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Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #23!

by  in Comic News Comment
Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #23!

This is the twenty-third 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 twenty-two.

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Bruce Banner got a new first name due to Stan Lee’s forgetfulness.

STATUS: True

In the early days of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee was writing a lot of comic books. Not only was he writing a lot of comic books, but he was writing a lot of CHARACTERS, as some of the books he was writing had two features in them (like Tales to Astonish). As a result, it was often difficult for him to remember character’s names. This was the genesis of the alliterative name for Marvel characters. It is easier to remember names when the first and last names both begin with the same letter.

However, even this did not always keep Lee from occasionally slipping up. One notable error occured about two and a half years into Marvel’s existence, where Lee began referring (for more than a couple of months) to the Incredible Hulk’s alter ego as “Bob Banner” rather than the “Bruce Banner” that he was originally named.

Responding to criticism of the goof, Stan Lee, in issue #28 of the Fantastic Four, laid out how he was going to handle the situation, “”There’s only one thing to do-we’re not going to take the cowardly way out. From now on his name is Robert Bruce Banner-so we can’t go wrong no matter WHAT we call him!”

And that is the name he still has today, although they later changed the Robert to David for the television program.

This Urban Legend was suggested to me by Reilly Brown.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The recently killed off Phantom Lady, Human Bomb and Black Condor are in the public domain and are not actually owned by DC, therefore with their deaths, anyone can now come along and publish stories about them.

STATUS: False

The key to this question (which was posed to me by Kelvin Green) is the “with their deaths” aspect of the question. The fact that the characters have been killed off is irrelevant. All you need to be able to write a public domain character is for that character to be IN the public domain, which is the case for all of the Freedom Fighters. The Freedom Fighters were all published by Quality Comics until it went out of business in the 1950s, and eventually sold all its rights to DC Comics. The thing is, during this period in time, Quality allowed the copyright to lapse on their characters. This was not a strange occurance at the time, as very few companies actually bothered to renew their copyrights, as Quality quite reasonably did not feel as though there was anything to be gained by sustaining the copyright on the characters. Comics were a month by month enterprise. In addition, even had they WANTED to renew the copyrights, as the terms expired while the company was out of business, they couldn’t ANYways.

So there you have it – you CAN write a comic book featuring the Ray, Phantom Lady, Human Bomb, etc.

The next question is, though, can you title the comic Phantom Lady, Human Bomb, The Ray, etc.? That is an issue for trademark to address. Copyright just dictates whether you can use the characters and/or reprint their stories. Trademark protects consumers by assuring that if they see, say, a comic with Batman on the cover, that the comic book WILL be by DC Comics. This is designed to protect consumers from bootleg (i.e. inferior) material.

The strongest protection regarding trademarks comes when someone registers a trademark with the federal government. However, this is NOT the only way to protect a trademark, it is just the easiest (for if it is registered, the presumption cuts directly to the person/group who registered the trademark). A great deal of comic book characters have NOT been registered as trademarks. Of the Quality Comics characters, DC has only registered Plastic Man and the Blackhawks for trademark protection. For the others, you would have a SHOT, but even though DC did not REGISTER the names as trademarks, the fact that they published a comic book titled The Ray and Black Condor would be a strong argument in DC’s favor that they have a trademark on those characters.

So, while you can certainly write a comic featuring the Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, etc., you would probably not be able to advertise it as such.

Their deaths, though, mean basically nothing (except there is less chance for a comic featuring them to be placed into the stream of commerce, which, after awhile, would bolster an outsider’s attempts at claiming DC was not protecting their trademark. In addition, if they are dead, perhaps DC would not even TRY to defend their trademark on the characters).

Thanks to Don Hilliard for reminding me to make myself clearer.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Speedball was invented for the New Universe.

STATUS: True

Describing his work on the New Universe (in this interview with Tim Hartnett), Jim Shooter stated :

About 18 months before Marvel’s 25th Anniversary, I was called to an executive staff meeting (the President, all the VPs and Directors) to discuss the Anniversary. It was decided we should have a “publishing event” to celebrate. I suggested several things, including introducing a second “new” universe. Everyone liked that idea. I was given a development budget of $120,000. Later, Tom DeFalco asked me if he could be in charge of the project. I agreed. Months passed. Tom made little progress. The only idea I can remember that he developed in that time was Speedball, the less said of which, the better. Time got short, so I took over. I came up with the concept of a science fiction super-hero universe, as opposed to the original science fantasy super-hero Marvel Universe. By this time, Marvel Comics was being shopped for sale. Suddenly, the owners (essentially the Board of Directors) were as one might expect, loathe to make any investment in the future. Nothing “useless” that took dollars off the bottom line (such as developing characters that may pay off in the future, when presumably new owners would be in place) was tolerated. My budget was cut from $120,000 to $80,000 to $40,000 to “stop all spending” in the space of a week. We had spent only about $12,000 point, much of it on Speedball, I believe.

A few years later, I guess Marvel decided it wanted to try to recoup its investment in Speedball (and I guess it did not hurt that his developer was now Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief), and the Speedball ongoing series made its debut.


Note that Shooter doesn’t say that DeFalco CREATED Speedball, so it is unclear whether Ditko was the sole creator of Speedball, or if it was a tandem effort between Ditko and DeFalco.

Well, that’s it for me this week!

Feel free to tell me some urban legends you have heard, and I will try to confirm or deny them!