Welcome to the three hundredth and fortieth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the inspiration behind both the Trial of Reed Richards and Knightfall! Plus, did the Katzenjammer Kids have to change their name because of anti-German sentiment during World War I?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and thirty-nine.
COMIC LEGEND: “The Trial of Reed Richards” came about in response to a two-page bit in an issue of Uncanny X-Men.
John Byrne’s classic “Trial of Reed Richards” story from Fantastic Four #262 is one of the most fondly remembered issues from Byrne’s excellent Fantastic Four run.
In it, Reed Richards defends his actions in allowing Galactus to live (as he did in an earlier storyline in Byrne’s Fantastic Four run
arguing that Galactus is beyond ideas of “good” or “evil.”
Interestingly enough (especially following Meta-Messages Month), the story came about in response to a Fantastic Four cameo in Uncanny X-Men that Byrne had no idea was coming!
In Uncanny X-Men #167, Chris Claremont addressed the earlier Fantastic Four storyline (where the Fantastic Four and the Avengers pass up the opportunity to kill Galactus) by having Lilandra pay Reed Richards a visit…
I suppose Claremont was likely irked at the notion that Phoenix “had” to be killed because she destroyed a planet and then Galactus did not. I can’t say for sure what Claremont’s motivation was.
Byrne was shocked to see the Fantastic Four appear in an issue of X-Men without he or his Fantastic Four editor consulted, so he went to the Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, who suggested that Byrne do a “response” to it.
Byrne already had his run all planned out and did not want to have to interject a story like this, but he felt he did need to have some sort of response, so he used the “Assistant Editor’s Month” concept to fit in the Trial storyline.
Byrne even guest-starred in the issue, where it is definitively answered that Galactus is NOT “evil”…
Thanks to reader Bernard the Poet for suggesting this one!
COMIC LEGEND: Peter Milligan originated the idea for Knightfall.
STATUS: False enough for a false
Awhile back, reader Cass noted:
According to something I read…it was Milligan who pitched the idea of Knightfall to Denny O’Neil, even though the actual scripting was passed onto Moench and Dixon.
I posed the question to Milligan awhile back and he gave a general no, but he elaborated even further in an interview with Kiel Phegley in Comic Book Resources’ Bat-Signal feature here.
Getting ready for this interview, I saw a lot of references to you being the person who inspired the Batman mega-epic “Knightfall” before leaving “Detective,” but I never saw confirmation from you on the particulars of that fact. Can you tell me a little about your role in the bigger Bat-plans of the time?
This has all probably got a little out of control, and I can’t throw too much light on it. In fact, I think it was “Sword of Azrael” that I had some influence on…It was towards the end of my tenure on “Detective” (I had some other things I wanted to do, so I asked to leave the book) and I had a meeting with then editor Denny O’Neil. I said that though I wasn’t going to write it, “A good idea would be to…” and I then described something that Denny liked and which morphed into Azrael. I seem to remember getting a call from Alan Grant where he said something like “Ach, Peter. You bastard. Thanks a lot.” There was never ever any sense of DC pinching an idea from me or anything like that, in fact they were pretty generous in recognizing my contribution to the storyline.
When Milligan says “Azrael,” he doesn’t mean Azrael specifically, but rather the notion that there might be a character out there who is “more Batman than Batman himself.”
This, then, inspired O’Neil to do the Knightfall storyline, which was always about how O’Neil wanted to demonstrate that there was a specific need for Bruce Wayne to be Batman and that an “edgy” hero just would not work in the role.
So I think (and I know Milligan agrees) that it is too much of a stretch to go to “Milligan pitched the idea for Knightfall,” although O’Neil has always been quite vocal in crediting Milligan’s involvement in the process.
Thanks to Cass for the suggestion and thanks to Milligan and Phegley for the information!
COMIC LEGEND: The Katzenjammer Kids got a name change during World War I.
With today being Veteran’s Day, which was originally Armistace Day (as it is still called in other parts of the world) to celebrate the end of World War I, I figured it only right to deal with a legend related to World War I.
The Katzenjammer Kids is one of the longest-running comic strips in American history. It debuted in 1897 and continues to this very day!
Created by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks, the strip was about two young boys who got into all sorts of trouble….
while their father figure, The Captain, would work as a comic foil to the boys…
After a dispute with the paper, Dirks took the characters to a rival newspaper in 1914 (initially without a name and then under the name Hans and Fritz, the first names of the boys), while the original strip continued under the Katzenjammer Kids name under the pen of Harold H. Knerr (who drew the strip for decades).
During World War I, though, anti-German sentiment was strong in the United States. It was SO bad that BOTH newspapers actually re-named their comics!
Hans and Fritz became Captain and the Kids, a name it kept until it folded in 1979 (yes, rival versions of the same strip were able to stay in business for over 60 years!).
And, for a few years, the Katzenjammer Kids became the Shenanigan Kids! Here’s a strip from 1920…
Pretty amazing, huh?
Thanks to Barnacle Press for the strip scans! And thanks to Mary Warner for reminding me that it was both strips that got their name changed, not just Katzenjammer Kids.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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See you all next week!
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