This morning (I prep my stuff on Tuesday) I flicked on my Facebook feed to see a pair of news stories — real ones — that caused me to sincerely take pause. The first was vapid enough: Internet D-Lister Tila Tequila sieg heils at an Italian eatery. The second one, a bit less oh who cares, denoted that a room full of whitenationalists (a.k.a. “The Alt-Right,” a.k.a. fucking Nazi Klansmen) had a conference ending with their leading ideologue declaring that Jews may be “soulless golem” amongst a litany of other unabashed hate-speech. For the first time in the wake of the presidential election, I actually took a breath to be floored — save only for Tuesday the 8th when Donald Trump was declared the winner of the highest office in our nation.
And my only thought that came into focus was… Where’s Superman?
You see, Superman was created by a pair of Jewish children from Cleveland, born of immigrant families. Their greatest creation was (and still remains) a bit of a nod to the Jewish struggle. Kal-El, an alien born to an alien land was rocketed to safety as an infant by his parents who were unable to leave their land. He was a hero denied his homeland, granted amazing abilities that would separate him forever from those he would live and love on his adopted planet.
To be clear: Jews don’t have superpowers, save only for their amazing ability to control Hollywood, the media, and all global economies. But I digress.
The truth of the matter is I’m not oblivious to the world around me. But I’m certainly privileged, self-absorbed, and mostly invisible to the real hate that exists. In my own life, I’ve personally never been anything but celebrated for being Jewish. I grew up in a nice community where Jews were plentiful… all things considered. When I moved to Indianapolis for college, I saw bits and pieces of a different swatch of America, but, again, never once did I feel like my religious identity was truly ever under attack.
Please denote again that this was all from my sheltered, suburbanite, self-absorbed viewpoint.
Here and now, with swastikas swathed across my feed, my eyes squinted at the seething idiocy of it all. By all accounts, Tila Tequila is a waste of atoms. My only knowledge of her comes from the blurred memories of promos for some off-kilter reality show or two. That she has recently turned heads by being a Hitler apologist, pro-Trump, sieg heiling what-have-you? Only screams for a need for attention. When one’s relevance dies out, I suppose this is one road you could take to stop your declining fame.
The National Policy Institute, as run by the aforementioned Hitler youth, causes me no small amount of undesired stress. While Richard B. Spencer was only amongst 200 or so supporters in Washington D.C. when he decided to quote Nazi propaganda in the original German and liken my kin to animated clay statues, the fact that it has risen up the viral flagpole and ignited both pro and anti-movements is what leaves me clutching pulp and ink for solace. Mr. Spencer and his ilk are emboldened by our President-Elect and his appointment of Steve Bannon as a chief advisor. The King of the Alt-Right Internet sounding board (Breitbart.com) is now a stone’s throw away from the man with the nuclear codes. How could that not put a bit of pep in the step of the white-power movement? Even if Trump denounces them… actions speak louder than words. And Bannon is in. Christy is out.
It helps when one builds his election on locking up one’s opponent, erecting walls and disenfranchising immigrants, banning others from entering our country based on their religious beliefs, and generally winking and nodding at being a randy rascal who grabs attractive women by the kitty cats. But. I. Digress.
I never imagined that over the next four years— as my two sons begin to understand more about the world in which they live — that I would need to explain hate the way I’ll have to. When I was in Hebrew school and learned about the Holocaust, I was told of the devastation it caused within my family. My grandmother’s entire hometown was massacred. Much of her family did not survive. That personal connection was numbing. But, again: I lived in a nice suburb where The Holocaust was saved for special movies and solemn history lessons.
Modern-day civics had nothing to do with that kind of hate. That kind of hate had been pushed to the fringes of society, and me and my Jewish brethren were thriving. And now? Internet celebrities and fascist sycophants are being given headlines on CNN and round-the-clock coverage. Hate is now covered for ratings. Hate is now part of the zeitgeist.
I did a little bit of research for today’s column just to make sure I had my facts right, Googling “Jewish influence on comic books” in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There were 509,000 hits, from Den of Geek’s Mensch of Steel: Superman’s Jewish Roots to the Daily Beast’s Superman is Jewish?: The Hebrew Roots of America’s Greatest Superhero to Stormfront’s How and Why the Jews Stole the Comic Book Industry.
