Welcome to the three hundredth and eighty-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the bizarre story behind the short-lived return of Spider-Man's parents! Plus, did Robert Kanigher protest the Seduction of the Innocent in the pages of Wonder Woman? Finally, discover what could be the first comic superhero!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and eighty-two.
COMIC LEGEND: David Michelinie did not know what the deal was with Peter Parker's parents when they "returned from the dead."
A few weeks ago, I featured in I Love Ya But You're Strange the tale of how Spider-Man's parents seemingly returned from the dead...
only to be revealed to be, of course, androids sent to discover Spider-Man's secret identity.
Leading to one of the more surreal Spider-Man fights of all-time...
At the time, I questioned whether this was actually David Michelinie's original intent with the characters.
More than a few readers found the answer in the pages of Tom DeFalco's wonderful Comic Creators on Spider-Man, an essential collection of interviews by DeFalco of Spider-Man creators. In the book, Michelinie reveals the story about Richard and Mary Parker's return:
When asked why he brought Peter's parents back, Michelinie explains...
I didn’t, not really. My last year or two on Amazing were not my happiest years. Jim Salicrup was an editor who gave me a lot of freedom, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Then he left the Spider-Man titles and Danny Fingeroth came back to them. He’s the one who came up with the idea of bringing back Peter’s parents. I felt a little like I was writing his stories instead of mine. The whole parent thing was difficult because he couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me where it was going: he wouldn’t even tell me if they were really his parents or not. I didn’t know if they were aliens, robots or clones! Neither did Danny. He just hadn’t figured it out. So I had to tread water issue after issue, not knowing if these characters were really his parents or not. It was just very difficult. I was writing the actual stories, but I had to fit them around this ongoing storyline that I didn’t have any control over.
Consider the buck officially passed, David!
Thanks to readers Lee H., Michael and El Vee for the quote and thanks to Michelinie and DeFalco for the information!
COMIC LEGEND: Robert Kanigher had a subtle protest/response to Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent in the pages of Wonder Woman.
STATUS: I'm Going With False
Awhile back, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed about whether William Marston had Wonder Woman begin to say, "Suffering Sappho!" as a sort of protest/response to Fredric Wertham's assertions that Wonder Woman was a lesbian. In that piece, I noted that the dates just don't seem to work out for that to be true, that Wonder Woman used the phrase before Wertham had begun his work related to comic books.
Reader Jeffrey noted at the time:
I know “suffering sappho” wasn’t a response to Wertham, but I remember reading before that an issue of Wonder Woman did contain a response of sorts to Wertham’s accusations. I believe that it involved a scene where Wonder Woman was suddenly transported to San Francisco, which was associated with gay culture. It was intended as a little nod to Wertham’s reading of Wonder Woman. I can’t recall where I originally read this, but will see if I can find it.
I asked Jeffrey if he could find the issue in question and he wrote back to me recently with the issue. It was Wonder Woman #63, which included the following passage...
Wonder Woman, naturally, defeats her old enemy by the end of the story.
However, was that issue a nod to Wertham and Seduction of Innocent? Where Wertham wrote about Wonder Woman:
The Lesbian counterpart of Batman may be found in the stories of Wonder Woman and Black Cat.
The homosexual connotation of the Wonder Woman type of story is psychologically unmistakable. The Psychiatric Quarterly deplored in an editorial the 'appearance of an eminent child therapist as the implied endorser of a series . . . which portrays extremely sadistic hatred of all males in a framework which is plainly Lesbian'
Again, I don't believe that the dates work. The issue in question was cover-dated January 1954, so certainly it came out in late 1953. Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954 (I am unsure of the EXACT date, but I believe it was Spring 1954). So the writer of the issue, Robert Kanigher, was unlikely responding to Wertham's book. Wertham, of course, was already known for his crusades against comics, but he was mostly known for an anti-comic violence advocate at the time (like when he debated Al Capp on the radio in 1952 about violence in Lil' Abner). I see no evidence or reason to believe that Kanigher was such a close follower of Wertham's work that he was responding to the less-publicized beliefs of Wertham regarding homosexual connotations in the pages of Wonder Woman (had Marston been alive, though, I definitely believe he would have been aware).
That isn't to say that the Wonder Woman #63 story WASN'T a reference to Wonder Woman and lesbianism, of course. I'd suggest that it most likely WAS a little joke by Kanigher about Wonder Woman's lesbian connections. Kanigher, after all, told more than one person over the years (including the wonderful comic book historian Trina Robbins) that he did, in fact, believe that Paradise Island's population were lesbians.
So it very likely WAS a joke about Wonder Woman's sapphic connection. But I do not believe that it was a reference to Wertham.
Amusingly enough, years later, in 1962's Wonder Woman #131, Kanigher specifically has Wonder Woman explain the "Suffering Sappho" exclamation...
Thanks to Jeffrey for the suggestion and thanks to Trina Robbins (among others) for Kanigher's personal take on lesbianism in early Wonder Woman comic books.
COMIC LEGEND: There was a super strong comic book characters more than thirty years before Superman!
When Superman made his debut in 1938, his power set was not exactly unique, as there were a few pulp heroes who had somewhat similar powers, like John Carter (while on Mars, of course). And, of course, many historians assume that there must be a connection between Superman and Philip Wylie's Gladiator.
However, amusingly enough, there was a comic character with super-strength that used his powers much like a superhero, only he debuted in 1902!!
William H.D. Koerner's Hugo Hercules was a short-lived comic strip that only lasted from September 1902 to January 1903 in the pages of the Chicago Tribune, but wow, when you see the character, you'll be amazed that such a figure was around so early. Here are some examples...
(Click on the image to enlarge - you have to love the terminology of the era. "Performs another prodigy.")
(Click on the image to enlarge)
Amazing, no? I doubt that the character actually had any influence on future characters (after all, Hercules had super-strength in myths already), but it is still interesting to see what could arguably be called the first comic superhero!
Barnacle Press has some more copies of the strip at their site here. Check 'em out!
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!