SMODCAST

Over on Kevin Smith’s “Fatman on Batman” podcast, he has Neal Adams for a 3-part interview.  It’s really great stuff — Neal is as good a verbal storyteller as he is a visual one. My favorite part so far is when he talks about Al Williamson.

 

Neal helped me with the book and gave me a cool blurb even though he kind of terrified me in the beginning. People always ask me if we can trust his version and I think his is the one to trust for the 1975 crusade. With some small modifications for storytelling, of course. But he was a big help. And if you want to know WHO Neal was talking to on the phone for the settlement, the book gives the name.

Listen to the podcast for free on SMODCAST here. I always support Kevin because of this. Plus he once picketed his own film with a “God Loves, Man Kills” sign.

And if you haven’t listened to the podcast with Marc Tyler Nobleman on Bill Finger, it is another must-listen.

Check out and support the Wayne Foundation, too. 

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Coming Clean: The Siegel-Shuster “Bat-man” Theory

There was some interesting response to my Siegel and Shuster “Bat-man” theory. Over at The Beat, “Did Bob Kane swipe Batman from Siegel and Shuster?”:

As I said, the frequent mentions of hoaxes, made me suspicious of this but in a tweet, Ricca says it’s not a hoax…That said, if it were it would be a pretty clever gag…And the truth is both Shuster and the swipe-happy Kane were drawing on familiar Dracula images. So this is almost certainly a case of swiping the same influence.

Still…interesting.

That’s a good way of understanding it. Whatever this panel is, both sets of creators were both definitely prone to similar influences. They liked that bat stuff. But is it a hoax?  Well…

Here are the facts:

1. Siegel and Shuster’s “Bat-man” appeared in More Fun Comics #28 in January 1938 in a story titled “Vampire Venom” (sorry for the date correction from the first post — grabbed the wrong reference). This issue was edited by Vin Sullivan.

2.  Bob Kane started working on More Fun Comics #31 with “Ginger Snap,” so he probably knew the magazine well. Vin Sullivan gave him the work.

3. In 1939, a year later, Kane was given the opportunity to create a superhero like Superman by Vin Sullivan. The conversation allegedly began with Kane asking Sullivan how much Siegel and Shuster were making.

 

4. The Batman we know that was finally approved (and which contained many swipes of other sources) featured the scalloped cape and the spelling of “Bat-man.”

These are facts. Unfortunately, people who do have copies of More Fun #28 dont want to crack their CGC cases and take photos. Here is the original I used — a shadowy microfiche copy. This site offers the whole issue, which gets us closer to a confirmation.

The hoax might be what we can take away from this. Can we know for sure that this image inspired our Batman? Not without more evidence. But I agree with Steven Thompson (who comments after the Beat article) — it’s not just the pulpy cultural battiness that plays into the image (including The Bat Whispers, a 1930 film based on a play that Joe drew a poster for in high school), and the Springheel Jack/Dracula bat-cape that is enticing, but that name — Bat-manall under a common editor.  And timing: Siegel and Shuster’s version was published about a year before Detective #27.

The black hole in the middle of this is the fact that Kane was not the sole creator of the character. I am not a Batman scholar, so I’ll tell you the same thing I tell everyone who asks why my next book is not about Batman: 1) because it’s messy and 2) see Marc and Ty’s book. Batman’s creation seems largely economic to me, which isn’t as interesting (though the character itself going forward obviously is, arguably more interesting than Superman — for that Bat-stuff, wait for Glen Weldon’s eventual book). All I am claiming here is that this image was within reach to all three parties: Sullivan, Kane, and Finger (who was writing for Kane as early as 1938).

I brought up the Millar hoax to illustrate how discoveries like this really tend to capture our imaginations — and then run away with them. We have to be careful. After all, this is just a small panel in a comic book from 1938. And it is absolutely drawing on the writhing mass of bat imagery that both teams of creators absorbed. But the panel is real. So what does that mean? I like to think of it in the context of Holmes’ famously overquoted When you have eliminated the impossible” spiel — but with a twist. With these facts, the notion of Siegel and Shuster inspiring the Batman cannot be eliminated as impossible. 

It is on the table.


