John Byrne draw a, ah… “wardrobe malfunction” in the Sensational She-Hulk graphic novel?
As I read it, the story had a fairly sexual bent, what with the public strip searches, the probing, the tiny bare butt-shot on a tv screen, etc. At one point, She-Hulk gets shot in the chest, and while it tears the clothes she was wearing, it obviously doesn’t do anything to the character. We get a panel showing her from the chest up, crushing the gun the guy shot her with, and it’s possible to Rorschach-test your way into seeing barely-concealed nipples. It doesn’t help that they’re colored differently than the rest of her skin.
I haven’t seen a direct quote, but rumor is that Byrne said the inker did it, not him. Seems possible, but not highly likely – considering the way Byrne liked to tease the audience in his run on the book, it seems more likely that he just tried to see if he could pitch one past the editor, and succeeded.
Here is the scene in question, from 1985’s Marvel Graphic Novel: The Sensation She-Hulk
(Thanks to Dave Campbell for the scan!)
Okay, so the nipples are clearly there.
So, was it Byrne or was it the inker of the comic, Kim DeMulder?
Here’s Mr. DeMulder on the subject (I know Byrne has already denied it – so I went right to Mr. DeMulder):
Yeah I added them. I understand that Byrne wasn’t too crazy about that.
I had a lot of fun doing this book, but it got under a very tight deadline crunch toward the end of it. Adding to it all, a few of the pages I had already inked were lost in Marvel’s own mail room. So I had to trace copies of the pencils and re-ink them.
This obviously created less time to do much of any production changes in the artwork. In the first part of the book, I can remember that Byrne had whited out some of She-Hulk’s breast “details” that I had added in! 😉 Later on he apparently didn’t have the time to do that!
Another by-the-way about this book was that it was originally planned to be a regular comic book miniseries and then changed to a graphic novel after we had already started it. So under the heading of “graphic novel”, I felt a little more inclined to add some details that couldn’t be shown in code-approved comics.
So there ya go! A consensus!
Here is a link to Kim’s neat-o website!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Stan Lee owns a trademark on the word “Excelsior,” keeping Marvel from using the name for a comic book.
Here’s another great examination of the difference between trademark and copyright, courtesy of the great Stan Lee.
Stan Lee’s current company, Pow! Entertainment, was recently granted a trademark on the service mark “Excelsior!”
Excelsior, besides being Lee’s catch phrase, is also the name of the book he did awhile back…
In the pages of Runaways awhile back, Brian K. Vaughan introduced a team of young superheroes that formed a sort of superhero support group. They called themselves Excelsior.
That was fine, because Marvel was not using the name Excelsior in any advertisements or as the title of the book – basically, there were not using the mark in commerce.
However, in late 2006/early 2007, they announced plans for a mini-series featuring Excelsior.
Here, there would be a problem, because they would have to use the name in the title of the comic, and by doing so, they WOULD be using the mark in commerce, which is where they would come into conflict with Lee’s trademark.
So they renamed the book Loners!
Interestingly enough, Lee’s trademark was only recently granted by the government. I wonder when his company actually filed for the trademark. This might very well have been a case of Marvel backing off before any legal problem actually occurred, perhaps because, well, why mess with Stan Lee if you don’t have to?
If anyone knows of any specifics to the situation, let me know! I know Rich Johnston mentioned it, but that was source-less (which is totally fair, just noting that if anyone had a source, that’d be neat).
STATUS: False, although he was connected in a roundabout way.
In November of 1979, Iranian students took over the American embassy in Tehran, Iran, taking 52 U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
While almost all of the workers at the embassy were taken hostage, a few did manage to escape. They first tried to escape in groups of five or six. The locals first (the first local group was quickly recaptured) and then married couples. The group of married couples actually managed to escape capture, and eventually were given secret sanctuary in the Canadian embassy.
The Central Intelligence Agency tried to think of a way to get them out of the country. Faking passports and the like were simple enough, even passing them off as Canadians was simple enough – explaining why six Canadians were in Iran during such a tumultuous time? Not simple at all.
Eventually, CIA agent Tony Mendez came up with a plan – pass them off as working on advance scouting for a motion picture!
Only, to make it look real, they needed to basically make a real motion picture, and this is where Jack Kirby is involved.
A fellow named Barry Geller had purchased the rights to Roger Zelazny’s science fiction novel, Lord of Light, and Geller then hired Jack Kirby to do design sketches for the film. Kirby was quite thrilled at the time to be involved in the film.
As part of the production of the film, Geller also planned a theme park, a sort of science fiction amusement park…
Here is one of his sketches Kirby made for the film (Geller has a lot more on his website here):
Well, like a lot of films, the project fell through.
Makeup artist John Chambers (Oscar winner for his work on the Planet of the Apes) was hired by Geller for the film, so he had access to the film’s documents, and the setting of the Lord of the Light fit the terrain of Iran perfectly, so now the project had a film to work with!
They renamed the film Argo, and proceeded with their plan, including an ad for the film in Variety.
