53 Super-powered facts about your favourite Super Heroes
1. Iron Man was a thinly disguised version of billionaire industrialist and all-round wacko recluse Howard Hughes. Stan Lee, who created the hero with artist Don Heck in 1963, said: “Howard Hughes was one of the most colorful men of our time. He was an inventor, an adventurer, a ladies’ man and finally a nutcase. Without being crazy, (Iron Man) was Howard Hughes.” He revealed that he created the character on a dare. “It was the height of the Cold War. The readers, if there was one thing they hated, it was war, it was the military … So I got a hero who represented that to the 100th degree. He was a weapons manufacturer, he was providing weapons for the army, he was rich, he was an industrialist. I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, and shove him down the readers’ throats and make them like him … And he became very popular.”
2. Kick-Ass star Nicolas Cage is named after superhero Luke Cage. The Oscar-winner and self-confessed comic geek is Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and was born Nicolas Coppola, but because he didn’t want to trade on his uncle’s success when auditioning for acting jobs, he changed his last name to his favourite comic character. Calling his son, Kal-lel, Superman’s Krypton name, was maybe a step too far. It is rumoured that his ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, made him sell his comic book collection. If she did, it may be why the marriage lasted a mere 108 days.
3. Cage has appeared in two comic book adaptations so far, Ghost Rider and Kick-Ass, but the tally could have been higher. He was to play the title role in Tim Burton’s planned revamp of Superman in the 90s, and even got to the costume fitting stage before the film was canned because of mounting costs. He was Sam Raimi‘s choice to play the Green Goblin in Spider-man before Raimi met Willem Dafoe.
4. Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar once hoodwinked the media into believing that Orson Welles had planned to make a Batman film in 1946. In a column he wrote for the website Comic Book Resources in September 2003, Millar said that The Citizen Kane director had written a “heart-racing” 36-page treatment for the film and had even got as far as the production stage before he pulled the plug on the project. He egged the pudding still more by revealing details of the film’s cast. Welles, said Millar, citing archival material uncovered by his film historian friend, had signed James Cagney for the part of the Riddler, Basil Rathbone as the Joker and Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman, but had clashed with the studios over who should play Batman: Welles had wanted to play the part himself, said Millar, but the studios wanted Gregory Peck, which led to Welles walking away from the project. Millar asked his artist friend Bryan Hitch to do some rough sketches of Welles’s Batman to give his hoax added credibility. The result movie and comics websites lapped it up, as did newspapers around the world.
5. Superman co-creator Joe Shuster had a secret identity as a fetish artist. Shuster and his Superman partner Jerry Seigel saw none of the riches Superman was making for DC Comics, or National as it was known during the 30s and 40s. In fact both were sacked after they tried to get a share of the money. To pay the bills, Shuster took a job illustrating a pulp magazine called Night of Horrors, which featured sado-masochistic scenes of women whipping men and men liking it. What’s surprising is the fact that most of the men and women look like Shuster’s Superman and Lois Lane.
By coincidence, Spider-man co-creator Steve Ditko shared a studio with a famed fetish artist, Eric Stanton, when he came up with the designs for Spider-man’s costume and webbing. Before the rubber-and-whip brigade get excited and moralists over-flow with outrage, Stanton has said that his influence on Ditko’s designs was “almost nil”. Still, there’s something kinky about that mask.
6. Ditko had orginally intended Spider-man’s costume to be purple and orange, not red and blue. Check out the spandex in American Apparel to realise how awful this idea could have been.
7. The Joker almost didn’t last his first comic book appearance. Batman creator Bob Kane wanted to kill off Batman’s nemesis because he didn’t want to repeat himself. Most of the villains Batman encountered in his early years ended up dying in unhappy accidents (Batman’s code forbade him doing the actual deed) and the Joker’s fate was to be no different. In Kane’s original ending to Batman No.1 the Joker died after accidentally stabbing himself, but luckily for DC and all those who made millions off The Dark Knight, the book’s editor, Whitney Ellsworth, saw merit in the character and had Kane add a panel bringing the Joker back to life.