Stormfront is a white supremacist site whose “welcome” page reads:
“We are a community of racial realists and idealists. We are White Nationalists who supporttrue diversity and a homeland forall peoples. Thousands of organizations promote the interests, values and heritage of non-White (sic) minorities. We promote ours.
“We are the voice of the new, embattled white minority!
“Tell the truth and fear no one!”
The article is a mixture of facts, lies, and innuendos. It starts off introducing one-time pulp magazine writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (1890 – 1968), who, according to the site, lived an “extraordinary” life, rising to become the youngest major in Army history – or was that in the U.S. Cavalry, or was that “one of the youngest majors” in the U.S. Cavalry? He also “chased bandits on the Mexican border, fought fevers and played polo in the Philippines, led a battalion of infantry against the Bolsheviks in Siberia, helped straighten out the affairs of the army in France [and] commanded the headquarters cavalry of the American force in the Rhine”. His Cavalry unit was among those under John J. Pershing’s command that in 1916 hunted the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The following year, he served under Pershing fighting the Muslim Moros in the Philippines, and with a Cossack troop in Siberia. Subsequent outposts included Japan; London, England; and Germany.”
But all these daring-do activities were according to Wheeler-Nicholson’s own accounts. So I looked him up on Wikipedia. The article included the above paragraph. But it also had this:
“Following his public criticism of Army command in a New York Timesopen letter to President Warren G. Harding, as well as accusations by the major against senior officers, plus countercharges, hearings, a lawsuit against West Point Superintendent General Fred W. Sladen, and what the family calls an Army-sanctioned assassination attempt that left Wheeler-Nicholson hospitalized with a bullet wound. Wheeler-Nicholson In June 1922 was convicted in a court-martial trial of violating the 96th Article of Warin publishing the open letter. Although he was not demoted, his career was dead-ended. He resigned his commission in 1923. His $100,000 lawsuit against Sladen was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court the following year.”
Just the facts, ma’am.
In 1934 he formed National Allied Publications, which later evolved into National Periodicals and then DC Comics and now DC Entertainment. His comics were the first to print original stories, which included “Yellow Peril” (sic) adventure “Barry O’Neill”, featuring a Fu Manchu-styled villain, Fang Gow.”
Here’s where the innuendos start.
When Wheeler-Nicholson brought on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (pre-Superman) in 1935, the innuendo is that it was the hiring of these two men, i.e., Jews, which caused profits to start sliding because, according to Stormfront, “newsstands refused to stock his magazine.”
By 1937, the company was in debt to printing plant owner and magazine distributor Romanian Jew [sic] Harry Donenfeld, and in order to keep publishing Wheeler-Nicholson was compelled [sic] to take on Donenfeld as a partner. Evidently Donenfeld was no saint – he was a fast-talking and slick businessman with ties to the gangster Frank Costello and other members of the underworld. He allegedly helped Costello smuggle alcohol into the States from Canada during Prohibition, and acquired the rights for his company, Martin Press, to “print six million subscription leaflets forHearstmagazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping…due to Donenfeld’s…underworld contacts having close connections with Hearst newspaper salesman Moe Annenberg.”
Also according to Stormfront, Wheeler-Nicholson was forced to form a partnership with Donenfeld and Jack (Jacob) S. Liebowitz, Donenfeld’s accountant, in order to keep Detective Comics, Inc. (pre-Batman) in business. And then, quoting the white supremacist website, “things went from bad to worse with Wheeler-Nicholson having to sell his publishing business to Donenfield and Liebowtiz in 1937,” thought the website neglects to mention that the Great Depression of the 1930s forced many publishing houses out of the business.
Those conniving Jews did a further disservice to Wheeler-Nicholson when – and here Stormfront decides to quote comic books historian Gerard Jones:
“In early 1938, Harry Donenfeld sends him and his wife on a cruise to Cuba to ‘work up new ideas.’ When they came home, the Major found the lock to his office door changed. In his absence, Harry had sued him for non-payment and pushed Detective Comics, Inc. into bankruptcy…where a judge named Abe Mennen, one of Harry’s old Tammany buddies, had been appointed interim president of the firm and arranged a quick sale of its assets to Independent News.”
