Thursday, April 01, 2010

Arm-Fall-Off Boy: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

CHAPTER 1: The Introduction

When you have a series with the history that the Legion has, dating back more than 50 years, you accumulate baggage, for better or worse, sometimes both. One concept both awesome and silly is the try-outs. In 50 years, I think the Legion is still unique in that it holds them. And dating back to the Silver Age, you've got your winners and you've got your losers.

This is not about one of the winners.

Today, on April Fool's Day, when everyone else is joking about serious things, I'm going to seriously cover one of the Legion's biggest jokes: Arm-Fall-Off Boy.

Most of the time when you see an article on the internet talking about the lamest super-heroes ever (like this, this, this, and this) three Legion-related characters often show up: Bouncing Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, and Arm-Fall-Off Boy. They don't seem to realize that Arm-Fall-Off Boy, at least, was created specifically to be lame, and therefore shouldn't really count against lame characters.

Anyway, in honor of April Fool's Day, here's a look at the history of Arm-Fall-Off Boy and his literary "older brother", Ear-Fall-Off Floyd.

[Note: I got started on this too late and didn't have enough time to get in touch with Jay Zilber or Roger Stern for their sections. I'll fill in the appropriate info if and when I get it.]


Also: visit Arm-Fall-Off Boy's Facebook page.


CHAPTER 2: Ear-Fall-Off Floyd

But believe it or not, Arm-Fall-Off Boy's roots go back to at least the 1970s, well before he first appeared in print. Legion fandom grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s through letter columns and fanzines like Interlac and The Legion Outpost. Among the many members of these groups, for varying lengths of time, were people like Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Jim Shooter, Mike Flynn, Harry Broertjes (whose names together inspired the Shooter-created character Flynt Brojj), Jay Zilber, and Gerard Jones.

Ear-Fall-Off Floyd (who briefly had his own now-deleted Wikipedia entry from which this information was taken) was a comic book superhero parody strip in which the would-be hero's "superpower" was that his ear would fall off in moments of crisis, written and edited by Jay L. Zilber and drawn by Jim McPherson. He appeared in the fanzine Fandom Funnies #3, December 1976. Fandom Funnies #3 was a parody of The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom (currently The Comics Buyer's Guide), titled "The Buyer's God for Comic Fandom". Ear-Fall-Off Floyd, whose name pretty much describes his super-power, was featured in two stories, one drawn in the DC Comics style, the other in the Marvel Comics style.

Here are a couple of images of Floyd from a statue, from photos on Jay's public Facebook page. Apparently the sound of one's ears popping off is POIK.



I couldn't get in touch with Jay himself, though, to see what he had to say about Floyd. I'll update this section if I get more.


CHAPTER 3: Arm-Fall-Off Boy and the Pre-Zero Hour Legion

Now, flash forward from 1976 to 1989. Writer Gerard Jones and artist Kurt Schaffenberger turned in their story for "Secret Origins" #46, featuring the secret origin of the Legion Clubhouse. In this story, the clubhouse was actually a facility sent by Jor-El and Lara of Krypton before it blew up; their son Kal-El would, of course, need Kryptonian supplies. But in the Post-Crisis DC Universe, that couldn't have happened, so the story was scrapped and a new one commissioned (this unpublished story survived and can be seen, among other places, at Superman.nu).

Mark Waid, editor of "Secret Origins":
I want to say that, as the SECRET ORIGINS editor, I pitched him writer Gerard Jones when we had to come up with an emergency replacement story for his original Schaffenberger-pencilled HQ origin. But it's entirely possible that Gerry came up with AFO on his own; historical records, as they say, are sketchy at best.  Either way, it was after KC Carlson pitched "Fortress Lad" as the centerpiece hero of the story.
The published story, written by Jones and with art by Curt Swan and Ty Templeton, brings Fortress Lad into continuity, but also introduces a failed applicant named Arm-Fall-Off Boy.

KC Carlson recalls (or not):
I'm sorry to say that I can't help you in determining the origins of Arm-Fall-Off Boy. I suspect that he's a creation of Mark Waid or Gerry Jones' fevered brains. And don't believe Waid's denials for a second. Ever since Mark Waid has become Evil, he's been backtracking or denying everything that he's ever said or done that fundamentally made him Mark Waid in the first place. Now, that's evil.

God help me, I'm already credited with the creation of Fortress Lad. Isn't that enough?

Wikipedia says that Gerry Jones created him. They would know. They're Super-Geniuses there.