8. Samuel L Jackson made a surprise appearance in Iron Man after the end credits rolled. He plays the one-eyed Government super-spook Nick Fury and tells the newly outed Iron Man that he’s putting together a team. Fans drool in anticipation at the hinted Avengers movie and expect to see something similarly special at the end of Iron Man 2.
9. The Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant once worked for Marvel. Between 1975 and 1977, Tennant was an editor at Marvel’s UK division, a job that required him to anglicise American spellings and indicate when the more scantily dressed superheroines needed to be redrawn decently.
10. In Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division. In the Iron Man movie the awkward acronym is changed to the similarly preposterous Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
11. Marvel’s owner thought that Spider-man was a rotten idea for a superhero. Stan Lee, Spider-man’s co-creator, was told by his boss that the character would fail because readers hated spiders. Minds were changed when the sales figures came in.
12. Michael Jackson once came close to owning Marvel. According to Stan Lee’s former business partner, Peter Paul – who was jailed in 2005 for stock fraud – Jackson agreed to buy Marvel on Lee’s behalf. Paul had met Lee in 1989 and had brought him onboard the American Spirit Foundation, a charitable organisation he ran with the actor James Stewart. Spotting the worth of Marvel’s superhero properties, Paul hatched a plan to bring in investors to buy Marvel and install Lee as company’s head. In 1991-92, he put together a Japanese/American investment group and approached Marvel’s owner, Ron Perelman. with an offer to buy the company for about $28 million. Perelman decided instead to take Marvel public. Paul tried again several years later, this time lining up Jackson as an investor. Jim Salicrup, a former Marvel editor who was present at the meetings Jackson had with Lee and Paul, remembers Jackson saying to Lee: “If I buy Marvel, you’ll help me run it, won’t you?” Paul said that Marvel’s owner at the time, Ike Perlmutter, was unwilling to take less than $1 billion for the company and Jackson eventually lost interest.
Lee has a different take on Jackson’s interest in Marvel. “I had been to his place in Neverland … and he wanted to do Spider-man,” he told MTV News last July. “I’m not sure whether he just wanted to produce it or wanted to play the role, you know? Our conversation never got that far along.” Lee said that the singer had hoped to buy the rights to Spider-man. “He thought I’d be the one who could get him the rights and I told him I couldn’t, he would have to go to the Marvel company.”
13. Cops would have a hard time tracking criminals if it wasn’t for Spider-man. The electronic monitors that criminals wear round their ankles when under home arrest were inspired by a Spider-man comic strip from the ’70s. In it a villain followed Spidey’s movements via an electronic device Spidey was wearing on his wrist. According to a PhD paper by Jody Klein-Saffran, New Mexico district court judge Jack Love read the strip and thought the idea could work in the real world. He developed the idea with a computer salesman and in 1983 the first ankle bracelets were introduced in New Mexico. The devices were picked up by justice departments around the US two years later.
14. Wonder Woman was created by the inventor of the polygraph test, William Marston. Marston recognised the great educational potential of comic books but, struck by the amount of testerone swilling around the pages of adventure serials, wanted to create a new kind of superhero, one that who could triumph not with fists or firepower. but love. His wife, Elizabeth, persuaded him to make his hero a woman, and thus Wonder Woman was born. The character made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) and was soon a hit. Although she was supposed to be empowering, she did spend a fair amount of her time, rather kinkily, tied to chairs.