The Kirby art was used extensively – the workers carried it around with them, etc.
And eventually, the six embassy workers disguised as film workers (now also all passed off as Canadian citizens, thanks to the super-heroic work of the Canadian government in this time of crisis) went to Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport and flew off to Switzerland.
Pretty amazing, huh?
The six rescued American diplomats were:
Robert Anders, 34 – Consular Officer
Mark J. Lijek, 29 – Consular Officer
Cora A. Lijek, 25 – Consular Assistant
Henry L. Schatz, 31 – Agriculture Attache
Joseph D. Stafford, 29 – Consular Officer
Kathleen F. Stafford, 28 – Consular Assistant
Here is a picture of three of the men, along with CIA Agent Tony Mendez (four months after the escape)…
Mark Lijek (1), Tony Mendez (2), Robert Anders (3), Henry Lee Schatz (4)
Thanks to Joshuah Bearman, who wrote this all up in an amazing article for Wired (he supplied the picture, too!).
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Frank Miller was not originally going to leave Daredevil after Born Again.
Frank Miller became a famous comic book creator while working on Daredevil, and after leaving the book for a couple of years, he returned in the mid-80s for one of the best Daredevil stories ever, Born Again, with artist David Mazzucchelli.
The epic storyline ended with #233, and it seemed as though Miller’s involvement on the title was over again…
However, Miller actually was planning on one last story before leaving (and the next writer coming in).
The story was to be a two-parter from #235-236 with artwork by the great Walt Simonson, and it was going to guest star Doctor Strange!
Only the first part was written, though, because the story was pushed back on the schedule. Once it was pushed back on the schedule, Miller lost interest a bit, and since the deadline was pushed back, he never finished the second issue’s plot and by the time Marvel really wanted the story, Miller had moved on to DC (and later, Dark Horse) and Simonson had begun his run on X-Factor – so it never got made.
How awesome would a Miller/Simonson storyline had been? And featuring Doctor Strange? Poor NeilAlien!!
Thanks to the always amazing Kuljit Mithra for his interview with Walt Simonson on the topic, and thanks to Simonson for the information about the run, and heck, this being the third anniversary of the column, let’s thank Walt Simonson again for inspiring this feature three years ago!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Alan Moore created John Constantine BECAUSE he looked like Sting
As has been shown on numerous occasions, comic book artists like to base characters on famous people – usually actors.
When they do so, it usually is a matter where they come up with a character then decide to base the character’s visual appearance on a famous celebrity.
Therefore, it is well known that John Constantine’s visual look is based on the appearance of the musician Sting (then of the band The Police).
However, in the case of John Constantine, it was actually a MUCH stranger situation where Constantine was developed AFTER the idea to use Sting’s appearance was determined.
In a 1993 interview with Wizard, Moore explained the strange genesis of Constantine:
Basically, when I take over something as a writer, I always try to work as closely as I can with the artists on the book, so I immediately did my best to strike up a friendship with Steve Bissette and John Totleben. I asked them what they would like to do in Swamp Thing . They both sent me reams of material. Things that they had always wanted to do in Swamp Thing, but never thought they would get away with. I incorporated this into my scheme of things, and tried to pin it all together.
One of those early notes was they both wanted to do a character that looked like Sting. I think DC is terrified that Sting will sue them, although Sting has seen the character and commented in Rolling Stone that he thought it was great. He was very flattered to have a comic character who looked like him, but DC gets nervous about these things. They started to eradicate all traces of references in the introduction of the early Swamp Thing books to John Constantine’s resemblance to Sting . But I can state categorically that the character only existed because Steve and John wanted to do a character that looked like Sting. Having been given that challenge, how could I fit Sting into Swamp Thing ? I have an idea that most of the mystics in comics are generally older people, very austere, very proper, very middle class in a lot of ways. They are not at all functional on the street. It struck me that it might be interesting for once to do an almost blue-collar warlock. Somebody who was streetwise, working class, and from a different background than the standard run of comic book mystics. Constantine started to grow out of that.
Bissette and Totleben had already worked Sting into a previous issue (Saga of the Swamp Thing 25)….
But it was Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 that Constantine made his first real appearance, looking just like Sting (amusingly enough, for a character created just because Bissette and Totleben wanted to draw him, his first appearance was in an issue guest-penciled by Rick Veitch!)
Sting apparently knows about it, and is fine enough with it, especially as he is one of those “that’s not me – that’s the persona I put on for the public” people, so you’d imagine he especially would be okay with it.
Thanks to William A. Christensen and Mark Seifert, authors of the Wizard article in question. Also thanks to two of the most outstanding comic resources out there:
A. Greg Plantamura’s Annotations for Swamp Thing (which is where I got the pictures from)
B. John Goodrich’s The Ultimate Hellblazer Index (which is where I got the article quote from).
And hell, since the topic is Swamp Thing, how about a link to Mike Sterling? He’s great and he loves him his Swamp Thing! So here’s his awesome website, Progressive Ruin.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
See you next week – for a nice, normal-sized edition!