In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, learn about the obscure Mad Magazine homage in Gene Colan’s first issue of Batman after leaving Marvel for DC.
Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and twenty-second installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends. Click here for the first part of this installment. Click here for the second part of this installment’s legends.
Gene Colan’s first issue of Batman hid a bizarre Mad Magazine homage.
One of the interesting things about history is that while there are a number of things that are just outright facts, like “Artist X worked for Company A until moving to Company B in 1981,” there are also many different things that are always going to come down to “He/she said vs. He/she said,” where the truth might be all over the place. It could be that one of the sides is absolutely correct and the other side is absolutely wrong or, as it more likely, the truth is somewhere in the middle (or perhaps more elusively, both sides are telling the “truth,” but from said truth has different effects from their different perspectives).
That’s generally the case when discussing Gene Colan’s exit from Marvel Comics where he had been one of the company’s top artists for nearly twenty years to move to DC in 1981. According to Colan, he was driven from Marvel by Jim Shooter hounding him. According to Shooter, Colan was rushing his art and Shooter’s “hounding” of him was simply Shooter making Colan put more effort into the art that they were paying him a high rate for.
Here’s Colan on his departure…
Oh, [Shooter] hated me. I was miserable. It was the worst experience … one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I had to leave Marvel because of him. I wouldn’t stay, and I … left everything behind. I left a pension plan, everything. I would have stayed, but Shooter gave me such a rough time. In fact, the vice president [of Marvel] had been down in a meeting with me and Shooter, trying to pacify me and get me to stay. And I just wouldn’t do it, cause I could see the writing on the wall, and I knew where Shooter was heading, and I didn’t want any more of it. He loved to be in the power seat. He was a control freak and he enjoyed that very much. [He was] riding high at the time, and took advantage of it.
Here’s Shooter on his problems with Colan that led to Colan’s departure:
Gene Colan, God bless him, a great artist… When he worked for me, there were some problems. Gene had to produce a certain amount of work a day for economic reasons and sometimes he’d cheat a little. He used to love it if there was an explosion in a story. No matter what, a tiny explosion would become a full page. Quick page, so he’d make some money.
He did some brilliant work by the way in his career. Dracula. I think he was getting a little tired when I was there. I think we finally cancelled Dracula, it started to fade and he needed work. And the fact is, he worked on a couple different things, with a couple different writers, he just couldn’t…. he had to do everything really fast. He wasn’t good about doing the reference, he wouldn’t pay attention to the story.
I remember Bill Mantlo came in and I had made him rewrite this plot three or four times. He comes in and says, “I have to rewrite this plot three or four times and [Gene] ignores it. That’s just not right.” I said, “You’ve got a point, Bill. I put you through hell getting this plot right and here Gene just ignores whatever parts are hard to draw.”
Got to the point where Bill wouldn’t work with him. Roger Stern wouldn’t work with him. Claremont wouldn’t… No one would work with him. So guess what he does, he works with me on he Avengers.
I made a deal with him, I said, “Gene, you gotta start doing what you can do. You’ve gotta do better stuff. I’m gonna make you redraw when you don’t. At first, I will repay you to redraw it, but it has to be right. So if you have to redraw something, don’t worry, you’re not going to lose a day’s work. I’ll pay you for it. You’re going to find that it’s better to do it right the first time. And if you do it right, I’ll get you more money. You’ll be on the Avengers, nice royalties.” That went for a couple months.
That’s when Wolfman had gone over to DC, thinking fondly of the Dracula days, got him to come over there. And that was better for everybody I think. Doing stuff that was more up his alley. He wasn’t really a superhero guy. That’s all we had at that point to offer him. He ended up at DC. Just one of those things that didn’t work out.
See what I mean? Believe whoever you want. Think Shooter was unreasonable? Fine. Think Shooter was reasonable? Fine. You do you, it’s not an area where I can tell you some definitive answer.
In any event, Roy Thomas was another creator who left Marvel for DC in 1981 following a dispute with Shooter (this time over Thomas’ role as the editor of his own comics, something Shooter was banning from Marvel. Again, up to you whether it is reasonable to have no exceptions to a rule even with a guy like Thomas, who I think everyone would concede never had a problem editing himself. The “writer can’t edit themselves” rule was also what sent Marv Wolfman to DC Comics). DC wanted to get Thomas to work right away, so Thomas started scripting some issues over other people’s plots so that DC could say he was involved with the book or Thomas would plot a book and someone else would script it, basically a way to get Thomas’ name in DC comics as soon as possible before he started his regular new work for the company.
One of those early books was Batman #340, scripted by Gerry Conway. The book also served as Gene Colan’s debut on Batman, a series he would draw for the next few years (Colan would also have a Wonder Woman run with Thomas)…
The issue opens with a stockbroker named Elder being attacked by a mysterious entity…
And then a psychiatrist named Kurtzman…
Batman chased after the villain and discovered it was a monstrous being known as the Mole!
Few people in comics history know comic book history more than Roy Thomas and this story was a clever double historic reference.
First off, the villain, the Mole, was an obscure bad guy from an old issue of World’s Finest Comics #80 (by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang and Stan Kaye)…
He was a guy who dug tunnels into bank vaults…
Thomas, Conway and Colan referenced the story…
However, it was also a reference to a classic story from the early days of Mad, back when it was a comic book (and not a magazine) and it was just an offbeat humor magazine and not a primarily parody comic. One of the stories in the second issue ever was 1952’s “The Mole,” by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, about a criminal who digs…
You can tell that this was pre-Comics Code because of how violent it was…
The Mole keeps digging out of prison with smaller and smaller digging tools…
Until he finally digs his way to the Chair…
So Thomas having a villain called the Mole who would dig just like the Mad Mole, along with the villain trying to get revenge on Elder and Kurtzman was a great little homage by Thomas…
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OK, that’s it for this installment!
Thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo, which I don’t even actually anymore, but I used it for years and you still see it when you see my old columns, so it’s fair enough to still thank him, I think.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well! Also, if you have a correction or a comment, feel free to also e-mail me. CBR sometimes e-mails me with e-mails they get about CBLR and that’s fair enough, but the quickest way to get a correction through is to just e-mail me directly, honest. I don’t mind corrections. Always best to get things accurate!
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