Stormfront adds that Wheeler-Nicholson was given a percentage of More Fun Comics as a “shut-up” token, and essentially told him not to let the back door hit him on the ass on the way out.
And then Stormfront says: This is how the Jews stole the comics books.”
Yeah. Those stinkin’ Jews.
In 1938, as you and me and the world knows, Siegel and Shuster created Superman, whose first appearance was in Action Comics #1, and heralded in what is known as the Golden Age of comics, with the introduction of many of our most-beloved comics heroes. And although there was nothing “inherently Jewish” about the heroes, Stormfront makes special note that Captain America was created by two more Jewish creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, nee Jacob Kurtzberg; Cap dared – my word, not theirs, although the innuendo is certainly apparent – to go after the Red Skull, the special agent of the Nazis. The site also makes sure that it’s readers know that Steve Rogers, Caps’ alter-ego, “could be seen as a symbol for the way Jews were frail and passive. That is, until he took a serum that transformed him into the robust Captain America,” and that “The serum was created by ‘Professor Reinstein,’ an obvious nod to famed Jewish physicist Albert Einstein.
Oh, and the white supremacists and yearning – again, my word, not theirs – Nazis also make note of the story, possibly apocryphal, that “Superman gave such a pounding to Nazi agents from 1941 – 1945 that Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels jumped up in the midst of a Reichstag meeting and denounced the Man of Steel as a Jew.”
Huh? But Jews were, according to the Nazi line, were “frail and passive.” So naming Superman as an indefatigable and unbeatable warrior against the Aryan super race would be an oxymoron, isn’t that true, Herr Goebbels? Go snort some more cocaine and finish fucking editing Leni Riefenstahl.
Stormfront goes on tally up all the Jewish creators of the comic books industry, being sure to make snarky – and incredibly offensive – remarks. The creators include everybody from Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Stan Lee – of whom they make sure to make mention of his birth name, Stanley Martin Lieber – and the aforementioned Jack Kirby, again making sure that their readers are aware that the King’s “real” name is Jacob Kurtzberg to Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, and current graphic novel authors James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing), Miriam Katin (We Are On Our Own) and Ben Katchor (The Jew of New York).
And it makes special mention of Chris Claremont, who created the “openly Jewish”X-Man Kitty Pryde, who “wore a Star of David necklace,” and Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four member Ben Grimm, i.e., the Thing, who has a bar mitzvah in an early story.
Some of the article reads as very “respectful” and “appreciative,” until you get to the end, which…well, I’m just going to quote it in its entirety, though I have to warn you that the author also takes an extreme and out of nowhere jump in what I can only call an attempt to compare apples and oranges, a false equivalency, by suddenly inserting what is called “modern music” – and I left the misspelling and grammatical errors in to show what a, uh, brilliant writer this person is:
“The real aim modern music is to destroy the Male “SUPEREGO.” (American Nazi party founder) George Lincoln Rockwell explains this in an old article of the 1960s he wrote. Though not mentioning the SUPEREGO it is this I now believe he means.
“To destroy the SUPEREGO the JEWS first needed to create a gap between young and old. Once they achieved this the SUPEREGO (which is passed down from father to his kids) was attacked by feminised rock bands. Infact, the music from that day on fuelled the id (pleasure principle) and not the EGO (reality principle) and SUPEREGO (conscience). Children were no longer listening to their parents, but instead to defective “artists” and “lyrics” that were destructive to behavioural development. Freudian Psychoanalysis is being used to destroy OUR people via modern music.
Now the same could be said about the Superheroes. Like Rockwell said, “Kids’ need “heroes”. They must have them to grow emotionally and spiritually.” But Superheroes are abstract fantasy, and not real heroes. The Superheroes then replaced REAL fighting heroes of the likes Rockwell mentions. Kids now wanted to be like Superman and fly through the air. But kids can’t fly through the air, can they? Not being an expert in this field, and I’m only guessing, but would this must have some effect on the ego?”
Jesus H. Fucking Joosevelt Christ.
L’shana tovah, everybody! That’s Hebrew for Happy New Year. Have some honey on an apple or challah to bring in a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s granddaughter Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown has been working with the aforementioned Gerard Jones on a meticulously researched biography of the Major titled Lost Hero: The Adventurous and Tragic Life of the Man Who Invented Comic Books. A swell interview with Nicky can be found here.)