15. Watchmen writer Alan Moore had his name taken off the credits of the graphic novel’s film adaptation because of bad Holloywood experiences. Moore has had several of his comics turned into movies – From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta - but they’ve all left him bitterly disappointed. The last straw was the box office bomb League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery. Moore’s story was managled by producers and then his reputation was tarnished when two screenwriters, Martin Poll and Larry Cohen, filed a lawsuit against the film’s makers, 20th Century Fox, claiming that they plagiarised their script, Cast of Characters, and commissioned Moore to create the comic book as smokescreen for poaching the idea. The allegations shocked Moore and Moore had to end up giving a ten-hour deposition, which left him very bitter as did Fox’s decision to settle the case. He felt that this was almost an admission of his guilt. The end result was that he completely severed his connections with Hollywood, to the extent that he refused to take any money for the 2005 movie of his graphic novel V for Vendetta or Watchmen.
16. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’Neill once had his whole drawing style banned as offensive by the Comics Code Authority. He told the London Times last year: ”Alan Moore had this story called Tigers, which was about the temptation of Abin Sur, [the man] who gave Hal Jordan the Green Lantern his powers. It was a great story, I sent the artwork in and a week later I got a call from the editor saying, ‘You’ve got a big problem with the Comics Code.’ My first thought was, ‘Does that still exist?’ I mean this was like the ’80s and this thing came from the 1950s’ horror comic crisis. It was a little measly stamp in the corner of a comic that shrank every few years. No one took any notice of the damn thing – I’m sure retailers didn’t. It was ridiculous. So I said, ‘Do you want me to change something?’ and he said, ‘No, they called us up and said they can’t pass this artwork.’ He asked them, ‘Well, what could we change to make it better?’ and they said, ‘Nothing, it’s the whole style.’
17. The Hulk that appeared in the classic TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was almost red in colour. In an interview with film website IGN, the show’s executive producer, Kenneth Johnson, said: “I asked Stan Lee, ‘Man, what’s the logic of green? Is he the envious Hulk? Is he green with envy or jealousy?’ The colour of rage is red, which I was pushing for because it’s a real human colour – you know, when people get flushed with anger.” Lee told him that the Hulk had in fact started out grey but due to problems with colour separation, the colour printed differently each time it was used. “Our printer came to us and said we can do a pretty consistent green, so we decided to go with green,” Lee said. Thus the Hulk was coloured green from issue two of the Incredible Hulk onwards, although without any explanation. On hearing this, Johnson remembers telling Lee: “That’s not really very organic! But that was a battle I could not win. I couldn’t make the Hulk red because he was just too iconic already in the comic books.”
18. One change Johnson did get to make was to the name of the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner. He switched it to David Banner because of his antipathy towards alliterative names, not because, as some fans had claimed, he thought the name Bruce sounded too gay. “I don’t recall feeling that way at the time, because Bruce Wayne was a pretty straight guy. But it was more the alliteration that bothered me, the Lois Lane, Clark Kent, that sort of thing. I was trying to get as far away from the comic book origins as I possibly could. Virtually the only things I kept from the comic book were gamma rays, the green Hulk and the metamorphosis. When you put somebody into a story whose name is Bruce Banner, it immediately starts to sound comic-booky, and I was very anxious to attract an adult audience because I knew that we could not have a hit show if we just had kids watching us.”
This was not the first time Banner’s name was changed. For a short period Lee himself referred to Bruce Banner as Bob Banner. At the time Lee was juggling dozens of titles and often had difficulty keeping track of all the characters he was writing. He said that alliterative names made them easier to remember. However, he did slip up from time to time, most noticeably in Fantastic Four No. 25, where he introduced the Hulk as Bob. Marvel’s ever-vigilant fans did not shy away from pointing out his mistake and in the letters page three issues later, Lee responded in true showman style: “There’s only one thing to do – we’re not going to take the cowardly way out. From now on his name is Robert Bruce Banner – so we can’t go wrong no matter WHAT we call him!”
