The 5 Weirdest Changes Ever Demanded by Comic Book Editors
We’ve all had those moments reading our favorite comic books where we notice something crazy. And I mean really crazy, even by comic book standards. An unexplainable retcon, heroes acting out of character or, horror of horrors, facts are wrong!?! Our knee jerk reaction is to blame the artist or writer for this madness but sometimes this strangeness comes straight from the top and there’s no one to blame except the top brass at editorial. Like the time …
5. Wonder Woman Had To Stop Doing Bondage (In Chains)
If you’ve ever read a Wonder Woman comic from the 40’s you won’t be surprised to learn that Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston, loved bondage. That’s not speculation, that’s just a documented fact, and it showed in his work as he had Wonder Woman get chained up a lot, always in new and interesting ways. In fact if you go through the early issues of Wonder Woman you’ll see she was tied up an average of twice an issue for the first six months.
So that’s all kind of extreme, but not as extreme as issue #6 where Diana was put in a gimp mask, had her whole body chained up and was then thrown into a tank of water.
Well it was around this time that Marston received the below letter (also known as the greatest historical document of all time) from the president of DC informing him that he had to cut down how often Wonder Woman is chained up by “50-75%” BUT she could still totally be restrained with other things and here’s a list of ways to do that.
The implications of this letter are absolutely incredible detailing the fact that Marston and Gaines had met on multiple occasions to discuss the exact percentage of frequency that Wonder Woman could be tied up with chains. Which apparently also involved a discussion about how Wonder Woman fans want to see her restrained but god man, not just by chains, are you insane? Mix things up a bit!
I would also love to know how Gaines’s assistant, Miss Roubicek felt when she walked into work that day and was told to come up with a list of ways to “keep women confined or enclosed without the use of chains.” I really hope she got the rest of the afternoon off after that.
Unfortunately the list of restraining methods has been lost but I imagine it included the basics like rope, glue, tape, the hands of a clock, normal stuff like that.
4. DC Thought Lois Lane Looked Pregnant and Superman Looked Too Gay
So this one isn’t so much weird as it is sadly expected, but still kind of neat. I’ll explain!
In 2011 a whole slew of court documents came out in the dispute between the Siegel estate and DC Comics over the copyright to Superman, including some correspondence from the 40’s which at best is entertaining and at worst shows the all too real sexism and prejudice that has existed in comics since the start.
First, in a letter to Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel, Superman editor Whitney Ellsworth had a lot to say about Shuster’s depiction of Lois Lane, mostly that she was “unpleasantly sexy” that “she looks pregnant” and even worse that she should be drawn like other heroines who follow “a certain formula that makes them look desirable and cute.”
The entire letter from Ellsworth is an interesting read, but here are the choice highlights.
“…we find that a great deal hasn’t been done to make Lois look better. The roly-poly hair-do is still the same way we complained about, and why is it necessary to shade Lois’ breasts and the underside of her hair with vertical pen-lines we can’t understand. She looks pregnant. Murray suggests that you arrange for her to have an abortion or the baby and get it over with so that her figure can return to something a little more like the tasty dish she is supposed to be. She is much too stocky and much, MUCH too unpleasantly sexy. Please call it to the attention of Joe and his lads that the better artists in this field draw their heroines more or less by a certain formula that makes them look desirable and cute.
On top of this they make the face pretty – and they try to draw it in the same way every time. Then, by drawing the shoulders wider than the hips they give the girl a lisesome quality that is absent when the accent is on hips. Also, the waistline is drawn higher than it would be in real life, and the legs are longer and slimmer. There is usually no attempt to prove pictorially that the female tummy has a certain roundness if not confined within a girdle, nor that bosoms cast terrific shadows by virtue of their outstanding quality.”
If anyone somehow thought that sexism in comics is a new thing, well surprise, these documents show that unrealistic standards for women in comics have literally been around forever. It’s almost surreal to see an editor point out that there’s a formula to draw women like a “tasty dish” and that regular women, not superheroines but average, human women, should have a waistline that “is drawn higher than it would be in real life, and the legs are longer and slimmer.”
But at least DC was almost equal in its criticisms as they also weren’t fond of the early depictions that Shuster did of Superman, saying he had to fix the fact that Superman looked too gay in certain panels, such as the one below — or in the period slang of Ellsworth’s letter, he looked “lah-de-dah” and had a “nice fat bottom.”
Clearly what they were requesting was for Supes to look more traditionally masculine, which is unfortunate as I find these panels delightful. You can actually see the groundwork being laid out in these letters that male heroes must be muscular and powerful but can only pose and stand in certain ways to appeal to the hetero-male gaze. Even the mildly sexual pose in the above panel where Superman’s cape flies away to show off his posterior was a no go for the times.