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Holy Bat-Hoax; Or, SIEGEL AND SHUSTER’S BAT-MAN

Ten years ago, the Internet might have actually surprised you. On September 26, 2003, regular readers of Comic Book Resources clicked on Mark Millar’s regular “The Column” and stopped.

Simply titled “Orson Welles and the Bat-Man,” Millar’s column on that day halted coffee cups in midair. Millar detailed (for the first time) a newly-discovered cache of scripts, notes, and photos that revealed that Orson Welles wanted to make a Batman film in 1946.

Millar listed actors, experts, and pre-production images detailing an astounding vision of what might have been.The forum boards exploded with nerdthusiasm. In an inverse response of the Batfleck decision, it was all could you imagine?  followed by they should do this now!  If you’ve never read the article, or were too young to have seen it, go read it now. Trust me. I’ll wait for you.

Done?

So the whole thing was a hoax. The art was supplied by Bryan Hitch and it seems like even the editors were in on it. I won’t get into the particulars; maybe CBR can get the outspoken Millar to run a decade-later tell-all. People were upset, but forgave Millar because it was such a brilliant lie. Gregory Peck as Batman? Basil Rathbone as The Joker?!? Back then in 2003, before real Hollywood stars were begging to get Marvel franchises, this was a lie we believed could (and should) have been real, even as just an imaginary possibility. The hoax was Millar’s last column for CBR. Now, ten years later, Millar is making movies and comics that he retains ownership of. And he is still generating controversy.

But that’s not why I’m writing this. I found something of my own that is not a hoax, but reminded me of Millar’s. Ten years ago, when I read that column, I was starting my own long research into the book that would become Super Boys (St. Martin’s, 2013). I was really excited about Millar’s discovery — and disappointed when I found out it was fake. I’m not Mark Millar’s biggest fan (though the first 6 issues of Enemy of the State are perfect comics — up there with Avengers Annual #10), but the Bat-hoax was really inspirational for some reason. Millar’s story made me think that there could be – had to be – real stories and secrets out there. In my book, I ended up finding plenty of unbelievable things (I think) about Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman – stories about a mysterious ghost writer, a religious cult, the real Lois Lane, the FBI, secret military work by Jerry, a bulletproof man, a detective who dies named Corrigan, and tons of other secrets – but this post is about Batman. Because I did find something pretty crazy about him, too.

We all know that Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young Clevelanders who sold ALL OF THEIR RIGHTS AWAY TO SUPERMAN for $130 in 1938, but who continued to chronicle his adventures for ten years. The story of Batman’s creation is very different. As the company sought to capitalize on Superman’s success, the story goes that in early 1939, editor Vin Sullivan gave a young cartoonist named Bob Kane a weekend to create a new superhero. Kane allegedly returned with a sketch of Batman, who then debuted in Detective Comics #27, carrying a gun and wearing purple gloves. Kane’s story also differs because he collaborated with (or outright stole from) a shy writer named Bill Finger, who wrote the early stories in obscurity. For the definitive word on Finger, see Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ty Templeton’s excellent book, Bill: The Boy Wonder and Marc’s additional blog postings here. Kane, due to some slick legal maneuvering and coincidence (he was supposedly under eighteen when he signed his first Batman contract) was able to negotiate a new deal that made him rich.

Obviously, Siegel and Shuster, who sold their caped guy for $130, didn’t much like Batman. They were jealous of Kane’s sweet deal while they fought for $10 raises. In fact, Jerry and Joe thought that their own publisher was deliberately flooding the market with superheroes like Batman to hurt Superman because they were scared of a Jerry and Joe lawsuit. Batman was getting really popular — Jerry himself was drawn into a cameo role (see image) in Batman #13. And though Superman was certainly indebted to the culture around him, he was more of an original concept while Batman relied heavily on existing film and pulp sources, both in content (“The Black Bat”) and visually (Kane’s numerous swipes). This has been documented elsewhere.

In doing research for my book, I attempted to read everything Siegel and Shuster created. One night, eyes closing from too much reading (and probably on a weekend because I had no life), I was at my desk looking at a fading scan of a “Doctor Occult” panel – when I froze:

The panel I saw (pictured first) depicts a shadowy figure with bat wings drawn by Joe Shuster whom Jerry names a “Bat-Man!” This story was created in 1937 and published in the January 1938 issue of More Fun #28. The panel below it is the official 1939 Batman from Detective Comics, though in a reversed composition, with the same spelling of “Bat-man!”