19. The line most associated with the Hulk TV series, “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, appears in both the 2003 and 2008 Hulk films, although in the latter it is played for laughs. When Edward Norton, as Bruce Banner, is surrounded by a group of Brazilian thugs, he tries to warn them off with some very ropey Portugese: “Don’t make me hungry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”
20. Marvel went bankrupt in 1996. The financier Ron Perelman bought Marvel for $82.5 million in 1989, putting up $10.5 million of his own money and borrowing the rest. After taking the company public he went on a buying spree, hovering up trading card companies and taking a controlling interest in a toy company. It was a bad move – the trading card and collectible market tanked – and Marvel became swollen with debt. In 1996 Marvel missed an interest payment, putting it technically in default. Perelman offered to rescue Marvel by injecting $350 million but only if Marvel created more shares and give them to him. Carl Icahn, a bondholder and corporate raider, bought Marvel’s bonds and vowed to block Perelman. Marvel then filed for Chapter 11 protection in the bankruptcy court.
21. Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion at the end of last year. Fans have expressed concern that Spider-man will soon be fighting crime wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
22. The idea for Spider-man’s black costume came from a comics fan. In 1982 Marvel asked its readers for ideas for new Spider-man stories. Randy Schueller, a 22-year-old reader from Chicago, spent two weeks writing a story in which Spider-man ditches his red and blue threads for a sleek black costume. “It occurred to me that Spider-man is this character that creeps around in the shadows looking for bad guys, so why is he wearing this bright red and blue costume?” Schueller told the New York Post in 2007.
“It seemed like he should have more of a stealth mode.” A few months after sending his idea to Marvel, he got a letter from Jim Shooter, Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief, offering to buy it for $220. The film Spider-man 3, which conspicuously features the black costume, made almost a billion dollars at the box office.
23. X-Men No 1, published in 1991, is the world’s biggest-selling comic book. It sold close to 8 million copies.
24. In 1941 Stan Lee became Editor-in-Chief of Marvel, or Timely as it was known then, aged 18. He stayed in the role until 1972. Timely’s first Editor-in-Chief was Joe Simon.
25. The ’70s Fantastic Four cartoon series was missing the Human Torch, not because NBC executives feared he would inspire children to douse themselves in petrol, strike a match and shout “flame on”, but because the rights to the character belonged to Universal Studios. Universal would not allow NBC to use the Torch, so he was replaced by a cute talking robot named H.E.R.B.I.E.
26. The word “sex” was hidden on almost every page of an X-Men comic. In New X-Men No. 118 It surreptitiously appears in hair strands, bottles of whisky, a hedge, a puddle, tree branches, protest signs and, thanks to some conveniently placed garden tools, a lawn. The book’s artist, Ethan Van Sciver, has said that he scattered the word throughout the book because Marvel was annoying him at the time and he thought that it would be fun to inject a little mischief into his work. Weirdly, this was the sort of activity that the psychologist Fredric Wertham railed hysterically against in the ’50s. He thought that comics were corrupting America’s youth, with their overt and covert depictions of sex and drugs, and his book on the subject, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Senate hearings and a strict moral code being imposed on the comic industry.
27. Batman has fought crime with some of literature’s greatest heroes, from Superman and Spider-man to Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan, but he’s also shared his Batmobile with the dregs. His worst team-up has to be with Scooby-Doo, in the mentally scarring 1972 cartoon Scooby-Doo Meets Batman – Holy Zoinks Batman!
28. Batman and Robin was recently voted the worst movie of all time by readers of Empire, and while it is eyeball-gougingly bad – it is hard to believe that Arnie’s killer puns as the villain Mr Freeze were written by an Oscar-winning writer – there are worse superhero movies out there: The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren, Barb Wire, starring Pamela Anderson, Captain America, starring nobody you’ve ever heard of.
29. Superman was once criticised by the War Department for not showing nuclear weapons the proper respect. During the Second World War American authorities became alarmed by a 1940s Superman story in which the Man of Steel battled an evil professor who possessed an early particle accelerator. They fired off a letter the District Engineer at the United States Engineer Office in Tennessee complaining that having such a device in a comic book would lessen the public’s fear of nuclear weapons.
