Comic Book Legends Revealed #459
Welcome to the four hundred and fifty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and fifty-eight. This week, did Superman comics help Allied spies during World War II? How did the British version of G.I. Joe deal with their properties being merged in the 1980s? And did Marvel have to pulp an entire print run of a comic because they didn’t get clearance from the licencors before printing began?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Allied spies would use the secret code from Superman comics.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
In my 2009 book, Was Superman a Spy? and Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (go buy it!), the legend the book was named after dealt with the United States Government worrying that Superman comic books were giving out a little too much information about the United States nuclear power. Well, reader Adam W. wrote in wondering if Superman might have been helping American spies in a different capacity.
Shortly after the Pearl harbour Attack, DC had a gimmick across several of their comics, whereby Superman had a coded message which kids could then decode using a code card from the Superman Radio show membership club. The code cards themselves were actually used by real spies to decrypt codes printed elsewhere and if searched, could be explained away as merely a kids toy.
Here is an example of the code Adam is referring to from the Supermen of America fan club…
First off, after researching this one pretty heavily I have found no evidence of this ever happening.
Secondly, though, it really doesn’t make sense once you see the Superman code. Check it out…
Now, on the one hand, that’s pretty damn complicated for kids to understand. I can’t even imagine a company trying something like that nowadays. However, as far as codes go, it is extremely simple. Beyond being a very simple substitution cipher, all the spy would have to do is remember the codes for each of the substitution patterns (and since there are only nine of them, that should be quite simple) and then he could do the substitutions himself without needing the code sheet. So having the code sheet would be a risk that would not be worth it, as it is only an aide towards what you should be able to do on your own quite simply (Code Jupiter, move each letter four places, Code Pluot, move each letter eight places, etc.).
So I’m going with a false here. It’s definitely a cool story, though. Thanks for the suggestion, Adam!
February 21, 2014 at 9:59 am
“The editor behind the project, Rich Marshall, soon left Marvel Comics.”
Left, or was pushed out the door? I mean, somebody had to take the fall for the money they threw away on those pulped comics.
February 21, 2014 at 10:08 am
I was being delicate.
February 21, 2014 at 10:46 am
Ah, the infamous Baron Ironblood!
I loved this stuff back then but it made a lot of long-term Battle fans very unhappy, seeing not only half of the comics given over to the new franchise but also because it was responisble for the legendary John Cooper being co-opted from Battle and onto the new Action Force stories.
There’s a nice site that re-prints all the old strips from the AF era of Battle – fun stuff.