Getting stories from a creator’s mind to the printed page or to the video screen takes more than just imagination. Comics, films, animation and movies are collaborative works, and working with lots of people to get things done always brings the potential for friction. Major companies like DC and Marvel — themselves divisions of even bigger conglomerates Warner and Disney — have a lot riding on the comics and films that they produce, and not everything goes as planned. Well-meaning people can have honest disagreements on what is best for a property … but sometimes, people aren’t well-meaning and the disagreements aren’t honest.
And sometimes the process yields controversy, in the decisions that are made, and in the actions that are taken (or not taken). Sometimes, it’s the finished work that is a source of controversy, as the public rejects the results or questions the choices about characters or stories that convey a message far off the mark from what is intended. There are situations that are forgotten and circumstances that some may wish had dropped down the memory hole, never to be spoken of again. Let’s look at some of them. Here are 15 dirty secrets Marvel and DC want hidden.
15. MARVEL KILLS BLACK WIDOW FILM
Iron Man 2 brought the Black Widow to the big screen, making her a key player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the Widow had a solo movie in the works in 2004, produced by Lionsgate and marking the directorial debut of X-Men and X2 writer David Hayter.
But as Hayter drafted the script, a notable flop killed Black Widow’s chances. As Hayter said in Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories, “We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux. Aeon Flux didn’t open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, ‘We don’t think it’s time to do this movie.’ I accepted their logic in terms of the saturation of the marketplace, but it was pretty painful.”
14. SUPERMAN IN PENTHOUSE
The essay “Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex” by science fiction writer Larry Niven humorously explores the complications that would ensue were Superman attempt a physical relationship with a human woman. The essay argues that his romantic partner, “LL,” would not be likely to survive the experience.
First published in men’s magazine Knight in 1969, “Man of Steel” was notoriously reprinted in 1995 in Penthouse Comix, with the bonus of naughty illustrations by Curt Swan, the longtime DC artist associated with Superman. Each image featured the hero figure largely blacked out, and half had him doing things that would not pass muster with the Comics Code. All were accompanied by cheeky disclaimers like “… THERE’S NO WAY THIS COULD BE SUPERMAN, BECAUSE SUPERMAN IS © & ® 1994 DC COMICS.”
13. THE GHOST RIDER FEUD
Ghost Rider, the demonic motorcyclist, burst on the scene in 1972 in Marvel Spotlight #5 (August 1972), in a story written by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and drawn by Mike Ploog. Years later, the character was the basis of two feature films starring Nicolas Cage, in 2007 and 2012.
After the first film, Friedrich sued Marvel for ownership of Ghost Rider, asserting the rights reverted to him in 2001. Marvel argued that many hands were involved in the creation and the company owned it as a “work for hire.” Marvel countersued Friedrich, and got a court to ban him from advertising himself as “Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich.” On the character ownership front, Marvel won in U.S. District Court, but the 2nd Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. Marvel and Friedrich settled in 2013.
12. WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?
Watchmen, the deconstructionist take on superheroes from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, has been called the most popular graphic novel ever. Originally published as a 12-issue maxiseries from September 1986 to October 1987, it has never gone out of print … and that very fact has been a bone of contention between Moore and DC ever since.
Moore has frequently spoken about how the Watchmen contract stipulated the copyright to the work would revert to him and Gibbons if it was not published for a year. Moore also was displeased with the 2009 feature film. And in an interview with Wired.com, Moore revealed he rejected an offer from DC that would turn over the rights if he participated in making “some dopey prequels and sequels.” Multiple prequels, under the banner Before Watchmen, were released in 2012.
11. WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS
Alexandra DeWitt was a supporting character in Green Lantern (Volume 3) when Kyle Rayner was new to being a superhero. Introduced in issue #48 (January 1994) as Rayner’s girlfriend, DeWitt’s life came to a scandalous end a mere six issues later in issue #54 (August 1994). Green Lantern returned to their home to find DeWitt’s strangled corpse in the refrigerator.