30. Marvel once owned the rights to the word zombie. As improbable as it sounds, Marvel attempted to trademark the word zombie in comic book titles after publishing Tale of the Zombie in 1973. By the time the trademark was approved two years later, the series was coming to an end. Marvel lost the trademark in 1996 but it wasn’t long before it was once again trademarking the armies of the undead, registering the words Marvel Zombies to protect its comic series of the same name. With DC, Marvel also trademarked “Super Hero”.
31. Stan Lee sued Marvel. Lee filed a $10 million lawsuit against his employer in 2002, saying it had cheated him out of millions of dollars. He claimed that Marvel had signed a deal giving him 10 per cent of any profits made from films and TV shows that used his characters. Marvel settled the suit. Last year the children of the late Jack Kirby, who created the Fantastic Four and scores of other superhero titles with Lee, began a legal fight with Marvel and Disney to recapture the copyright to Kirby’s creations. The heirs of Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster are engaged in similar fight with Warner Bros.
32. DC once asked its readers how interested they were in black people. A customer survey printed at the back of Justice League of America No. 83 (September 1970) asked readers all sorts of bland marketing questions, but tucked away rather innocently in a section titled How Interested Are You In . . . between space flights and pollution is a box for black people. It is not known how many Batman and Superman fans ticked yes.
33. The mayor of New York personally promised to protect the creators of Captain America from Nazis. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby received death threats after Captain America Comics appeared. The first issue showed Cap punching Hitler on the kisser, the second had him smacking the Fuhrer with his trusty shield. The books were a hit, but not with America’s isolationists and Nazi sympathisers, and America was not yet at war with Germany. Simon, who like Kirby was Jewish, says in his autobiography, The Comic Book Makers: “Hitler was a marvellous foil; a ranting maniac … [but] no matter how hard we tried to make him a threatening force, Adolf invariably wound up as a buffoon – a clown. Evidently, this infuriated a lot of Nazi sympathisers. There was a substantial population of anti-war activists in the country. ‘American Firsters’ and other non-interventionist groups were well-organised. Then there was the German American Bund. They were all over the place, heavily financed and effective in spewing their propaganda of hate; a fifth column of Americans following the Third Reich party line. We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and vicious, obscene telephone calls. The theme was ‘death to the Jews’.
“At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats but people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch. We reported the threats to the police department and the result was a police guard on regular shifts patrolling the halls and office. No sooner than the men in blue arrived than the woman at the telephone switchboard signalled me excitedly. ‘There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor La Guardia. He wants to speak to the editor of Captain America Comics.’ I was incredulous as I picked up the phone but there was no mistaking the shrill voice. ‘You boys over there are doing a good job,’ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’ I thanked him.”
34. The Nazi High Command had an equal disking for Superman, so much so it took the trouble to write an almost ludicrous rebuttal of one of the hero’s adventures. In February 1940, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote a patriotic Superman story for Look magazine titled How Would Superman End the War? In it Superman disables the Nazi war machine, arrests a gobsmacked Hitler and Stalin and hands them them over to the League of Nations for some good old-fashioned Western justice. According to historian Randall Bytwerk, the Nazis took issue with the story two months later in the official newspaper of the SS, Das Schwarze Korps. Here a few highlights of the article, as translated by Bytwerk:
“Jerry Siegel, an intellectually and physically circumcised chap who has his headquarters in New York, is the inventor of a colourful figure with an impressive appearance, a powerful body, and a red swim suit who enjoys the ability to fly through the ether.
“The inventive Israelite named this pleasant guy with an overdeveloped body and underdeveloped mind Superman. He advertised widely Superman’s sense of justice, well-suited for imitation by the American youth. As you can see, there is nothing the Sadducees won’t do for money!
“… A triumphant final frame [of the story] shows Superman dropping in at the headquarters of the chatterboxes at the League of Nations in Geneva. Although the rules of the establishment probably prohibit people in bathing suits from participating in their deliberations, Superman ignores them as well as the other laws of physics, logic, and life in general.
