Welcome to the three hundredth and seventy-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, did DC Comics temporarily cancel Detective Comics in the late 1970s? Did Batman nearly crossover with Jon Sable during the 1980s? Finally, marvel at the bizarre tale of Batman writer Bill Finger’s granddaughter.
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and seventy-six.
COMIC LEGEND: DC Comics canceled Detective Comics in the late 1970s.
Beginning in 1975, DC Comics began expanding their line of comics. From 1975-1978, they launched an astonishing 57 new comic book series (some of them were re-launches of previously canceled series)!!
Much of this centered on diversifying their lines of comics (adding sword and sorcery and stuff like that)…
In addition, they began to expand the size of their comics with back-up stories (they raised the prices of the comics as they added more content).
This was called the “DC Explosion.”
However, by the end of 1978, for a variety of reasons (including a bad economy) DC ended up canceling almost all of these new comics plus a bunch of other books. They ended up canceling 65 different books by the end of 1978. This tended to be informally referred to as the “DC Implosion.”
The following titles were canceled in just 1978 alone…
All Star Comics
Army At War
Claw the Unconquered
Doorway To Nightmare
House of Secrets
Our Fighting Forces
Secret Society of Super Villains
Secrets of Haunted House
Shade, the Changing Man
Steel: The Indestructible Man
Amazingly enough, initially one of the names on that list of canceled 1978 books was Detective Comics!
Sales on Detective Comics had been sluggish for some time. The book had already gone bi-monthly from monthly.
However, #480 was to be the last issue of DC’s titular comic book series…
After it was canceled, though, the book was saved in a rather ingeninous fashion. Someone at DC (most accounts I have seen credit then-DC PR director Mike Gold) suggested, “Hey, what about Batman Family?”
Batman Family had been launched in 1975…
It was a popular books spotlighting the various Batman supporting characters. With #17, it became one of DC’s “Dollar Comics,” giant-sized comics with lots of stories in them…
The theory was, then, since Batman Family was selling well, why not just make Detective Comics Batman Family?
And that is what happened.
Batman Family ended with #20…
and then essentially just became Detective Comics with #481…
So DC got to keep their popular Batman Family series and not have to cancel one of their longest-running titles (and the title that the company was named after!).
Within a few issues, Detective Comics took the title spotlight back…
And within a year, the Dollar Comic angle was dropped and the book was just Detective Comics again.
COMIC LEGEND: Batman and Jon Sable nearly had a crossover during the 1980s.
Mike Grell drew a few issues of Batman around the same time that Detective Comics was nearing cancellation…
And, of course, he did plenty of other great DC Comics, including his own creation, Warlord…
But by the mid-1980s, Grell was working at First Comics doing his creator-owned series, Jon Sable, Freelance…
The series was quite popular. So popular that they almost managed to do a crossover with Batman, which would have been the first crossover ever with Batman and a character from an independent comic book company (that former DC employee, Mike Gold, was the editor over at First Comics likely helped, not to mention Grell’s history at DC Comics).
Mark Allen talked with Grell about the crossover a few years back over at Mark’s neat site, Four Color Commentary…
Mark: I’d like to talk about a couple of old projects, first dealing with one planned in the early to mid-’80’s, which never saw the light of day: Jon Sable/Batman. Would you comment on how far this went, and why fans never saw it?
Mike: The plot was finished and approved, the editors and creative staff were all onboard and the publishers both wanted to do it. Then the lawyers got involved and the deal turned into a morass that sucked the life out of the project. I’d still love to do it.
Mark: What was the premise behind the story?
Mike: The plot was simple, but fun. A man suffering from amnesia comes to Sable wanting him to help discover his identity. It should be a simple matter of running the guy’s fingerprints. But there’s a slight complication…under his suit, he’s wearing a Batman costume! What if he really is?
Mark: If I’m not mistaken, it would have been the first crossover involving one of the Big Two publishers and an independent property. Did that have something to do with the project not seeing the light of day?
Mike: All I can tell you is that mostly it was a matter of approvals at the various stages. Time was short for production (something like 90 or 120 days), but the approval time was something like 15 working days at each stage (plot, script, pencils, inks, color), totaling more than half of the production schedule. We tried to get it cut to five working days, but ran into a brick wall. When it degenerated into an obvious chest-beating contest between the lawyers, we walked away. It just wasn’t worth the endless battle. Like I said, I’d still be interested.
Come on, DC! Let’s get this baby done!
I know that the promotional art Grell did for the crossover was auctioned off to raise money for John Ostrander awhile back. Anyone have a scan of the art I could post?
Thanks to Mark and Mike Grell for the great information! Thanks to Jon Weisblatt for suggesting I feature this one.
COMIC LEGEND: Bill Finger does not have a living heir.
A few years back, Marc Tyler Nobleman came out with a great picture book (with art by Ross MacDonald) about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster called the Boys of Steel.
Just recently, Nobleman was at it again with a picture book about Bill Finger, the unsung co-creator of Batman.
This time, the great Ty Templeton delivers the artwork inside. And it looks GREAT. It is a well-written book that I would definitely recommend for parents to show their kids so that their kids can learn the true history of how Batman was created (you can buy it here
However, on top of Bill The Boy Wonder being a good picture book, Nobleman has extras in the back of the book that are absolutely fascinating. Kids can read the book for the interesting story up front with the great Templeton artwork. Adults, though, can read the book for the extras at the end, which includes all the amazing research Nobleman did into Finger’s life.
One of these pieces of research was the amazing tale of how Nobleman discovered that Finger, despite what comic book historians had always said about the man, actually had a living heir!
Finger’s only son, Fred, passed away in 1992. Fred was gay and he never adopted, so Nobleman naturally assumed that that was the end of the line when it came to Finger’s heirs. However, Nobleman continued to search for information about Finger (one thing that Nobleman was especially interested in was pictures of Finger. There were very few known pictures of Finger – Nobleman found quite a few more) and that included searching for more information about Fred.
The only name mentioned at the time of Fred’s death was a man named Charles Shaheen, who the court noted to send Fred’s belongings to. Nobleman tracked Shaheen down to North Carolina and discovered that Shaheen, too, had passed away in 2002. Nobleman discovered that one of Shaheen’s co-workers recalled finding stubs from checks from DC Comics in Shaheen’s room when they cleaned it out after his death. Checks from DC Comics? Huh?! The money trail seemed to end there, but co-workers recalled that Shaheen spent a lot of time with a drifter named Jesse Maloney. Nobleman was unable to track Maloney down (that’s the trouble with drifters).
Eventually, Nobleman tracked down Finger’s nieces and nephews from his first wife. They told him that Shaheen was Fred’s partner and that Fred’s family disapproved of the relationship. Also, they dropped a bombshell – Fred had a daughter! Early in his life, Fred was married for a short period of time and he had a child. Her name was Athena. Nobleman tracked her down on MySpace and the two spoke.
In addition, it turned out that Maloney, claiming to be Fred’s brother, was still collecting the royalties from DC Comics for Bill Finger’s Batman stories!! With Nobleman’s help, Athena contacted DC Comics and after proving her identity and relation to Fred, she now receives Bill Finger’s royalties.
Isn’t that an awesome story?
There’s plenty more interesting information about Bill Finger in Nobleman’s book. Plus, all the photographs of Bill Finger that Nobleman was able to find. So go buy it
and find out for yourself!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!
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See you all next week!
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