This incident inspired writer Gail Simone to launch the “Women in Refrigerators” website in 1999. The site flagged the sheer number of incidents in which female characters in comics are killed, attacked or depowered for shock value, especially to highlight the male hero’s angst. The site inspired ongoing debate in the comics fan community about the presentation of female characters, highlighting the lack of agency and character development the writers invest in them.
10. RACIST WORLD WAR II COVERS
Comic books were introduced in the late 1930s, right when the winds of war were brewing across Europe. This brought with it the introduction of patriotic heroes such as Fighting American and Captain America, as well as other superheroes supporting the Allies. Unfortunately, some of the comics took that support in disturbing and racist directions.
One example is Action Comics #58 (March 1943), with a cover showing Superman printing posters that read “SUPERMAN SAYS: YOU CAN SLAP A JAP WITH WAR BONDS AND STAMPS” and a cartoon image illustrating the action. Another is World’s Finest Comics #9 (Spring 1943), featuring Superman, Batman and Robin throwing baseballs at Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo, whose faces are protruding through a sheet labeled “KNOCK OUT THE AXIS WITH BONDS & STAMPS.” Other such covers abound.
9. WHERE ARE THE BLACK PEOPLE ON KRYPTON?
Krypton, the home world of Superman and Supergirl, has from the beginning been presented as a scientifically advanced but ethnically homogenous society. The first time a Black Kryptonian was seen was in a single panel in Superman #234 (February 1971), in the back-up series “The Fabulous World of Krypton.” Issue #239 (June-July 1971) presented a map of Krypton, marking Vathlo Island as “home of highly developed black race.”
After that, Vathlo and its people were hardly seen or mentioned again; Superman: The Man of Steel #111 (April 2001) had Superman joining one Vathlo resident, Iph-Ro, on a mission. In more recent times, non-White Kryptonians have appeared in the 2009 “New Krypton” storyline, and Final Crisis #7 (March 2009) gave us a Superman from Vathlo who grew up to become President of the United States on an alternate Earth.
8. MICHAEL JACKSON WANTED TO BE SPIDER-MAN
Music legend Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, made key music videos and shortfilms with Hollywood’s top filmmakers. This included Captain Eo, shown exclusively at Disney theme parks, produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; Bad, an 18-minute film directed by Martin Scorsese that featured then-rising star Wesley Snipes; and the 38-minute Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, co-written by Jackson and horror author Steven King.
But Jackson appeared in only one feature-length theatrical movie during his lifetime, 1978’s The Wiz, as the Scarecrow. However, he had interest in doing more. At the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, Stan Lee revealed that he spoke to Jackson about a Spider-Man film. Lee has also said he and Jackson had conversations about working with his company, Stan Lee Media, to buy Marvel Entertainment to make the film happen.
7. GAIL SIMONE FIRED, REHIRED ON BATGIRL
Writer Gail Simone has had popular runs on Birds of Prey, Deadpool, Wonder Woman and others, including the New 52 Batgirl. So it was a shock to fandom when Simone announced on Twitter in December 2012 that she was informed, by an email from the title’s new editor, that she was off the book. Simone later said creative difficulties led to her departure.
Simone’s authorship on the title was a sign of quality to readers upset that the New 52 erased the Oracle aspect of Barbara Gordon from the canvas. Simone’s news came just days after Vertigo’s founder and editor Karen Berger was ousted, highlighting how few women were represented at DC, in the creative realm as well as in the boardroom. The Internet reacted swiftly, and Simone was reinstated to Batgirl before the month was over.
6. TERRENCE HOWARD CUT FROM IRON MAN
When Marvel Studios began casting 2008’s Iron Man, they signed on Terrence Howard first. He was riding high after his Oscar nomination for 2005’s Hustle and Flow, and was paid $4.5 million, more than anyone else in the cast. But when it came time to make Iron Man 2, Howard was replaced with Don Cheadle, who went on to play Jim Rhodes in the next sequel and the Avengers films.
Entertainment Weekly reports that director Jon Favreau and producers were displeased with Howard’s performance in Iron Man, and recut many of his scenes. Howard, with a three-picture deal, was expecting to get $8 million for the sequel but was offered $1 million. Negotiations quickly broke down, and he learned through the press that he was replaced.