“Jerry Siegellack stinks. Woe to the American youth, who must live in such a poisoned atmosphere and don’t even notice the poison they swallow daily.”
35. DC deliberately deleted the words “Jews” and “Jewish” from a Superman comic set during the Holocaust. In 1998 DC decided to have Superman travel back in time to confront the horrors of the Holocaust, but despite the fact the character was created by two Jewish Americans, writers had to refer to Jews as the “target population of the Nazis’ hate” or “murdered residents”. After a flood of complaints DC apologised, saying they had banned the words because they didn’t want kids using them as terms of abuse. Joey Cavalieri, the book’s editor, said at the time: “Since this could be the first time (a reader) encounters the Jews in print, I would be heartbroken if this (story) went badly.”
36. Artist Dave Cockrum’s resignation letter to Marvel surreptitiously appeared in Iron Man No. 127. In the issue, Tony Stark’s butler, Jarvis, resigns after a drunk and out of control Stark verbally abuses him. The letter reads:
I am leaving because this is no longer the team-spirited “one big happy family” I once loved working for. Over the past year or so I have watched Avengers’ morale disintegrate to the point that, rather than being a team or a family, it is now a large collection of unhappy individuals simmering in their own personal stew of repressed anger, resentment and frustration. I have seen a lot of my friends silently enduring unfair, malicious or vindictive treatment.
My personal grievances are relatively slight by comparison to some, but I don’t intend to silently endure. I’ve watched the Avengers be disbanded, uprooted and shuffled around. I’ve become firmly convinced that this was done with the idea of “showing the hired help who’s Boss”.
I don’t intend to wait around to see what’s next.
Three issues later Iron Man’s writer, David Michelinie, explained to readers that this was the not the letter Jarvis had intended to write and that due to a production error the wrong text was published. The letter that appeared was none other than Cockrum’s own resignation letter, only someone had swapped “Marvel” for “Avengers”.
37. Marvel dreamt up Optimus Prime and Megatron. In the early Eighties toy manufacturer Hasbro asked Marvel for help with its new action figure line, Transformers. The robots that disguised themselves as cars and planes were Japanese in origin and needed new names and backgrounds – Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter and writers Denny O’Neil and Bob Budiansky were given the task. In an interview in 2004 Budiansky said: “Shooter and O’Neil came up with the backstory. Shooter brought me in when most of the initial names and at least some of the character profiles were rejected by Hasbro. For whatever reason, Denny declined to revise them. So, facing an imminent deadline, Shooter scoured the Marvel editorial offices looking for someone who could write at least basic English. The first few Marvel editors Shooter approached, all with more writing experience than me, wanted nothing to do with Transformers. I was probably Shooter’s third or fourth choice. I turned around the revisions over a couple of days – right before Thanksgiving of 1983 – and Hasbro was very pleased with what I wrote. I renamed most of the characters – Optimus Prime was Denny’s, Megatron was mine – and revised some character profiles.”
38. The writer Tom Wolfe once appeared in the pages of the Incredible Hulk. The author of Bonfire of the Vanities was a great admirer of Marvel and had even made reference to its hero magician Dr Strange in his 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Three years later Marvel returned the favour by adapting his short story Those Radical Chic Evenings for the Hulk. In Radical Chic Wolfe tears into New York’s white liberal elite for espousing radical causes they didn’t actually believe in. In an Hulk issue titled They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?, the writer Roy Thomas took the premise and, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, ran with it. He has a rich couple from New York host a fund-raising party for the Hulk. In doing so they upset their feminist daughter, who had wanted them to host a party for women’s rights. One of the Hulk’s villains appears and gives the girl superpowers so she can beat up the Hulk in the name of feminism (the book’s cover shows the girl holding a defeated Hulk above her head and shouting to the world: “Every male chauvinist pig will tremble when he sees the Hulk thrown to his death – by a woman!”). Wolfe himself appears at the fundraising party in his trademark white suit.
