Comic Book Legends Revealed #354
Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, learn whether the Greatest American Hero had its origins in a failed Superboy TV series, discover whether Warren Ellis used WildC.A.T.s./Aliens as a loophole to kill off the Stormwatch supporting cast and marvel at a Mutt and Jeff comic strip about suicide!
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and fifty-three.
COMIC LEGEND: The Greatest American Hero began life as a Superboy TV series.
STATUS: True Enough for a True
The Greatest American Hero was a cult classic TV series created by the late, great Stephen Cannell about a young man who gains a suit that gives him super powers. The series is about this normal guy dealing with becoming, well, the Greatest American Hero. It ran three seasons from 1981-1983.
His powers were similar to Superman, similar enough that DC actually sued the show over copyright infringement.
They lost, but an interesting fact came out and was almost certainly the reason DC felt particularly sure that this was infringement. You see, ABC-TV originally came to DC to ask for the rights to Superboy to do a Superboy TV series. With Superman II coming soon into theaters, DC naturally did not want to divert the rights to the character, so they turned them down.
Undeterred, ABC-TV then hired Cannell to come up with what would become The Greatest American Hero.
Even with this connection, the courts turned down DC’s attempt to get an injunction to stop the show from airing in the first place and two years later, came to a final determination that there was not substantial enough similarities between Superman and Ralph Hinkley for Greatest American Hero to have been an infringer on DC’s Superman copyright. The courts also found that DC’s other counts of trademark dilution and unfair competition were also invalid.
Still, imagine how different things would have been had DC just granted ABC the rights in the first place! Would ABC-TV have hired Cannell to run the show? Most importantly, would we have that great theme song from Mike Post? Clearly, this is the most important What If…? in the history of humanity!
COMIC LEGEND: Warren Ellis used the WildC.A.T.s/Aliens one-shot at a loophole to kill the Stormwatch characters.
Reader Karl wrote in to ask about a story he heard:
The story went that Warren Ellis hated doing Stormwatch and somehow wasn’t allowed to kill off the characters during the normal series but through some loophole could do it in the Stormwatch/Aliens crossover. That’s why most of the team is killed there so he could reinvent the series as The Authority.
Any truth to that?
WildCATs/Aliens did, indeed, kill off a bunch of Stormwatch characters right before the book was relaunched as The Authority. Like Fahrenheit…
But was that why the series existed?
Simply put, nope!
Scott Dunbier, editor on the book, talked about the background of the story on his blog a few years back…
About 10 years ago WildStorm and Dark Horse Comics agreed to do a WildC.A.T.s/Aliens X-Over, it was to be the first of several such events featuring various properties (the others never happened, can’t remember why). One of my goals was that this should be a book with lasting effects, unlike the usual cross-company epics that come and go and mean nothing. Since Warren Ellis was wrapping up his run on Stormwatch, before diving into The Authority, I thought it would be an interesting idea to kill off a large portion of the remaining Stormwatch characters, the ones that wouldn’t be moving on to the new book (For those unfamiliar with either series, The Authority sprang from Stormwatch, or what was left of it).
There ya go!
Interestingly enough, Scott’s blog post was also the basis for the classic story of how Gil Kane drew (an awesome looking) cover for the WildCATS/Aliens crossover, just with a interesting twist (you can read about it in this past edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed or, of course, read it right from Scott above).
Thanks for the question, Karl! And thanks for the info, Scott!
COMIC LEGEND: A Mutt and Jeff comic strip showed the pair committing suicide.
Some time ago, I featured an edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed about a series of Mickey Mouse comic strips that involved Mickey Mouse trying to kill himself after being dumped by Minnie Mouse (you can read that column here). Last week, I featured a legend about Mutt and Jeff, the first successful daily comic strip (which was about two friends who kept trying out various get-rich schemes).
Reader Mike R. wrote in to tell me about a bizarre Mutt and Jeff strip from 1911, that was very much in the same vein of the Mickey Mouse strip.
Check it out!
The captions read: “There ain’t nothin’ in this world for me – I don’t see no hope = Guess I’ll take the gas route.” “Farewell crue-ll woild.” “Don’t do that! We’re in luck again. I just saw a fortune teller, and she said you were gonna get a letter today with money in it.” “HUh?” “Ah, I’ll bet this is it now. At last we eat again.” “What does it say?” “It’s a gas bill for $9.80.”
Thanks for the head’s up, Mike! Mike got it from a blog Ben Welter does for the Star Tribune. You can check out Ben’s blog here. Thanks, Ben!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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!
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See you all next week!
February 17, 2012 at 9:36 am
Did any of the Stormwatch characters get killed by a chestburster?
February 17, 2012 at 9:42 am
I am very glad DC lost that case, as i have fond memories of Greatest American Hero from my childhood. The idea that DC almost took that away just ticks me off.
February 17, 2012 at 9:46 am
In the first item, you mean Ralph Hinkley. John Hinkley Jr attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
February 17, 2012 at 9:47 am
that there was not substantial enough similarities between Superman and John Hinkley
The character’s name was Ralph Hinkley.
John Hinkley shot the President.
But, this similarity was noted by the show’s producers — so for the later half of the first season, Ralph’s last name was ‘Hanley’
February 17, 2012 at 9:49 am
Whoa, nelly. Ralph Hinkley was the Greatest American Hero. John Hinkley? …Not so much (and that’d be “Hinckley” anyway).
February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am
From what I remember, the courts determined that GAH had more in commun with Green Lantern than with Superman.
February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am
A spaceship comes down and gives the guy a superhero suit. He gets his powers from the suit. Yet DC sues them because it is like Superman
Only in America
February 17, 2012 at 10:04 am
Great column. I love stuff like this. Keep up the great work.
February 17, 2012 at 10:09 am
ABC was undeterred in ripping-off “Superboy” just like they were undeterred in ripping off “Fables.”
It’s a joke.
February 17, 2012 at 10:20 am
“Clearly, this is the most important What If…? in the history of humanity!”
Laughed my ass off at that one!