Today marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish festival that celebrates our freedom from slavery in Egypt. It is also Earth Day, which means that zillions of rabbis have a head start on their sermon topic this week.
The first (and sometimes second) night of Passover is marked by the ritual meal, the seder, in which adults entertain children with the story of the escape from Egypt and the ensuing forty years in the desert. There are special foods that are supposed to bring to life the suffering of the slaves, and silly songs about goats and stuff to keep the kids engaged.
There is a special prayer book for the seder called the haggadah. Because Jews like nothing more than to argue with each other, there are zillions of different versions. There are haggadahs that are entirely in Hebrew, and some that are Hebrew and English … or Spanish or whatever language your family speaks. There are many that are only in English. There are some with overtly political agendas. There are short haggadahs and long haggadahs. There are some that aren’t published by real publishers but rather copied and handed around, like spies do with covert information.
Each of us thinks our favorite haggadah is the best. That’s the way we are.
Because this is my business, I wondered if there were any comic book haggadahs. A quick Google search revealed two, both aimed at young children. I’m sure these are fine, but they seem to be produced for the comic book reader who used to read Dell Comics and Harvey.
I would like to see someone do a graphic haggadah or, barring that, a graphic novel about the Passover story. There are so many episodes that would benefit from a smart combination of words and pictures — 12 plagues, the suffering of the slaves, the escape from Egypt (with the parting of the Red Sea), the Golden Calf, the 40 years of wandering until all the kvetch-y old people died off. It would be exciting, action-filled, with lots of fascinating characters and drama.
Part of the reason I know that this tale would work in a graphic story format is that it is, essentially, the part of the Bible that inspired Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster when they created Superman. A young child ripped away from his parents, raised by a kindly family, who grows up to lead his people because of his special powers and abilities.
There is no reason to aim these stories specifically to very young children. For one thing, most very young children who can read are smart enough to tell when someone talks down to them. For another, kids are much more sophisticated in their abilities to unravel complex story lines than I was as a child. Finally, the stories work because, like fairy tales, they reach into our primal fears and primal hopes, which we share throughout our lives.
The Super Bowl was this past weekend. I’m sure you know this, as it is a (unrecognized) national holiday. I enjoy watching football; it is a fun pastime to me. (The shock! The horror!) However, the game this year wasn’t all that great. There were too many fumbles and too many errors. Very disappointing indeed. But then again, the Super Bowl isn’t really about the game anymore. It is about the commercials.
This commercial revelation isn’t a new thing either. It has been at least a decade of excitement over the commercials. But even that is beginning to fade a bit as everything gets released online in advance. Now we get trailers for commercials! Or in our case, (bringing this back around) trailers for movie trailers.
As geekdom has become “normal” and accepted, comic book movies seem to have exploded in popularity. This past weekend saw at least five comic book movie trailers, plus commercials that featured comic book characters. However, you didn’t need to watch the game to see them. They were all released on the internet almost immediately after airing.
For those who skipped the game, the weekend also saw a minor feud start up (or possibly flare up) between creators Rob Liefield and Dan Slott about credits on the new Deadpool movie. Things were said, tempers rose, and we all got the ringside seat. In the past, this would have been an internal comic fight but the internet brought it straight to us.
Geeks connecting outside of their basements or comic shops is still a good thing. Now I know geeky people all over the world. Still, with great connection comes great responsibility. We all use the internet as a platform for expression, but it is always interesting to watch companies and celebrities use it to reach the masses.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we are all connected. Now, creators get recognized for their own work globally. Before the Interwebs, we would have had no idea who Rob Liefield was, much less any quotes taken out of context. Bill Finger still would be an unknown and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster would have never gotten any credit in the history books. And without the interwebs, we wouldn’t get tangled up in creator fights or five trailers for the same film that provide no extra info.
Halloween was yesterday (if you’re reading this on Sunday); a time of ghosts and ghouls and little children strong arming adults for candy under the threat of “tricks.” Oh, also when the Great Pumpkin rises from a really sincere pumpkin patch to bring toys and presents to good little children all around the world. Or so I have been told.