39. Tobey Maguire wasn’t the first actor to play Spider-man on screen. Between 1977 and 1979 CBS aired a live-action Spider-man TV series with Nicholas Hammond in the title role.
40. Terminator director James Cameron tried to make a Spider-man film in the ’90s but was frustrated by a complicated rights battle between studios over who owned the character. (You can see his storyboards for the film here and details of the film’s story here.) However, his idea to have Spidey’s webs shoot out of him organically was kept in the 2002 film made by Sam Raimi.
41. A Fantastic Four film exists that is so terrible it will never reach a screen. In 1992 the production company Constantin Film was in danger of losing the film rights to the Fantastic Four unless it started production on the movie by the end of the year. Lacking the $40 million it needed to make a full-budget film, it turned to low-budget movie supremo Roger Corman for help. He spent just $1.98 million to crank a quickie Fantastic Four movie. Constantin never intended to release the film but it never told the director or the actors this.
“Oh, that was a tragic event. I feel so sorry for the people involved,” Stan Lee remembered years later. “The director really tried his best, and so did the actors. They all thought that this was their big chance. But the movie was never supposed to be seen. Most people thought, ‘Jesus, what a terrible job that is! How corny! How cheap!’ They didn’t realize that it wasn’t meant to be any better than that. Unfortunately, the people working on the project didn’t know that, and they tried their best. Really, I feel so bad for all of them.”
42. Billy Dee Williams and Marlon Wayans were both paid not to appear in Batman Forever. Dee Williams, famous for playing Lando in the Star Wars saga, had appeared in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film as District Attorney Harvey Dent, and had signed a contract to play Dent’s evil alter-ego, Two-Face, in any sequel the villain appeared in. Wayans had been hired to appear as Robin in Batman Returns but Robin was axed when it became apparent that there were too many characters in the film. Like Dee Williams, he was set to appear in the third Batman film but when Burton quit the project and director Joel Schumacher was brought in, the roles were recast with two white men: Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face and Chris O’Donnell as Robin.
Wayans told the AV Club in 1998 about the farce: “I got paid for almost being Robin. Actually, I was Robin: They paid me, and then they decided they wanted somebody else. I was like, ‘Hey, as long as the check clears, baby.’ I was supposed to do the second one. I got my wardrobe fitted and everything, and what happened was that there were too many characters, and they felt Robin wouldn’t be of service. So they put me in the third one, and when the third one came around, they got a new director on it [Joel Schumacher replaced Tim Burton], and their vision of the project changed. They decided they wanted somebody white to play Robin.”
Other actors who have come close to hamming it up in the Batman universe include: Robin Williams as both the Riddler and the Joker, Annette Benning, Geena Davis and Brooke Shields as Catwoman, Bob Hoskins and Dustin Hoffman as the Penguin, Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone, Anthony Hopkins and Patrick Stewart as Mr Freeze, Christian Bale as Robin and Alec Baldwin, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Bill Murray, Joshua Jackson, Billy Crudup, Cillian Murphy and Jake Gyllenhaal as Batman.
43. Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen was to appear in a movie version of She Hulk. Although the film never got off the ground, Marvel did get as far as taking pictures of Nielsen dressed as She Hulk.
44. The strip Stan Lee is most proud of is the one he wrote for the Incredible Hulk/Spider-man toilet paper.
Why? Because, if you didn’t like it, you knew exactly what to do with it.
45. Daredevil artist Wally Wood once corrupted the morals of Mickey Mouse. Wood, who came up with Daredevil’s signature red costume, also drew the Disneyland Memorial Orgy, which shows Disney favourites engaged in some very unDisney activities. Dumbo has never looked so shocked.
46. Stan Lee officiated at Spider-man’s wedding. In 1987 Marvel decided to let Peter Parker get hitched to his model girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. The event took place in Amazing Spider-man Annual No. 21 and, bizarrely, in real life at the Shea Stadium in New York with Lee presiding.
