Welcome to the three hundredth and twenty-first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, we examine the role Disney, of all comapnies, played in the early days of Vertigo Comics. Plus, learn the somewhat sad story of why the Superman Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon is now, and always will be, the largest Macy's balloon of all-time! Finally, did DC give us a sneak peek at Kyle Rayner in 1991?!?!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty.
COMIC LEGEND: Disney nearly had a Vertigo line before DC even had a Vertigo line!
STATUS: True Enough
In the early 1990s, you could count on one hand the amount of companies that DIDN'T try to get a piece of the speculator boom of that era. Printing comics was like a legal form of counterfeiting, since you were practically printing money. Not so surprisingly, though, a lot of these bold leaps into the world of comics ended up as failures.
One of the boldest was Walt Disney, which had been in the comic book business almost as soon as there WAS a comic book business. Disney licensed their characters out to various companies, and it was a mutually beneficial relationship. Disney comics were often some of the best-selling comics in the United States, and even when they fell by the wayside a bit stateside, they continued to reign supreme in Europe and other countries. As the 90s began, though, Disney began to think that they could do better by getting into comics themselves. So in 1990, they pulled their licensed ongoing titles in the United States and launched Disney Comics, Inc. They had a lot of money behind them and they hired some great comic book creators, including the great Len Wein as their initial Editor-in-Chief.
Initially, Disney launched an expansive release of kids comic books based on their wide array of properties...
That was meant to be just one phase of the company, though. Through Martin Pasko, Disney planned to launch a line of superhero comics (not only was everyone and their cousin forming comic book companies in the 1990s, they almost all were forming superhero comic book lines). However, they also planned something a bit more innovative. DC had recently gotten quite a bit of attention for their Mature Readers comics. From the massive success of Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing in the early-to-mid 1980s to the then-current runs of Neil Gaiman on Sandman and Grant Morrison on Doom Patrol (not to mention Peter Milligan on Shade the Changing Man and Jamie Delano on Hellblazer and Tom Veitch on Animal Man), DC had made quite a name for themselves in mature comic book entertainment. Disney decided that they wanted a piece of that. Karen Berger was in charge of these comics, but Art Young was her second-in-command. So Disney made Young an offer he could not refuse - head up an entire line of mature readers comics where he could hire pretty much whoever that he wanted (and it would be worth their time).
Named after Disney's "mature" movie company, Touchstone Pictures, the comic line was called Touchmark (why not Touchstone Comics?). The legendary Todd Klein came in and designed the logo (I do believe that's Klein's actual fingerprint in the logo). Disney announced the new line of comics at the 1991 San Diego Comic Con with a booklet detailing the comics. Here is that booklet along with a couple of pages from within...
So yeah, pretty clearly, you had a veritable Who's Who of contemporary awesome comic book creators. In addition, though, you had comics that were pushing the boundaries so much. Look at their spotlight comic, the wonderful (but evocative, especially for 1991) Enigma by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo. That is a comic that would be innovative if it had been released in 2011, let alone 1991!
I say that the line would have been Vertigo before Vertigo was Vertigo because at the time, while DC's mature titles were definitely getting a lot of attention, they had not yet solidifed themselves as a "line" of comics. If they had, then you wouldn't see stuff like Animal Man being in War of the Gods...
In any event, like many things that seemed too god to be true, this was. There was money problems and all their proposed launches were canceled. Luckily, DC hired Art Young back and took in many of the projects he had signed.
I have seen it written some places where Touchmark should get some credit for the launch of Vertigo. I dunno, I think Vertigo was coming no matter what. I mean, don't get me wrong, Touchmark was very important for Vertigo, since Young's stable of books (including Enigma, Mercy and Sebastian O) helped practically double Berger's initial Vertigo launch in terms of ready-t-go new books, so it definitely made it easier for her to launch Vertigo. But I am nearly positive that we would have seen Vertigo had Disney not created Touchmark.
Anyhow, neat story, huh? Thanks to Todd Klein for the scans of the booklet (he was noting that he did the logos for Mercy and Enigma).
COMIC LEGEND: The most recent Superman balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is and will always be the largest balloon in the history of the parade.
