Friday, December 28, 2007

Flashback: Why did the Legion leave Adventure Comics?

Another one from my email archives, celebrating 50 years of the Legion.

One question I remember coming up during discussions on usenet, mailing lists, and elsewhere while discussing Legion history was this: If the Legion was successful as the lead feature in "Adventure Comics", why did they move it to a backup slot in "Action Comics" and replace them with Supergirl, who had never had her own feature?

The question came up one day in late 1997 on the Grand Comics Database list - just a few days more than ten years ago. Comics historian Lou Mougin provided a pretty clear (though non-authoritative) response, which I reposted to the old LSH-L mailing list later. I recently asked Mark Waid (who's also a DC and Superman historian) and Paul Levitz (as current President and Publisher of DC, and DC employee since the early 1970s) for their thoughts, which are summarized at the bottom. Unfortunately, I don't think we kept copies of the email archives at the time, and this is the only post that I saved, so I can't show any more of the discussion.

Date: Sun, 21 Dec 1997 10:14:40 -0600
From: Lou Mougin
To: Grand Comics Database List
Subject: Re: Supergirl

Dear guys,

Since everyone else is putting his two cents plain into the Supergirl matter, I'll do mine as well.

The bit about Mort not wanting to put another book on his workload is undoubtedly true. Over the years, particularly in the late Sixties, reprints showed up more and more in JIMMY, LOIS, and even SUPERMAN, ACTION, and SUPERBOY. The only other book I can recall Mort taking over after WORLD'S FINEST was CAPTAIN ACTION in 1968, for all of two issues. (He gave it to Julie Schwartz thereafter.)

But it may not have been true of earlier days. Mark Waid once told me that Mort had planned to expand to at least two new titles: SUPERGIRL and SUPERBOY'S GIRL FRIEND, LANA LANG. (Yes!) I'm not sure where he heard the rumor, so we'll call this one Unconfirmed for right now.

However, if those titles were dreamed up in 1967, it's not hard to see what happened. The revenue generated by the Batman TV show's impact on sales was lessening as the show's popularity dropped. Many mainstream DC titles went on the ropes at this time. There were lots of cancellations, and DC went on a new tack, roping in Charlton staffers to create a new line of more Marvelesque, hipper titles (CREEPER, HAWK AND DOVE, BAT LASH, etc.). Faced with that, it's more than likely Uncle Mort decided not to test the market too much with two new titles. They would, of course, add to his workload, and Mort (according to the Gerry Jones book) may have been undergoing his nervous breakdown around this time, which would naturally make him think in terms of cutback, rather than expansion.

This conservatism may have been the reason for what happened to Supergirl and the Legion in 1969. The Legion in ADVENTURE was a solid seller, the only Weisinger book fans paid any attention to, and a proven hit since 1962. But Mort wanted a Supergirl book, and if he wasn't going to increase his load with another title, there were only two things he could do. He could give Supergirl all of ACTION, which was unthinkable, since Superman originated there and has been its star since 1938. Or he could give her ADVENTURE, shunt the Legion into her former spot, and hope that Kara was strong enough to carry the book.

Also, it's possible that Mort just wasn't all that wedded to the Legion. He allowed a story to be published in ACTION in which Superboy left the group, which would have been unthinkable back in their ADVENTURE days. The Legion has also been a traditionally difficult strip to write and draw; a writer has to know all the minutia of about 30 different characters and their 30th Century environment, and an artist has to draw all those characters and that environment. The Supergirl strip, with its one main easily-drawn character and its contemporary setting, would be a lot easier book to handle.

The story mentioned in which Superboy left the group is from Action Comics 387. Superboy quit the team due to tax purposes, since he made 26 members and groups with more than 25 had to pay some hefty taxes (never mind that they had RJ Brande on their side).

When I sent this to Mark Waid (whose encyclopedic Superman knowledge is legendary) recently, he replied he was sorry but "Wish I had anything more of historical note to add." Mark suggested that I ask Paul Levitz (whose 30+ years of employment at DC might be the longest stretch by anyone there), who said that "The emails strike me mostly as fannish speculation". Basically, he said that the editors weren't really the ones who launched titles (like the suggested Lana Lang title) per se - he doesn't know of any title that Weisinger "launched" himself back then, though it's clear he was the driving force behind them creatively once they were running. He said that he wasn't sure why the "Supergirl shift" decision was made and couldn't really offer any speculation, and said that even the editorial credits as printed might not help since it wasn't uncommon for other staffers to "close" a book when the indicia credited the regular editor.

So take this with a grain of salt. It's really just informed speculation, no matter how good it might sound, and there's nobody left who was associated with the book at the time to provide more information.


Duke said...

Wouldn't Jim Shooter have some insight? He was writing the Legion at the time, after all. If only we knew what he was up to these days . . .

Anonymous said...

Re: LSH Showcase #2

They're really not skipping anything, Michael.

The first Showcase volume ran up to Adventure #321. The only material from Adventure #316, 365, and Superman Annual #4 in this volume are the "Origin and Powers" pages (they put the pages from Adventure #316 and Supes Ann. #4 in volume 1... there's an expansion in Adventure #365 for newer Legionnaires).

So, volume 1 took us up to Adventure #321, volume 2 covers Adventure #322-348... The only actual issue they're skipping (and I think it's a good editorial decision) is Superboy #124 - the first appearance of Lana as Insect Queen (there's no Legionnaires in that story).

Hope this helps!

MaGnUs said...

Snort, tax reasons...