A year later.

The two panels have visual similarities, but here’s where it gets really interesting: two issues after the Doctor Occult story in More Fun, Kane himself began contributing to the magazine, meaning that he surely must have been familiar with Siegel and Shuster’s work. And the editor on More Fun in who gave Kane his first work there? None other than Vin Sullivan, the man who would then allegedly ask Kane to pitch a new superhero to him, just like Siegel and Shuster’s.

Was Kane (or Sullivan himself?) inspired by the creators of Superman to create Batman? Without further proof (or a time platform), we can’t say for sure. Siegel and Shuster’s version (a vampire) certainly has nothing to do with Kane and Finger’s vigilante human hero who stalks the night for evildoers. But the visual similarities, the spelling, and the aligning coincidences of writer, job, date, and editor, are at least worth a pause. 

Maybe.

Ten years ago, the top two comics in September sales were Batman and JLA/Avengers. We like Batman in combinations. We like mixing and matching him, the human, against all the other gods and aliens because conflict helps us define him. Batman is where we find our common ground in superheroes. It’s why Superman vs. Batman is being worked on as we speak. We want to see the underdog; we want to see us.

In his original column, Millar talks about comics stories being respected as emotional narratives worthy of Hollywood:

The superhero is sixty-four years old this year, but it’s only now (and maybe not even now) that he’s attaining some kind of mainstream respectability. Crime, horror, romance and even science-fiction have touched The Academy’s hearts over the years and been lauded as adult or sophisticated in a way that we’ll probably never achieve and the reasons for this are twofold.

The Dark Knight (a Batman film) changed that. That isn’t a coincidence, I think. It had to be Batman. But Millar goes on:

The first is that superheroes look silly in a way that even cowboys don’t. I love them and always will, but Joe Public can’t suppress a smirk when he sees Ben Affleck dressed as the banned fifth member of the Village People.

There you go again. Say what you want about Millar, but he knows our industry, and our culture, very well.

A hoax is a lie that pretends to be the truth. Superheroes are all about that disguise, with their masks and capes and flashy outer underwear. The same goes sometimes for the writers who work on them, struggling in a difficult system of freelancing, corporate ownership, and gaining new readers by any means possible. But it also goes for readers, historians, and fans hungry for connections and truth. Facts and images don’t lie, but they can be read in different ways sometimes. When it comes to superheroes (and I love them too) we want that truth so badly that we take it and make it any way we can — as fiction, history, or an imaginative combination of the two. Isn’t that what they really are anyway?

Jerry and Joe, though they certainly resented Batman, never seem to have mentioned this peculiar panel of a “Bat-man” during their lives – maybe they dismissed it as coincidence, or simply just forgot about it. Or was it something else entirely?

What do you think?

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Why Superman? Radio Squad

I haven’t seen Gangster Squad yet. Seemed kind of anti- after Zero Dark Thirty. Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen looks interesting — but what is it putting Jay-Z as anachronistic soundtrack to a period film? I like Hova but HEREWEGO (SLO MO GUNS) UH-UH. Yeah, I don’t know. Same with 42. LA Confidential didn’t need that.

Anyway, Jerry and Joe did a LOT of cool comics pre-Superman that are just really raw and great. One of the best was Radio Squad, which started before Action Comics #1 in the late thirties.

It’s two-fisted, buddy copy mayhem up against gambling, the mob, and ALL CRIME.

No superpowers, but tons of great Joe cars that he copied out of advertisements. Some really cool stuff in these comics, as you’ll see. They based the whole thing off a Hollywood film as well as the Cleveland police force. You can see where things were going.

Radio Squad even gets into the courtroom once in awhile. You know how contemporary indie comics tend towards autobiographical stuff?  All started here.

BONUS COVERAGE: Now with more Jay-Z because I may secretly like anachronistic soundtracks (click image to LIVE LARGE)

Mash-up courtesy of Kerry Callen and Chris Sims as part of Comic Alliance’s “Great Comics that Never Happened.”

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