Reader Mark wrote in to ask if it was true that the Superman balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was the biggest balloon ever in the parade, and if it was true that due to some new restrictions, it would ALWAYS be the biggest.
The simple answer is yes, but the reasons behind the restrictions are interesting (if pretty sad).
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City began in 1924, making it the second-longest running Thanksgiving Day Parade in the United States.
Three years into the parade, Macy's began to have big balloons as part of the parade, beginning with a giant Felix the Cat balloon. Over the next decade, slowly but surely more balloons were added. In 1939, they added their sixth balloon, an 80 foot Superman!
Check it out - not exactly the best likeness...
Traditionally, after awhile, balloons got replaced by newer balloons and the older ones were retired. That happened to Superman, as well. But in 1966, a SECOND Superman balloon joined the parade!
Slightly better likeness.
After the retirement of that balloon, as well, 1982 saw the latest and greatest Superman balloon. It was the last balloon made by Goodyear. 14,000 cubic feet of helium and air was needed to inflate this bad boy, which measured out at 104 feet (104 feet!!!) long and 35 feet wide.
Impressive stuff. At the time, it was the largest balloon ever made for the parade.
Likely due to the logistics of it all, it did not have a particularly long run, retiring after 1987. Ten years later, though, tragedy struck at the 1997 Thanksgiving Day Parade. A Cat in the Hat balloon that was over 80 feet long was caught by heavy 40 miles per hour winds and knocked down a street lamp into a group of people, sending a metal crosspiece into the face of 34-year-old Kathleen Caronna. Caronna was in a coma for 22 days and ended up suffering brain damage and vision impairment. So the city buckled down and passed a rule limiting the size of the bigger balloons in the parade. Right away, Bugs Bunny, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Woody Woodpecker and the Pink Panther were all eliminated (along with the Cat and the Hat, of course, as it would have been quite weird to have that balloon show up the next year). The ban applied to all balloons exceeding 78 feet in length, 40 feet in width or 70 feet in height. In addition, none of the larger balloons were allowed to be inflated if winds top 23 MPH or gusts hit 34 MPH. On top of that, Macy's (at their expense) paid for new lamp posts along the parade route, as admittedly, the lamp post was designed in the worst way possible (it hooked up, easily snaring the balloon ropes).
Even with these precautions, in 2005, an M&Ms balloon also knocked over a light post, hitting a 26-year-old woman in a wheelchair and her 11-year-old sister (they luckily only suffered minor injuries). At least the Superman balloon wasn't responsible for it! I can only imagine how many biff and pows would have been in the headline!
Thanks for the question, Mark!
COMIC LEGEND: DC gave us a sneak peek of future Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in the Hawkworld Annual tie-in to Armageddon 2001.
STATUS: I'm Going with False
Reader Paul Blanshard sent this one in quite some time ago.
So, as you may or may not remember, Armageddon 2001 was a crossover in the 1991 DC Annuals. It saw this fellow from a terrible future (2001, natch) named Waverider who traveled back in time to find out who would become the evil tyrant of his time known as Monarch (all he knew was that Monarch was once a hero).
If Waverider made contact with someone, he could see what their life would be like in 2001 and he could tell if they were going to become Monarch.
(by the way, good job noting what Maxwell Lord was up to, Waverider)
In any event, in the Hawkworld Annual (by the great John Ostrander and artist Gary Kwapisz), we see a possible future where the villain Atilla links up with Katar Hol and, for a moment, we see how Katar could become a tyrant when his law and order ways would run wild.
Check out the second page. See the Green Lantern? Well, here's something you have to ALSO remember about the 1990s. People used to dig over comic books for all sorts of stuff that could be the first appearance of a character, so that way they could sell the comic for more money. People paid big bucks for issues of Web of Spider-Man with venom's ARM in a panel!!
So a rumor soon began that this was the first appearance of Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern who showed up in 1994 after Hal Jordan went bonkers.
And ya know what? I don't think I even need any confirmation from anyone on the creative side of this comic. I'm just going with a flat no. There's no way Kyle Rayner was planned back in 1991, and especially not in the pages of Hawkworld (who shared no editors-in-common with Green Lantern). Thanks for the suggestion, Paul!
Okay, that's it for this week!
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