Although the marriage generated the publicity Marvel hoped it would, later writers and editors rued the event, believing a married Peter Parker limited them creatively. They eventually got round the marriage in 2007 by having the devil Mephisto erase it from everyone’s memory – the ctrl alt delete approach to storytelling.
47. Barack Obama appeared on the cover of Amazing Spider-man No. 583 in celebration of his inauguration but he is not the first US president to feature in a Marvel comic. His predecessor, George W. Bush, turned up to congratulate Captain America in The Ultimates while Jimmy Carter appealed to the Avengers for help in Uncanny X-Men No. 135 after a super-villain destroyed a swanky part of down-town New York. The most controversial presidential appearance was one made by Richard Nixon. In Captain America No. 175, published a month before Nixon resigned the presidency, the Cap uncovers the identity of a high-ranking government official who has been directing an evil plot to enslave America. On being exposed, the villain kills himself infront of the Cap. We never see his face, nor is he explicitly named but it is clear that the villain is Nixon.
The comic’s writer, Steve Englehart, recalled: “America was moving from the Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate. I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.”
48. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, found writing comics too difficult. Before he found fame as a novelist, Puzo eked a living writing for men’s adventure magazines. Short of cash one month, he asked Stan Lee if he could try his hand writing a comic script. Lee readily agreed but Puzo couldn’t deliver the goods. “He said it was too difficult,” Lee recounts in his autobiography. Puzo told him: “I could write a novel in the time it would take me to figure this damn thing out.” Puzo did eventually crack the superhero nut, writing the screenplays for the first two Superman movies.
49. Wolverine was created as a punching bag for the Hulk. He was introduced in issue 180 of the Incredible Hulk as a pint-sized Canadian superhero charged with bringing down the Hulk. The book’s writer, Len Wein, created Wolverine with artist John Romita and although Wolvie is different from the lone brawler he is now, many of his trademark characteristics appear in the issue: the claws, the rough temperament, the yellow and blue costume and the strange mask with pointy ears. Although Wolvie was a secondary character, Wein thought he would be able to use him again in the revived X-Men book he was planning.
50. During the Fifties Captain America was a “Commie Smasher”. The hero was retired in 1950 but he was brought back to purge America of Reds and traitors in the pages of Young Men Comics, just as the country was coming to terms with the horrors of McCarthyism. The Red-bashing adventures did not last long and when Marvel revived Captain America again in 1964, it forgot the embarrassing Fifties, and created a story that he had lain frozen in ice since the end of the Second World War.
51. Death in the Marvel Universe has to be by the rules. In the preface to the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead, editor Mark Grunewald touches on the phenomenon of dead heroes and villains miraculously coming back to life. “Characters such as Doctor Doom have made it their stock in trade to escape one seeming death after another,” he writes. He handily draws up a rough guide to sorting out the fake deaths from the real ones. For a death to be real it has to take place in the comic panel, and not simply referred to in dialogue. The remains must be seen by two qualified witnesses and must be destroyed – burial is not enough in a universe where zombies and vampires exist. Of course all these rules have been wilfully ignored by writers at some time or another. The other abiding rule of the Marvel Universe was that Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky, and Spider-man’s uncle, Ben, had to stay dead. This rule has also been broken.
52. Marvel is home to the first openly gay superhero. Northstar, a French-Canadian mutant, came out in Alpha Flight No. 106 in 1992.
53. Spider-man got his very own car, the Spider-Mobile, as a result of merchandising deal between Marvel and Corona Motors. The ludicrous beach buggy, which was eventually modified to imitate Spidey’s powers, made its debut in Amazing Spider-man No. 130 in 1974. Shamelessly, the issue features Corona Motors offering Spidey a lot of loot to endorse a new non-polluting car it has developed. A few issues later he ditched the buggy into the river.