Thursday, February 09, 2006

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #37!

This is the thirty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous thirty-six.

Let's begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Elvis Presley based his famous hairstyle upon Captain Marvel, Jr.

STATUS: True

Everyone loves Captain Marvel, right?

For awhile in the 1940s, it was one of the most popular series of comics in the country!

Well, surprisingly enough, one young fan of the Fawcett heroes during the 40s was none other than Elvis Presley!

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In her book, Elvis and Gladys, author Elaine Dundy wrote that Elvis Presley grew up as a large fan of Captain Marvel, Jr., and took the character's hair style as his own when he became older.

Says Dundy,
Behind Elvis there was another great legend: the metaphysical world of double identity comic book heroes. Elvis' favorite was Captain Marvel Jr., who looks, in fact, exactly like Elvis will make himself look for the rest of his life.
I would not believe it myself, except, well, why would you make something that random up?

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I have to admit, you really can see it.

How trippy is THAT?

(Nod to Robby Reed, of the great blog, B Is For Blog, who I noticed, while looking for some quotes on this topic, also did a bit on this awhile back here).

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The character Nightveil had to take her name because of violating a DC Comics trademark.

STATUS: False

As I have pointed out in past Urban Legends, the matter of trademarks in comic books is a very misunderstood field. In fact, it is a field that is often misunderstood even by people working IN comics!

That is the reason behind Bill Black changing the name of his character Phantom Lady to Nightveil. He did so not because he had made a trademark violation, but because DC comics THOUGHT he had made a trademark violation. According to an interview with Rik Offenberger, Black recalls
DC claimed they owned the name Phantom Lady and, in 1983, Dick Giordano (then DC editor) called me and asked me to cease and desist the use of the name. Big company pressuring a little company... I was just starting up, so I rolled over on this. I later discovered that DC had not and COULD NOT trademark the name Phantom Lady. But by then I had re-created the character as Nightveil. All this was a good thing because Nightveil has become such a great character far exceeding Phantom Lady in any incarnation. At AC we have a "retro" history as Femforce started during World War II. I created the Blue Bulleteer as the masked persona of Laura Wright before she becomes the sorceress, Nightveil. So from 1943 into the 1960s, Laura is Blue Bulleteer and runs around in a costume that is based on the Matt Baker, Fox Features version of Phantom Lady. The fans love it!
What Black is referring to is typical in the complicated world of trademarks.

Phantom Lady debuted as a Quality Comics character in 1941, but when she stopped being used by Quality, she was transferred to Fox Comics. It was at Fox (and as drawn by Matt Baker), that Phantom Lady became probably her most famous.

It was at Fox that the following cover was published, which was later included as a prime exhibit in Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent.

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Well, Fox eventually went under as well. In 1956, DC purchased the rights to Quality's characters, but Phantom Lady continued to be printed in reprints of the Fox Comics (not counting Israel Waldman's infamous unauthorized reprints).

DC, however, felt that the transfer to Fox was illegitimate, and that DC owned the rights to the Phantom Lady character, just as it owned all the other Quality characters.

Here is where the trademark problem comes into play - the works were clearly now out of copyright, as they had not been renewed in the years between when they stopped being printed and when DC purchased the rights (1956) and the time DC told Black to cease and desist (which would be the early 80s). However, since the comics had been printed (via reprints) during this time, DC could not claim a so-called "traditional" trademark on the character, which is what someone would avail themselves of if they never bothered to register their trademark. DC could not use this because DC was not publishing the character during these years, and one of the hallmarks of trademark law is that, to be effective, you have to actual USE the trademark, and not just in a comic, but on the market (for instance, you would have to publish a comic using the trademark). DC did not do this. In addition, DC never tried to register Phantom Lady as a trademark, either, which it DID do with Plastic Man and Blackhawk.

Therefore, when it informed Bill Black that he could not use the name Phantom Lady, it was most likely in error. Black, of course, as he says above, did not wish to risk a big legal battle, so he relented, and Nightveil was born!

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COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Steve Ditko once had a story censored for using the devil in a comic.

STATUS: True

Since the 1980s, the Comics Code Authority has not had much effect upon comics being published. However, when it first was introduced, it was enforced quite harshly, and even creators such as Steve Ditko felt the brunt, according to master Ditko historian, Blake Bell.

Bell relays the following interesting tale of Stan Lee censoring Ditko in an early 60s issue of Strange Tales...

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The story consists of a vengeful socialite, who has supposedly met the man of her dreams at a party. Everyone is to take off their masks at midnight, but trouble lurks below.....

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....once more Ditko's original ending is CENSORED. "What mask?" says the Devil, but clearly this would have corrupted too many young minds. Whomever reviewed this story at Marvel in 1961 (Stan Lee himself?) must have believed it to violate the Code's authority when it came to presenting the Devil. The last two inset panels are clearly not by Ditko's hand, and were clearly placed in afterwards to water down the story for the kiddies. POOF! He ain't the Devil anymore, and mankind survives to live another day!
Pretty weird, eh?

Well, that's it for this week, thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you'd like to see featured!!

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13 Comments:

Blogger Bill Reed said...

Grogg must be Fin Fang Foom's cousin from the Bronx.

2/09/2006 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim Kosmicki said...

I know that I've read in several places in the past that Elvis' late career Vegas jumpsuits were supposed to be styled like Cap Jr's suit too. There was a martial arts element, but if you look at how the capes work, it's a Cap. Marvel suit.

2/10/2006 08:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was Captain Marvel, Jr's costume that was the inspiration for Elvis' jumpsuits later in his career. I knew that he was a fan of the comic but I didn't know about his pomp being inspired by CM,Jr.

2/10/2006 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

Robby Reed over at dial b for blog did a whole series about the Elvis/Cap Marvel Jr connection.

Starting with issue .

2/10/2006 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

" Robby Reed over at dial b for blog did a whole series about the Elvis/Cap Marvel Jr connection.

Starting with issue ."

Yep, that's why I said, "(Nod to Robby Reed, of the great blog, B Is For Blog, who I noticed, while looking for some quotes on this topic, also did a bit on this awhile back here)."

:)

2/10/2006 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

About the jumpsuits...there's definitely something to be said for the jumpsuits looking like Captain Marvel's costumes...and I get that, but I dunno...it just seems a lot more of a stretch to me, and the sourcing for the jumpsuits is a lot more stuff like, "You can just tell that he based his suits on the costume" rather than the hair-do, which is, "He based his hairstyle on Captain Marvel Jr.'s hair."

It's that little bit extra directness that has me willing to say True to the latter, and "Probably True" to the former.

2/10/2006 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

And yes, I give the semantics involved in this thing way too much thought. :)

2/10/2006 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I think it's more Elvis' cape than the entire costume that was inspired by the Marvels.

2/11/2006 03:57:00 PM  
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