Welcome to the three hundredth and ninety-third in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, it is a rare DOUBLE theme week! First off, this week will be the first of two weeks celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Death of Superman with a legend relating to Superman and Doomsday. Plus, all three legends this week involve comics and mental health! Did DC Comics change Doomsday’s origins after protests from mental health organizations? Did Zartan’s G.I. Joe profile card change after protests from mental health organizations? And was there a Blondie comic book made specifically for a mental health group?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and ninety-two.
COMIC LEGEND: DC changed Doomsday’s origins after protests from mental health organizations.
I often speak in this column about the power of the game of “telephone,” where people mishear/misread something and then pass that misheard/misread story along and it eventually gets warped from its original intent into a whole other story.
In the case of Doomsday and Superman editor Mike Carlin, it came down to the word “like” being dropped.
In the weeks leading up to the introduction of Doomsday, the alien monster who killed Superman in the Death of Superman, Doomsday’s reveal was handled the same way that Walter Simonson slowly revealed the villainy of Surtur during his run on Thor (Simonson’s wife, Louise, was one of the four main Superman writers at the time). We first just heard noises coming from an underground bunker and we eventually saw a fist punching the wall…
This repeated a few times until Doomsday was free!
Once loose, Doomsday was just a rampaging monster, laughing as he/it caused destruction…
Superman stopped it, but at the cost of his own life.
As you all recall, this was a really big news story back in 1992. When asked to describe Doomsday, Superman editor Mike Carlin described Doomsday as being “LIKE an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum.”
Well, that line was picked up a LOT, only the “like” was dropped and instead it was that Doomsday WAS an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum. Many articles and editorials were written about how offensive DC was being by portraying a mentally ill alien in such a fashion.
The protests seemed to originate from Rhode Island, where Daniel J. McCarthy, one of two Division of Mental Health administrators for Rhode Island was quoted at the time as saying, “This is stereotyping at its worst, pitting the ultimate evil against the ultimate good – and promising to make life difficult for the mentally ill into the next generation.”
A spokesperson for another Rhode Island group, the Coalition of Consumer Self Advocates in Rhode Island, quipped, “If someone who is ill is going to kill Superman, how about an escapee from a cosmic cancer ward?”
So when the whole “intergalactic insane asylum” thing did not end up being part of Doomsday’s origin, the story was changed now to “DC CHANGED Doomsday’s origin in response to the protests.”
Carlin assured me that nothing was changed, and I believe him, not just because I trust him, but just because of how comics work. The publicity behind the Death of Superman happened after the issues were already written and it was clear Doomsday’s origins were not going to be explored in the comic. For the sake of the storyline, he was just a monster. it was clear nothing was actually changed in the story.
Dan Jurgens eventually came up with an origin for Doomsday a couple of years later, and no asylum was used.
Thanks a lot to Mike Carlin for the information!
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COMIC LEGEND: Hasbro changed Zartan’s profile after complaints from mental health organizations.
This is a bit tricky as far as counting it as a “comic book” legend, but the way I see it, the profiles for all of the G.I. Joe characters were written by Larry Hama, the writer for the comic book series, so I say it counts.
Anyhow, unlike the above case involving Doomsday, mental health groups actually DID lead to a change in the original description of the G.I. Joe character Zartan.
Here is his original profile…
Comic books have long had a history of not exactly getting “schizophrenia” correct. For instance, for years Two-Face was described as a schizophrenic, while obviously he is not. So after some protests, Hasbro had the above profile edited in later editions of the figure to remove the mention of his mental issues period.
Thanks to yojoe.com (and Corey Stinson in particular) for the scan of the unedited card!
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COMIC LEGEND: A special Blondie comic book was produced for a New York mental health group.
While the idea seems practically obvious now, when Newton Bigelow decided to begin using Blondie comics in his therapy in the 1950s, it was seen as a radical idea. Comic books, as you might recall, were coming under fire from people arguing that they were a negative influence. In addition, when it came to therapy, they were seen as being “just for kids,” so they were not taken seriously as a therapeutic tool.
Bigelow, though, who also innovated the use of group therapy to treat patients, felt that they got across issues in such a fashion that other forms just couldn’t do.
Initially, he used strips from Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie as examples of family interactions with his patients. He put together a calendar with examples of the strip and gave them out to patients. Later, when he became the head of New York’s Department of Mental Hygiene, he actually commissioned a special Blondie comic book just for this purpose!
Major props to Bigelow (and other mental health experts of the time who bucked the anti-comics trend, including the Mental Health Association) for seeing the power of comic books to teach people of ALL ages.
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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