And, of course, it’s time for ghost stories and horror stories and tales of things that go bump in the night and I’ve told a few of those myself, notably Wasteland. My most successful foray into the genre, though, probably was the run I did on The Spectre with Tom Mandrake for DC Comics back in the 1990s.
The Spectre was an interesting amalgam of both supernatural and superhero. Created in 1940 by Superman creator Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily, the central character was hardnosed plainclothes detective Jim Corrigan who falls afoul of mobsters and is murdered. He’s sealed into a cement filled oil drum and dumped in the river. His soul, however, is unable to rest and an entity called “The Voice” sends him back as a vengeance-seeking ghost, a.k.a. The Spectre.
As the Spectre, Corrigan has unimaginable powers and abilities. And therein lay the problem. The only being more powerful than the Spectre would be God and only on days when God had been eating his Wheaties. How do you mount a credible threat to someone like that? If there is no risk, there’s no suspense and no story. The bad guy does bad things and the Spectre shows up and dispatches him, usually in a grisly fashion.
The Spectre never lasted long in his own series, although there were several attempts. The common wisdom was that you had to reduce the Spectre’s power to make a story. The problem with that was, in so doing, you lost some of the spectacular visuals that made the Spectre what he was. Why bother?
Tom Mandrake and I had been partners for a while, working on GrimJack and then on The Fury of Firestorm. The latter series was ending and we were looking for something new to do together. Both of us were long time fans of the Ghostly Guardian (as the Spectre was known) and campaigned to get to play with him. DC was leery; a recent attempt at doing a Spectre ongoing had been cancelled only a relatively short time before.
“Give him to us,” Tom and I told DC; “We know how to make him work.”
Editor and friend Dan Raspler took up our cause and got DC to agree based on our past track record together and how we pitched our concept for the relaunch.
It wasn’t the Spectre that we changed so much as it was his human counterpart, Jim Corrigan. Different versions of the story resurrected Corrigan and even set him at odds sometimes with the Spectre persona, which had taken up residence in Corrigan’s body. I felt that Corrigan himself had become something of a wimp. So, first of all, Tom and I declared that Corrigan was dead and had been dead since the 1940s. That was his tragedy. Sometimes, he fooled himself into thinking he was alive but he was, in fact, dead.
Second, Corrigan had been a plainclothes police detective back in the 40s. He was hard-boiled. Go back and watch the police movies from back then; hell, go read the early Dick Tracy strips. Hard, tough, and not afraid to use violence and even death to achieve justice. This, we felt, was why he was given the power of the Spectre and informed how that power was used. The Spectre may have had the power of a god but he had the perspective of a mortal man, a very flawed mortal man.
We decided that “The Voice” was short for The Voice of God and the Spectre himself became the Wrath of God. In a way, he was an aspect of God, specifically of Jehovah – and a very Old Testament Jehovah at that. The Spectre had been the Angel of Death that had culled the first born of Egypt. At one point, the Spectre entity rebelled against mercy and so it was decreed it that it had to be united with a human soul in order to walk the Earth, the theory being that the human could temper the Wrath of God. However, when you had a human as liable to rage and outrage as Jim Corrigan, that wasn’t always true.
This enabled us to keep the spectacular visuals and outrageous stunts, the iconography that gave readers a reason to come to the Spectre in the first place and still allow us to construct stories. The Spectre wasn’t vulnerable but Corrigan was.
Corrigan was also weary; since the 1940s he had tried to eradicate evil and the world had only gotten darker. He was very near despair and facing an existential crisis. That also gave us a platform for our stories; we asked questions on the nature of punishment, despair, and redemption. We posed ethical and theological questions. I was less interested in giving answers to those questions, which I felt the readers could and should provide for themselves.
This is all very cerebral. I know. What really made the book sing was Tom’s artwork. This is the character that Tom Mandrake was born to draw and over and over again I looked for situations that played to his myriad strengths. Hey, as they said in The Producers, “When you got it, flaunt it, baby, flaunt it!”
What added to the run were the covers; each issue had a different artist and each artist presented their own interpretation of the character, often telling their own story in one image. Likewise, the letter page (helmed by Peter Tomasi who started as the assistant editor on the book and later became the book’s editor) also delved into the topics raised by the story, creating an interesting discussion between Pete and the reader. All in all, it was quite a package.