Seriously though, I have no idea who came up with Arm-Fall-Off Boy. I was as surprised to see him in that story as was everybody else. Except maybe his mom, the former Arm-Fall-Off Girl. Perhaps she, along with the unnamed father, are the actual creators of Arm-Fall-Off Boy.
Now, to briefly digress, listen to Mark Waid's podcast "15 Minutes with Waid - Fortress Lad's Lament" in which he discusses the original Jones/Schaffenberger story and then the Fortress Lad story.

So that left Gerard "Gerry" Jones, writer of the Legion Clubhouse story. I asked if he had any recollections about it to share:
Early in my comics-writing days I joined Interlac briefly and even afterward hung out with several of its members. From one of them — possibly Mike Forrester or Mike Valerio, but maybe someone else entirely — I'd heard, or thought I'd heard, about a pseudo-character in Legion fandom called Arm-Fall-Off Boy. It could be that they were saying "Ear-Fall-Off Floyd" and I misunderstood, or it could be that one of them had misunderstood Ear-Fall-Off Floyd as Arm-Fall-Off Boy and passed it on to me. In any case, when I stuck Arm-Fall-Off Boy into that Secret Origins story I thought I was making a nod to Legion fandom but later discovered that I'd accidentally brought in something entirely new. Had we had more time I probably would have talked to Waid about it and gotten all this clarified, but that story was a last-second replacement for an earlier story that had been cut. Which is fortunate, ultimately. Now we have Arm-Fall-Off Boy, and yet Ear-Fall-Off Floyd is still out there awaiting his moment in the spotlight.
... I think I left [AFOB's design] mostly to Curt, although I believe I did specify that when his arm pops off we should somehow see the open socket in his body. It was a thrill to be working with Curt Swan on a Legion story, I must say.
You may not remember, but Arm-Fall-Off Boy has the distinction, as seen in this issue, of being the very first rejected Legion applicant. As can be guessed, his power was the ability to detach his limbs (in particular, his arms) with a PLORP and use them as clubs. The Legion didn't quite think that this was up to their standards of applicants, and considering he was their first applicant, that says something. Oh, and that's Fortress Lad of the planet Fwang in the familiar red and yellow in the back right corner of the first panel below.


Also: "A" is for Arm-Fall-Off Boy.

This was Arm-Fall-Off Boy's first and only appearance in Pre-Zero Hour continuity.


CHAPTER 4: Splitter and the Post-Zero Hour Legion

Believe it or not, Arm-Fall-Off Boy was lame in three continuities. After the Zero Hour reboot, Floyd Belkin applied to the Legion from Lallor, in Legionnaires #43 (the big try-out issue), as Splitter. That didn't go over well either. His costume is similar to his alternate-universe counterpart, but the Earth-247 version is much less bulky. Note Live Wire's comment about "Arm-Fall-Off Floyd".


Later, Splitter tries to help out in a battle, but has a panic attack and goes to pieces - literally. Wait, what's that sound that his limbs make as they pop off? POIT? Nearly the very same POIK that we saw and heard above, coming from Ear-Fall-Off Floyd.


Roger Stern wrote this issue. I asked him about his updating of Arm-Fall-Off Boy to Splitter, and where the name Floyd Belkin came from, but I contacted him too late to get a reply for this article (and I'll come back here with an update once I do). I figured that Floyd was an obvious reference to the earlier Ear-Fall-Off Floyd.

Ian Rowland says:
It is my crusade to make the comics people bring back Arm-Fall-Off Boy. I want the TV people to make an Arm-Fall-Off Boy live-action TV series, and Hollywood to make a major motion picture. Superman, Batman etc. are all very dull compared with Arm-Fall-Off Boy. Think of the merchandising - for the first time in history, you could have a doll or action figure where it doesn't matter if the arm comes off!

Can you imagine a comic book artist coming up with this idea? Discussing it with the guys down at the office? Isn't it majestic that someone actually gave the go-ahead for this character to appear? Life is more wonderful than we can ever imagine.
To the best of my recollection, this is the only place that Splitter appeared.


CHAPTER 5: Arm-Fall-Off Boy and the Animated TV Show Legion

The third Floyd appeared in the animated TV series continuity, in Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #16, written by Matthew K. Manning and art by Shawn McManus (cover by Alexander Serra). In this story, which is actually Floyd's story with the Legion as supporting characters, we see how even getting rejected by the Legion doesn't necessarily mean that you're TOO lame.