But the art team took the notes to heart. For comparison check out these panels from a few years later.
Now Superman poses in traditional heroic stances, butt safely angled away at all times, while Lois gets a waist skinnier than her head. I’m starting to think the real reason Superman and Batman have capes is to reduce the possibility of butt shots.
3. Both Green Arrows Are Meta-Humans For Reasons
When you think of Green Arrow you probably think, bad goatee, funny hat, human, pretty good at arrowing. And that’s an all around accurate description, except for awhile in the year 2000 you would have been wrong about the human part, as that was the year DC decided that both Green Arrows were now meta-humans and always had been.
Now I don’t mean DC did the logical thing and published a story where it’s revealed that Oliver Queen and Connor Hawke were secretly always meta-humans and not just regular dudes who tried real hard. Instead, characters just started calling them meta-humans all the freaking time without explanation. One time Robin even called Connor a “Major League Meta-Human All Star”, which is a pretty over the top description for the power of ‘pretty swell aim.’
Similar assertions of superpowers popped up in Kingdom Come and Green Arrow Year One, making many a reader start yelling “what?!” at their comic books. Well, if their comic books could have talked back they would have explained the “what” was DC editorial deciding the GA’s were too boring and needed some sprucing up, as writer Chuck Dixon explained on his blog.
“The metahuman deal for Ollie and Connor was editorially driven. I was told to hype this in the ‘Year One’ annual I did for GA. … Love it or hate it, DC’s idea was to make both GAs more like superheroes and less like one-trick ponies. There is an unstated fear at DC (unstated until now) that their heroes are irrelevant because their powers are antiquated. … I think their fears are unfounded. Characterization is the key and DC’s superheroes have that. The powers are secondary.”
The next big event for Green Arrow after this was Quiver, written by Kevin Smith, which involved Oliver being brought back to life via a combination of demon magic and The Spectre scraping bits of Ollie’s DNA off of Superman’s cape. After that it seemed pretty dumb to insist he had to be a meta-human to be interesting and the whole thing was dropped.
2. No One In the New 52 Can be Married
This entry is so recent you all may just remember the time that DC made the insane declaration that none of their characters can be married.
It all started in September 2013 when JH Williams and W Haden Blackman announced they would be leaving their award-winning run on Batwoman due to editorial changes and DC not allowing them to depict the marriage of Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer. The internet did its thing and lambasted DC for being anti-gay marriage and DC responded in a way no one expected, saying that they weren’t against gay marriage, they were against all marriages in the entire DC universe.
Dan Didio, the co-publisher of DC Comics, went on record to say that heroes shouldn’t get married, as they have to sacrifice their personal lives and happiness for their jobs, so classic couples like Lois & Clark and Barry & Iris were no longer married. Some pointed out that Aquaman was still married to which Geoff Johns replied that Aquaman and Mera were written as if they were married but it was never explicitly stated and no one called them husband and wife so it totally didn’t count. That statement ended with a finger point and a shout of “so there!”
In fact in the New 52 the only married hero was Animal Man of all people, and things were not going well marriage-wise for the … blue spandexed creature guy (I don’t know a lot about Animal Man, if he’s got a better alias please let me know).
Whether you agree with DC or not on whether heroes can be happily married, at the very least they have continued to back their stance on the matter. Looking at the New 52 a year and a half since the incident you still won’t find a married couple amongst the roster, but they did establish in canon that Batman is the love of Superman’s life so maybe we’ll get that gay marriage story eventually.
1. No More Exclamation Marks
Sit around little kiddies and let me tell you the tale of Stan Lee versus exclamation points.
The year was 1971. The man was the generalissimo himself, Stan Lee. The problem was that he thought Marvel’s comics about stretchy guys and web-slinging teenagers were too darn juvenile. Things needed to get serious at Marvel. Changes needed to be made. Those damn exclamation marks had to go! go.
No, seriously, that happened. Despite the fact that exclamation points have been a staple in comics since literally day one and are kind of key in selling the excitement of any given situation, Stan Lee decided that Marvel didn’t need them and immediately banned every last one. And when I say immediately, I mean immediately, even issues that were already laid out and ready to print had to be changed. Except whoever was promoted to the illustrious job of “exclamation point remover” did a pretty half-ass job. They left in all the exclamation points in the middle of the sentences and deleted all end punctuation, creating what can only be called grammatical nonsense for two issues of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.
The ban was lifted two months later, never to be spoken of again, but I can only imagine Stan Lee sitting at home to this day, shaking his head at all those exclamation points we have and cursing aloud at a volume that would end in a period.
*Special thanks to Brian Cronin’s excellent Comic Book Legends Revealed Blog for research on a few of these entries.