Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and sixty-first week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here for Part 1 of this week's legends.
Stan Lee was inspired to create the Falcon in response to an underground newspaper that criticized Marvel's lack of black heroes.
Reader Craig W. wrote in to ask about a story he had heard that said that Stan Lee was inspired to create the Falcon, Marvel's first African-American hero, because of a small New York underground newspaper criticized Marvel's lack of black characters, so Stan then refuted it by talking about Marvel's upcoming African-American superhero, the Falcon, despite the Falcon not actually EXISTING yet.
What I think Craig (or whoever told Craig the story) is misunderstanding is a great story that Sean Howe (who wrote the awesome book, Marvel: The Untold Story), told on his Tumblr a few years back about BASICALLY that story, only it did not result in Stan Lee creating the Falcon.
The East Village Other was an underground newspaper that existed in New York City in the late 1960s. It was a truly out there newspaper. It was often contrasted with the Village Voice, by noting that it made the Voice seem tame in comparison and, of course, in the late 1960s, the Village Voice was, itself, a fairly daring newspaper. The East Village Other helped a lot of burgeoning independent comic artists get their start, like Robert Crumb and art spiegelman.
In any event, in March of 1969, D.A. Latimer wrote an opinion piece in the East Village Other discussing Marvel's black characters, and while Latimer praised Marvel a bit, he mostly knocked them. Sean Howe has the fully Latimer essay here and here.
So, someone brought it to Marvel's attention and Stan Lee had his assistant, Alan Hewetson, write a letter to the East Village Other. Here is the letter that he wrote (which they, of course, published):
Neal Christensen, one of our readers, was kind enough to forward to editor Stan Lee a feature from EVO by D.A. Latimer, of March 19 this year.
We were particularly interested with your feature on Marvel and its dealings with the color situation; Mr. Latimer’s approach, however, is such that we are concerned with the one-sided opinion your readers might have appreciated.
We would remind them that comic books are unrealistic by nature, and we would not presume to have our readers believe otherwise. The HULK is certainly not your average everyday factory worker, neither could Peter be considered a typical college student. Why then would you think T'CHALLA representative of a Harlem superhero? Certainly the man is educated—many African kings, princes and leaders are Oxford taught—why should "this gentleman in any way resemble Bobby Seale”?
Furthermore, you implied that THE PANTHER was a token Negro. When we became aware of the lack of Negroes in our magazines, and decided to introduce them into our stories, don’t you think it would have looked rather foolish to suddenly have fifteen colored personalities appear and barnstorm through the books? As it is, we have T'CHALLA (THE PANTHER), Joe Robertson and his son, Willie Lincoln, Sam Wilson (THE FALCON), Gabe Jones, Dr. Noah Black (CENTURIUS) and even a super villain—THE MAN-APE. In short, we think that we have approached a decent start with these characters.
In any case, sir, our primary reason in writing was to request a few copies of the issue in which this article appeared, for our files.
Thank You.Cordially, Alan HewetsonEditorial Assistant.“
Sean Howe correctly noted the interesting fact that the Falcon wasn't actually in existence just yet. Howe said, "The interesting thing about the Falcon—who would soon be Marvel’s very first African-American superhero—was that he’d never actually appeared in a Marvel Comic. In fact, the Falcon’s debut in Captain America #117 hit stands in June, which means that the issue was very likely produced immediately after Latimer’s essay was published.
I think that there, then, is where the confusion comes in. Howe is not saying that the Falcon was created BECAUSE of the article, he's just noting that it is interesting that Lee was using the existence of the Falcon as a response when the Falcon didn't even exist yet. However, since Howe's post, I think some fans have gotten confused and believed that Howe was suggesting that Lee invented the Falcon in RESPONSE to Latimer's essay.
That wasn't the case, of course, as Lee actually introduced the Falcon in a talk at Duke University in February of 1969. On Thursday, February 27 and then, again, on Friday, February 28th, Stan Lee gave a talk at Duke titled "Comics as a Reflection of Contemporary Culture." It was at one of those talks (maybe both?) that Stan Lee announced the introduction of a brand-new African-American hero, the Falcon.
Again, this was a bit of a case of putting the cart before the horse, bragging about the introduction of such a hero when said hero hadn't actually been created yet, but in any event, Lee had publicly spoke about the introduction of the Falcon BEFORE Latimer's essay had even appeared, let alone drawn a response from Marvel.
Thanks to Sean Howe for the great piece of comic book history with the posting of Latimer's essay! Thanks to Craig W. for the great suggestion.
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Why did Fox need Marvel's permission to use an X-Character in Deadpool when they already held the license to the X-Men characters?
Part 3 will be up soon! It's also about the Falcon's introduction, so I wanted to keep Part 3 close to Part 2! Feel free to write in with suggestions for future legends to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!