We went on for five years and we learned that our run was nearing an end. We were given a year’s notice and permission to wind up the story our way. This is really rare. Corrigan had grown during the run of issues we did and, in our last issue, he gave up being the Spectre to go on to his final reward. That’s also unusual. With that ending, we were able to tie up our entire series and make it all one story. It completed what Tom and I were doing in a way that one rarely gets to do.
Tom and I are playing with the horror genre again as we work on Kros: Hallowed Ground. We’re both very excited by it; this is the first time we’ve played with the horror genre together since The Spectre. Expectations may be high; The Spectre was one of the high-water marks in both our careers. We feel confident but not cocky. The Spectre was very much of its time and where we were in our careers but I think it also stands up today. Two TPBs have been issued from DC gathering some of the early issues; I hope they go on to collect the others as well.
Imagine the nipper that was me 70 years ago, give or take, I’m just back from one of my irregular expeditions up and down Claxton Avenue, stopping at certain houses and trading comic books with the kids who lived in them.
(I no longer have any idea who these kids were – though Dard Schmidt may have been one of them – but I hereby tender to them much belated thanks.)
Anyway, I’m looking through the newly acquired comics and … what’s this?
A comic book about a guy dressed like a clown who calls himself Funnyman and fights criminals. Not exactly like Batman and Superman fight them, but I guess fighting criminals is fighting criminals and anyone who does that is a good guy and so let’s just open the cover and see what this Funnyman is doing these days,
I must have liked what I saw – after all, I did remember the character longer than your daddy’s been alive, despite having only one encounter with him (I think.)
I mentioned Superman, didn’t I? Well, back then, in post-war St. Louis, I doubt that I really understood what bylines were. Reading itself was a recently acquired skill. Fact is, I don’t know if Funnymanhad bylines, but if it did, they would have featured the names Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Ringing any bells? Yep, that Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman. It seems that Jerry and Joe were in a legal hassle with their former employer, the publisher of Superman, and decided to try something new, something without a big red S on its chest.
Enter Vin Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan, who seems to be one of comics’ forgotten men, had worked with Jerry and Joe on the early Superman and had started his own publishing company, Magazine Enterprises. Mr. Sullivan gave Jerry and Joe’s latest creation his own comic and Funnyman was heading for glory. But not for long. The title lasted only six issues. Siegel and Shuster also tried Funnyman as a newspaper strip, and that did not fare well, either.
But might the character be revivable? Maybe hype up his alter ego, a comedian named Larry Davis, and borrow some tropes from the trickster myths and … Oh wait! I’ve got it! We’ll have him run for governor – no, not governor, let’s go big time…we’ll have him campaign for the presidency (of the United States) and he says that he will eliminate most of the country’s problems during his first week in office by firing all the stupid people. Then comes the mightiest plank in his platform: He will deal with crime by building this great big wall … did I say “great big?” I meant huge – HUGE! A trillion feet high! And really, really long. And then, he’ll put all of the bad criminals on one side of the huge wall and never, ever let them back into the country even if they ask very politely.
One more thing: let’s give Larry Davis his own television show. What do you think – Sunday nights on NBC?
My family went to the Turtleback Zoo yesterday – great zoo, by the way, may I suggest a visit if you live anywhere near West Orange, New Jersey – and driving home I thought about the Legion of Super-Pets. A very strange connection to make, but that’s the mysterious way in which my mind works.
You young ‘uns out there (very much) probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, in a time that would come to be called the Silver Age, incredible tales of fantastical dreams and magical possibilities were told – of lost planets, of cities and their populations living inside bottles, of an alien and his doomed love for a mermaid, of traveling through time in a bubble, and of astonishing heroes gifted with the powers of the gods. And among these tales there was the story of these heroes’ pets, a band of animals also gifted with the powers of the gods, who one day saved the planet Earth from the evil Brain-Globes of Rambat.
Okay, I know, a little too much purple prose there for these cynical times.
Created by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan and first appearing in Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962) – and no, that’s not a Twitter hash tag, kids – the Legion of Super-Pets consisted of Superboy’s dog, Krypto; Supergirl’s cat, Streaky, and her horse, Comet; and Beppo, a Kryptonian chimpanzee who had been the “test pilot” for one of Jor-el’s early trial flights of a rocket before the destruction of Krypton.
