Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flashback: The End of the Legion's Silver Age

Another dip into my email archives. Back in 1998, I asked on the mailing list of the Grand Comics Database about the Legion's move to "Superboy" after its home in "Action". I got responses from Dave Blanchard and Rich Morissey; the late Rich Morissey may be known to you as an early founder of Legion fandom as well as being a comics historian (and the inspiration for Jim Shooter's M'r'ssey character). Seeing as how all of the principals at DC involved in the move (Weisinger, Bridwell, and Boltinoff) have died, this may be the closest to a definitive response we'll ever get.

My original question was: were the first four LSH backup strips (in Superboy 172, 173, 176, and 183, cover dated March 1971 to April 1972) commissioned under Weisinger's helm as editor? I had been wondering about this to see where the unofficial end of the Silver Age Legion stories would be – the Action Comics run was definitely Silver Age, since it was credited to Mort Weisinger, the only editor the Legion had had up to that point. And starting with the story in issue 184, Dave Cockrum started working with Cary Bates, and that was clearly post-Silver Age. So what about those four issues in between? If they were commissioned by Weisinger for Action Comics but used in Superboy, then the break is between 183 and 184. But if they were commissioned by Boltinoff, who was the editor of Superboy at the time, then the end of the Action run would be the break point. The four issues in question contain stories by Bridwell and Bates, all with art by George Tuska (with one story inked by Vince Colletta); the later Action stories had been written by Bridwell and Bates, with art by Win Mortimer and Jack Abel, so the fact that Tuska did only those stories is no help. On the other hand, Cary Bates has never really been considered a Silver Age writer, more closely identified with Bronze Age. Does the writer or editor matter more here?

(In order, below: the covers and links to issues 172, 173, 176, 183, and 184.)

(Images and links via the Grand Comics Database)

Dave Blanchard wrote:
This is just a speculation, but Weisinger had been in "retirement mode" for quite some time before finally stepping down near the end of 1970. For instance, I've heard it said that Bridwell actually edited Mort's last two issues of SUPERMAN (#s 230-231, an Imaginary story pitting Super-Luthor vs. Killer Kent; Bridwell got credit for editing # 232, a GIANT issue).

At 12:21 PM 3/24/98 EST, Rich Morissey wrote:
He did. Bridwell told me so himself, and Swan's pencils on those issues were inked by Dan Adkins... a definite change from the Weisinger inkers (he'd used Esposito, Roussos, and Abel after losing Swan, and Murphy Anderson on some covers) as well as Schwartz (who used Anderson all the way along, with rare exceptions inked by Swan himself and Dick Giordano).

Dave Blanchard wrote:
I would venture to say it's more likely Boltinoff commissioned the Legion stories in question.

At 12:21 PM 3/24/98 EST, Rich Morissey wrote:
I'd say he definitely did. He was working closely with Bridwell and Bates, especially on ACTION COMICS (which he'd just inherited from Weisinger); it was probably his decision to move the feature to SUPERBOY. But the deciding factor to me is the LENGTH of the stories. Weisinger backups (at least since 1959, when he pioneered the two-feature comic) tended to be about the same length as the leads, whereas Boltinoff favored what seemed to be the company preference at the time of a 14- or 15-page lead and a 7- or 8-page backup. If the stories had been commissioned for Weisinger, they'd probably have run the 10 to 13 pages the ACTION backups did, rather than a mere 7 pages each.

Admittedly the fourth story ran 11 pages, comparable to a Weisinger backup, but all the evidence of the lettercols indicates the length was (a) a result of reader complaints about squeezing a 25-member team into 7-page stories, and (b) an opportunity provided by the 48-page format pioneered by DC in the spring of 1971, which allowed as many as 26 new pages of story material... an innovation definitely postdating Weisinger's departure.

Weisinger didn't seem to leave much inventory on any of his strips... especially the Legion, due in part to his disagreements with his departing writer, Jim Shooter. (Disagreements were frequent among people who worked for Weisinger... check out Alvin Schwartz's AN UNLIKELY PROPHET for a detailed account of another one by a writer of a completely different generation. For that matter, they weren't too uncommon when Shooter had *his* day as an editor, either...) By his last year, he was using up even what inventory he had. His last actual issue as editor, SUPERMAN #229, closes out with a story by Wayne Boring... almost certainly from inventory, since Boring was otherwise gone by 1967; his last story being that year's three-part "Mighty Annihilator" serial in ACTION. In a way, it's appropriate that Weisinger and Boring (the two men who, between them, most set the style for Superman after the 1948 departure of Siegel and Shuster) should go out at the first time, but it shows how... uh, unique... Weisinger's mode of operation was.

Rich Morrissey

So there you go. Now you know... the rest of the story.


Anonymous said...

(Disagreements were frequent among people who worked for Weisinger... check out Alvin Schwartz's AN UNLIKELY PROPHET for a detailed account of another one by a writer of a completely different generation. For that matter, they weren't too uncommon when Shooter had *his* day as an editor, either...)

Lol, considering the recent year and Shooter, that could be a response now not from a decade ago.

AFOB said...

Considering how I never Knew who Rich Morrissey was until after his passing and getting the Legion Outpost, etc., we lost a real treasure trove of information and insight. Thanks for filling in admirably Mike. This was info I had not heard before.

RAB said...

Speaking as someone who knew Rich Morrissey in real life, I can say AFOB is exactly right, and second those thanks to Mike for reprinting these.