5. THE NEW 52 STARFIRE
The complaints were long and loud when the “New 52” version of Starfire was unveiled in Red Hood and Outlaws #1. Starfire had been a founding member of the New Teen Titans since that series was launched in 1980. But the New 52 version was overly sexualized, prompting backlash from comics fans and bloggers who criticized the way the character was changed.
Instead of a bubbly personality overflowing with love, this Starfire is emotionless and has sex with teammates Arsenal and Red Hood without even remembering who they are. Fandom found greater fault with the New 52 Starfire when compared to the version in the 2003-2006 animated series Teen Titans. There, Starfire is a well-rounded personality. DC tried again with the solo series, Starfire, which lasted 12 issues from 2015-2016.
4. SUPERMAN ARTIST DOES BONDAGE ART
After early efforts to regain copyright to Superman failed, creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster went to another publisher and introduced a new character, Funnyman. That series ran for only six issues, from January-August 1948. After that, Shuster found work where he could, drawing horror comics and more.
1954 saw the publication of the 16-issue comic anthology series Nights of Horror. The stories, written under the pen name “Clancy,” were accompanied by illustrations of characters engaging in bondage, S&M, torture, whipping and other acts associated with the lifestyle. Nights of Horror was cited by Frederic Wertham as a corrupting influence on one of a quartet of teenagers who assaulted people with whips and murdered two others. The uncredited illustrator for Nights of Horror was Joe Shuster. His style was recognized by comics historian Craig Yoe.
3. MARVEL VS. JACK KIRBY
Comics legend Jack Kirby generated thousands of pages of art as he created characters and concepts for Marvel Comics. Copyright law changes in 1978 formally defining “work-for-hire” led Marvel to require its artists sign a brief release form before returning pages. But Kirby was provided a four-page release stipulating Marvel still owned the art and copyrights to the characters and concepts on them, reported The Comics Journal. Kirby tried to negotiate, but things were at a standstill until Marvel accepted his changes to the short form in 1987.
Kirby died in 1994, and his family pursued other litigation against Marvel and several movie studios over copyrights to characters he created. Marvel and the studios prevailed in federal court and appeals court. Both sides settled days before a scheduled U.S. Supreme Court conference in September 2014 to consider taking the case, and the family withdrew its claims.
2. HOWARD THE DUCK VS. DONALD DUCK
Howard the Duck slipped onto the scene in 1973 as a minor character in Man-Thing’s adventures, but headlined his own title by 1976. The cantankerous mallard’s popularity grew enough that Marvel also created a daily newspaper comic strip that ran from June 1977 to October 1978.
Howard also ran afoul of the Walt Disney Co., which has a famous bird of its own: Donald Duck, who’s been around since 1934. Living up to its reputation as an aggressive defender of its trademarks, Disney contacted Marvel in 1977, expressing concern over Howard and Donald’s similarities. In short order, Marvel signed an agreement to alter Howard’s look, based on designs provided by Disney. “Marvel never even attempted to negotiate the matter, never even submitted any alternate designs for Disney’s consideration,” complained writer Steve Gerber, who had his own disputes with Marvel. Ever since, Howard has had to wear pants — even after Disney bought Marvel in 2009.
1. SIEGELS LOSE NEVER-ENDING BATTLE
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster famously sold their creation, Superman, to Detective Comics Inc. for $130 in 1938. Superman, who debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), went on to become the cornerstone of a media empire, continuously published in comics and appearing in multiple media for the next eight decades. Siegel and Shuster, and their heirs, made several attempts to regain ownership of the character — winning some cases, losing others, and in some cases reaching settlements with DC.
But it all stopped in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t take the case — 10 days after Jack Kirby’s family settled with Marvel. This left intact a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling overturning a lower court decision giving the Siegel family partial rights to the character. The Ninth Circuit essentially held that the families had transferred their rights to DC in previous settlements.
Can you think of anything else Marvel or DC might not want you to remember? Let us know in the comments!
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