The concept of a Legion of Super-Pets could never sell today, unless the innocence of that Silver Age was twisted into something brittle and corrupted, sarcastic and mocking, distrustful and dirty. Krypto gets rabies, kills Superboy, and goes on a mad rampage, finally dying in a horrific epileptic fit caused by the disease. Comet, a pedophiliac centaur turned into a horse by the Goddess Diana when he raped one of her Vestal Virgins, is now ridden by Supergirl instead of him, uh, “riding” her. Streaky is a malevolent cat vomiting up radioactive hairballs all over the Earth. And Beppo hunts down and kills the poachers who killed Dian Fossey.
I actually approve of that last part. Go, Beppo!
It’s actually not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll work on it.
Superboy: “Heel, Krypto.”
Superboy: “I said Heel!”
Superboy: “What the fu–!!!”
Sometimes it’s a little scary, the things my mind comes up with.
Yeah, I’ve heard that Superman is super smart as well as super all the other stuff he’s super at, but I don’t know. I can’t recall a single instance where he thought his way past some obstacle. More likely, he’d just uproot the obstacle and toss it to somewhere like Jupiter. Maybe he is really bright and it’s just easier to toss a problem to Jupiter than cogitate about it. But the question is there.
I mean, if he’s so smart how come he can’t remember his own name? You ask how I know that he can’t? (Maybe you’re not so smart?) It’s that big S on his chest. The darn thing serves on purpose other than that of forcing script writers to jump through hoops explaining why it’s there. And why is that? Could it be that the S is a prompt for those times, after a long bout with Kryptonite, say, when the Man of Steel needs a little help in the memory department. A quick glance at the torso and… oh, yeah, S. I’m Superman. Now if only I could recall what I’m faster than…
Allow me to escort you out of the world where we treat Superman like someone who actually exists and into the present moment, where/when we will let ourselves wonder why Joe Shuster, the guy who did the visual part of creating Supes, decided to put the S where it is in the first place. I looked at the earliest drawing I could find and yep, there it is, the S, encased in something that resembles an arrowhead. Present at the beginning, albeit in a pre-evolved form. What inspired teenage Joe to add it, that Cleveland summer’s day some 82 tears ago?
Both Joe and his writer-collaborator, Jerry Siegel, are gone and, I think, they weren’t nearly as often interviewed as they should have been, so, barring some new information, we’ll probably never know what was in Joe’s head. The best guesses I’ve heard regarding superhero suits, is that they were inspired by circus costumes and/or the illustrations in the science fiction pulps that Joe and Jerry almost certainly read.
Seems reasonable. But: no thoracic initials in those clothes. And none on the Phantom’s wardrobe, either. The Phantom’s creator, Lee Falk, later said that the Phantom’s outfit was inspired by the movies’ Robin Hood. Wherever it came from, it certainly is a recognizable superhero costume. But no dorsal P. Falk debuted the Phantom in 1936 and so his masked jungle dweller beat Superman into print by about two years. But Superman was created as a newspaper strip in 1933 and languished until Joe and Jerry peddled it to Max Gaines for use in one of those new funny book magazines. So the Phantom likely didn’t influence Superman and vice versa.
But the meme Joe and Jerry created, the costumed superman, influenced dozens – hundreds? thousands? – of later creations, a number of whom had something on their chests. No initials: that element of the meme was not widely imitated. But lanterns, lightning bolts, bats, stars, and my favorite, sported by a character named E-Man, Einstein’s E=MC2. Yep, world’s most famous equation, right there below his collarbone.
Ah, but does any of this mean anything? Well, does it?
Lately there’s been some controversy about the creator credits on the Daredevil teevee series. To be specific, the hubbub revolves around the use of the name and comments of some comics industry notables with respect to the issue. In other words, we have a controversy about a controversy.
Both are important issues, and are quite different from one another. But for the purpose of this particular polemic, I’m going to focus on the root issue, which is, as I understand it, as the creator of the costume used in the program, whether or not Wallace Wood deserves a creator co-credit.
The issues revolving around creator credits, a subset of the entire creators’ rights movement, are of vital concern. But they’re not very cut-and-dried. For example, there’s a good reason that the creator credit on Superman reads: “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.” That seems simple and straightforward. It is not.