The original solicitation:
Written by Matthew Manning, Art by Shawn McManus, Cover by Alexander Serra

It's the issue you've been waiting for: The untold story of Arm-Fall-Off Boy! The embarrassingly powered would-be Legionnaire wants nothing more than a flight ring and for Saturn Girl to know his name. But since flight technology and easily detached limbs don't always mix, Arm-Fall-Off Boy has his work cut out for him!
Note that while the costume is similar, Floyd is now very scrawny, very far removed from his original counterpart.

 

Writer Matthew K. Manning posted on his blog at the time (May 2008) a series of sketches showing the evolution of this cover and how they came about using one that was a parody of the cover to Adventure 247. I asked him about his use of AFO Boy in that series:
Well it wasn't too hard to research Arm-Fall-Off Boy's history, as he's only made a few appearances that have all found their way into my collection over the years.  Essentially, this story came about as I was working up a Legion back-up pitch to try to show to Steve Wacker back when he was editing the title.  Unfortunately, the book ended before I got a chance to finish the pitch, and so I was stuck with a story that I really liked with no title to find a home for it.

When the new Legion cartoon debuted, I petitioned to write the tie-in comic, and despite becoming one of the title's regular writers, only ended up penning three issues before its cancelation.  Luckily enough, in that time I was able to sneak my Arm-Fall-Off Boy spotlight issue through.  Getting Shawn McManus to draw the issue made it even better, as I've been a fan of his since his Sandman days.  And the icing on the cake was Alex Serra's cover, an homage idea I pitched to him and luckily, both he and my editor, Jeanine Schaefer liked.  The "Applicant 247" in-joke was all Alex, though. 

I'm sure if the series continued, Arm-Fall-Off Boy would have at least made a cameo or two in other issues.  And if I ever get another shot at writing a Legion book, I'll do my best to continue Floyd's illustrious legacy.  Because if I don't, who will?

CHAPTER 6: Acknowledgements

Thanks to (alphabetically) KC Carlson, Gerard Jones, Matthew K. Manning, Mark Waid, and Jay Zilber, all of whom provided some information here and allowed me to excerpt their emails.


Previously on April Fool's Day:
2009: What if Superboy met the Legion on Facebook?
2008: Easiest Legion Quiz Ever and Mordru's Vaudeville Career
2007: Legion cartoon season 2 episode list
2006: Animated Legion exclusive news

7 comments:

MaGnUs said...

*clap clap clap* Excellent!

Jim Drew said...

Before the Secret Origins story, Arm-Fall-Off Boy was mentioned in one of the letter columns (or a Meanwhile...?), and if I recall correctly, it referenced him being mentioned in a 70s letter column as a reader suggestion. (Although that could certainly have been a reference to Ear-Fall-Off Floyd.)

George Grattan said...

Superb.

Wasn't there an ersatz Captain Marvel (pre-1970s DC revival) who had, um, "powers" similar to Splitter's when he uttered his magic word--Kablam, or something?

Michael said...

George - you're thinking of the MF Enterprises "Split/Xam" Captain Marvel, as seen here on Dial B for Blog, circa 1966. He was a robot who could disassemble his body parts by saying "SPLIT" and then reassemble them by saying "XAM".

Jim - I've seen references to his mention in a letter column somewhere (such as the last comment here) but I checked the Sannings site which has all of the Adventure lettercols, and he's not there. Could have been somewhere else (like "Superboy") in the 70s, or maybe even an "Ask the Answer Man".

Jim Drew said...

The mention I recall would be around 1986. I think it referenced something from years earlier, which may have been the EFO Floyd thing instead.

In terms of similar characters, one of the Image teams had one named Rubble. He could use his head as a bowling ball.

Anonymous said...

Ear-Fall-Off Floyd was drawn in Fandom Funnies #2 by Mercy Van Vlack. There was a one page Twinkies Ad written by Rich Morrissey. I can't recall for sure if he is in Fandom Funnies #1. I did the sculpture in my high school art class. There's 6 more pages of Ear-Fall-Off Floyd in Fandom Funnies 3 though I don't have time to scan them now. That's up to Jay Z.

I scanned this for a little tribute to Mike Valerio. I met him in 1975. or possibly 1974. WE went to the Boston Comic-Con and I met Rich Morrissey there. Later, in California,I also did makeup and a creature suit for Mike's unfinished movie King B.

I went to the Mike Valerio Memorial and had dinner with many of his friends from Malibu Comics.

Mike did a bit of writing for Fandom Funnies 3 to help me out but he didn't take a credit.
best,
Jim McPherson

here's a pic....

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2696/4489445671_e262a43f17_b.jpg

Anonymous said...

Splitter also appeared in Legionnaires #49, in a shot with the Heroes of Lallor. He is still "recovering" from his rejection by the Legion.