May 12, 1998
by Chuck Miller
Well, it looks like Marvel is planning to do something with Spider-Man, though they aren't saying exactly what. I suppose whatever plans they have will let me out... Unless this fails, too, in which case I stand ready to serve.
Anyhow, big doings seem to be afoot. According to Spidey editor Ralph Macchio, "The entire Spider-Man saga will end in September." What that means, I don't know. Some wags might quip that the "saga" ended years ago, but I won't stoop to that sort of thing. So what's up? Well, we all know nobody kills the goose that lays the golden egg, or any kind of egg that sells, and since Spidey, next to the hundred or so X-Men titles, lays the most eggs for Marvel (in more than one sense), I don't think we need to take the rumors Macchio is slyly trying to generate of Peter Parker's possible death too seriously. What we know for sure is that two of the four monthly Spider-books are going to be canceled, and the two that are left will be written by the same person, Howard Mackie.
This is a step in the right direction. I think the quality of DC's Superman titles has suffered because of the week-to-week continuation of a single storyline among the four monthly books. Stories are written by writers (admit it, you don't find astute observations like that in every column you read!), and each writer has a unique sensibility which he or she should bring to whatever character he or she works on. When stories are essentially written by committee, the quality is bound to suffer. While this system might help a bad writer (I name no names), a good writer has something vital removed from the work.
John Byrne will also be involved, which may or may not be good. Byrne is capable of good work, but when he is allowed to revamp a character, he does it with a heavy hand, and the results tend to be mixed. I didn't care much for his MAN OF STEEL in the 80s. (He also seems to suffer from a Jack Kirby fixation bordering on monomania-- he stuffs every series he takes over with as many Kirby characters as he can stuff in, whether they belong there or not. But since Kirby never worked on Spidey-- except for penciling the cover of AMAZING FANTASY #15-- this could be therapeutic for him.) And it looks like Byrne is going to get to do some retro-history on Spidey in a series called "Twice Told Tales," which, near as I can figure, will take a look at Spidey's early years with a few slight revisions (wait a minute... Didn't they already do something like that? Wasn't it called "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" and wasn't it written by Kurt Busiek and wasn't it a damn good book that got canceled? Hmmm....).
No use speculating right now. We'll just have to wait till it hits the streets this fall. I'm sure they mean well, and, as I have made a minor religion out of giving Marvel the benefit of every possible doubt (and generally getting screwed on the deal), I'll reserve judgment
It looks like Hal Jordan will be around for a little longer than his appearance in GREEN LANTERN #100. Apparently he is going to accompany Kyle Rayner a few years into the future, where he will learn the details of his future breakdown and possibly do battle with his older, crazier self. You'll recall how Hal put all disgruntled postal workers to shame by flipping out and killing all the members of the Green Lantern Corps, along with their bosses, the Guardians, then attempting to destroy the whole universe so he could make a new one where there was no suffering or injustice (why was that such a bad idea, exactly?). He redeemed himself by sacrificing his life to save earth from the Sun Eater, but some of his old friends are still pissed about those 3,600-some- odd gruesome murders and the attempt to play God... Jeez, there's no pleasing some people...
I know more about comics than anyone really should. Sherlock Holmes once compared the human brain to a storage room; the more useless junk you keep there, the less room you have for things you need. I've had to sacrifice the multiplication tables, the names of the 50 states and a few basic motor skills to clear space for comics trivia, but I think it was worth it. Anyhow, I thought I'd pass some of it along. You can use this stuff on anyone who is impressed by an encyclopedic knowledge of comics (if you find such a person, let me know, because I want to meet 'em!):
The original artist on Wonder Woman in the 1940s was named Harry Peter. I swear! And the writer who created her was a psychiatrist named William Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) who also developed one of the first polygraph machines. I don't know if Marston was a Freudian, but I'd like to get one to do an interpretation of his stories, which were packed with scenes of torture and bondage (I recall one in which WW had a leather mask pulled over her face by a captor; she escaped by chewing a hole in it!), female Nazis in nine-inch spike heels and voluptuous women running around in their underthings. In those dark days before Playboy, I imagine the Amazing Amazon inspired the solitary vices of a generation of adolescent American males. Hmmm... Maybe Dr. Marston was a Reichian...
Lots of the Superman mythos was lifted from pulp hero Doc Savage. It's true! Doc's first name was CLARK (and the Shadow's real name was KENT Allard-- Lamont Cranston was a wealthy socialite whose identity Allard "borrowed" more or less permanently). Savage was known as the "Man of Bronze," while Superman is the "Man of Steel." Doc had a retreat in the Arctic called the Fortress of Solitude; so did Superman. Doc and Supes both had female first cousins who were on a par with them mentally and physically (Pat Savage and Supergirl, respectively). Doc Savage had a secretary named Superman and Superman had a secretary named Doc Savage (oh, wait a minute, scratch that... I got them mixed up with Lincoln and Kennedy).
Of course, that sort of thing was pretty common in those days and nobody really cared (except for National Periodical Publications, of course, who sued Fawcett over the similarities between Captain Marvel and Supes. Ironic, isn't it, in light of what you've just learned?); I'm sure Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster added that stuff in a spirit of homage rather than rip-off (of course, Schuster was no longer working on the book by 1959, when Supergirl debuted; Seigel may have been, I don't know for sure); they were, after all, a couple of early fanboys. I bet they spent a good chunk of that $130 they got for the rights to Superman on pulp magazines.
Superman was conceived as a newspaper strip, but none of the syndicates wanted it. The story which appears in ACTION COMICS #1 was cut and pasted from the strip format in which Schuster originally drew it.
Captain Marvel has been in trouble with the law his whole life. Not long after he first appeared, National (which would later become DC) filed a lawsuit (see above) which would drag on into the early 50s, when Fawcett voluntarily retired the Captain, whose sales were flagging anyhow. Okay, now brace yourself for some heavy-duty irony: In the early 70s, the very same company that had tried to sue him into oblivion bought the rights to the Big Red Cheese and started publishing his adventures under the title SHAZAM. Why didn't they call it CAPTAIN MARVEL? Here's where the irony-meter redlines. It's because DC's chief competitor, Marvel, established a copyright on the name during the 60s, after Fawcett had let it lapse and not bothered to renew. So, while DC can use "Captain Marvel" in the body of a story, they can't make it part of any title. Holy Moley! Their only option was to use the name of the old wizard who gave Cap his powers, SHAZAM. As far as I know, Jim Nabors has never brought legal action...
Well, this is all very damn fascinating and I could go on for hours, but you probably have better things to do. I leave you with a firm but loving adjuration to check out Kitchen Sink Comix's THE SPIRIT: THE NEW ADVENTURES. As far as I know, this is the first time in history that anyone but Will Eisner has worked on this character. And what a lineup of talent they have! Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra... Man, they are SERIOUS about this!