I think we can all agree that Siegel and Shuster created Superman. If not; go away. I can’t deal with you. We may agree that they also created Lois Lane. Maybe. But, how about… Jimmy Olsen? Kryptonite? Perry White? Almost certainly not; all three were created for the Superman radio series and adopted by the newspaper strip, the comic books and the subsequent media manifestations. Okay, that’s just an example. I can cite dozens more. Maybe hundreds.
In the case of Daredevil, the first issue of the comic book was something of a train wreck. I read it off the stands and loved it, but I didn’t know that artist Bill Everett had enormous difficulty completing the issue and “various hands” were brought in to finish the job. Joe Orlando took over with the second issue, and Wally Wood followed Joe starting with issue #5, often with the credited assistance of Bob Powell. Bob penciled issue #11 and Woody inked it, and Jack Kirby and John Romita took over with #12. The briefness of Wally Wood’s tenure is not an issue here.
Woody changed the coloring of the costume from yellow-and-black to all-red in issue #7, which, coincidentally, costarred the Sub-Mariner – Bill Everett’s creation. The popularly held story, and there’s no reason to doubt it, is that Wood thought Everett’s costume was silly and that if the guy is called anything-devil, he should be in red.
So, some contend, because it is the Wally Wood costume that is being used in the television series, Wally Wood should get a creator’s credit.
I am second to no one in my admiration of and lust for Wally Wood’s artwork. I believe he was the first artist who’s work I could recognize by name – because Woody signed his stuff and Jack Kirby did not. But the immense quality of his craft does not enter into this argument.
There are comics creators, almost always writers, who believe that because they were the ones who came up with the original idea they were the true, and sole, creators of the property. Generally I reject this because comics is, first and foremost, a visual medium and the person or persons who create the visuals are also critical to the creation of the property. When I work on a creator-owned property, as I do almost exclusively these days, I insist the creators have a signed agreement stating their ownership positions. This makes life easier for everybody. I really do not care what those positions may be – as long as it’s not totally egregious, it’s not my business. If it is totally egregious, I know that it will blow up before long and possibly take the project down with it. That’s the only horse I have in the race.
After that point, things get a little tricky. Can you imagine the creators’ credits on any contemporary Superman story? Damn, the credits on Superman The Movie ran longer than some life-forms. Imagine adding the names of the people who came up with all the other characters and unique elements of the saga.
Of course, Batman’s “creator” will get his contractually due credit in next year’s Batman/Superman movie. I won’t get into the issue of just who created Batman right now; it has little to do with the Daredevil situation and, besides, my head would explode. Just consider my quotation marks to be editorial comment.
In my view, Wally Wood did not recreate Daredevil’s costume. As dynamic as the change was – and, damn, it certainly was – it was a coloring change and a tiny bit of alteration akin to putting that yellow circle around Batman’s bat. I know I just pissed a lot of people off and I’m sorry about that.
But it’s a tough one. Marvel notes all (or most all) of the writers and artists whose work is adapted for each movie and television show, and I think it drives my daughter crazy when I freeze-frame that part of the end credits because we’re both enjoying the “coming next week” teaser. But I’ve never seen the end-credits on Daredevil because, at least on my Netflix delivery system, the screen shrinks down to an unreadable size so that Netflix can inform me of how much time I have to not read those credits before the next episode starts. My guess is that for those who believe Woody’s name should be prominently displayed wouldn’t be satisfied, and I get that.
Comic book characters that survive for any length of time are like snowballs going down a ski-slope: they get bigger and bigger as they roll on. To me, the phrase “created by” refers to the people who started that ball rolling.
And my love of and respect for the work of the late Wallace Wood remains undiminished.
It’s amazing how money changes things. Norm McDonald once did a bit about buying a friend a lottery ticket for a Christmas gift – “You don’t actually want it to win…”
Oculus Rift, the latest uber-cool project amongst video game mavens, just hit the jackpot, and a lot of people are annoyed about it. The VR-goggle system, designed primarily for videogame use, but bursting with potential other uses, got its initial funding via crowdfunding site Kickstarter, much to everyone’s joy. But this week, the company made news when it was sold for a staggering two billion dollars.
Sounds like good news, right? A rags to riches, Local Boy Makes Good story, yeah?