Much as I love to take credit for the various and sundry things I’ve created in comics over the years, I’m afraid Arkham Asylum isn’t one of them. While I can’t remember the actual first mention of Arkham, I’d wager dollars to doorknobs that it was in a story by Denny O’Neil, possibly one featuring Two-Face. I will however happily take credit for writing the origin of Arkham Asylum in the first issue of the original WHO’S WHO IN THE DCU, a one-page stream of conscious exercise by your humble editor that was taken by Grant Morrison and expanded into his ARKHAM ASYLUM hardcover one-shot for which he earned, I guarantee you, a great deal more than I ever did for coming up with the damn backstory to begin with.
— Len Wein
Thanks, Len. A couple of other readers wrote to point out the earlier appearances of Arkham (some of which I should have remembered, having worked with editor Julie Schwartz on the short-lived JOKER book in the mid-70s). Not surprisingly, my official unofficial researcher John Wells has provided a complete history…
- DC’s own
WHO’S WHO #13
- (1991) named Arkham’s first appearance as 1980’s
- , which was off the mark by six years!
- magazine has since cited that issue of
- as the debut, also.
Actually, Denny O’Neil introduced the asylum in 1974’s BATMAN #258, which established the Joker and Two-Face as residents. Here and in #260, it was referred to as Arkham Hospital, “a polite name for an asylum which houses the criminally insane.” These early stories also placed the building in Arkham, New England, NOT Gotham City.
The name began to evolve in O’Neil’s 1975 JOKER comic book, where he referred to Arkham Asylum consistently in captions even as the art continued to feature a sign reading Arkham Hospital (JOKER #s 1, 2, 7-9). Arkham also showed up in Gerry Conway’s 1975 JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #126.
The integration of Arkham Asylum was gradual. 1977’s BATMAN #286 and DC SUPER-STARS #14 both established it as “north of Gotham” and 1979’s BATMAN #311 and GREEN LANTERN #117 finally saw the facility referred to as Arkham Asylum in both art and text. Len Wein, who had previously described it as “Arkham Sanitarium” in DETECTIVE #477 and BRAVE & BOLD #143, officially established the location as “deep in the suburbs of Gotham City” (1980’s BATMAN #326).
Before the (IMHO) ill-advised decision to place EVERY Bat-villain in Arkham, the only “regulars” were the Joker and Two-Face. The Dummy faked dementia to get in (1977’s WORLD’S FINEST #247) and genuinely mad figures like Rupert Thorne (1978’s DETECTIVE # 477), Dancer (B&B #143), Doc Willard (WORLD’S FINEST #254), the Crumbler (1979’s GL #117), Mister Thornton (SUPERMAN FAMILY #197) and Maxie Zeus (DETECTIVE #s 486 and 491) were said to be confined there.
The 1980s saw a major proliferation of Arkham appearances, including the gradual transfer of most of the Bat-villains to the facility. The Arkham entry in 1985’s WHO’S WHO #1 established the origin of Arkham for the first time though it was left to Grant Morrison’s ARKHAM ASYLUM graphic novel to bring the events to life.
Alan Grant’s SHADOW OF THE BAT #s 1-4 (1992) brought in Jeremiah Arkham as the hospital’s administrator. Bane and his forces destroyed the original Arkham structure in BATMAN #491 (1993) forcing the temporary confinement of the inmates in Blackgate Prison (SHOWCASE ’94 #s 3-4). The new Arkham first appeared in 1995’s BATMAN #521.
— John Wells ([email protected])
MORE FEEDBACK DEPARTMENT:
While not a full-fledged trade paperback or Archive, there is a 60s Wonder Woman collection solicited for December. One of DC’s “what if there had been an Annual in 1967 for ” series, WONDER WOMAN 1967 ANNUAL will be an 80-PAGE GIANT and contain “Villainy Incorporated,” from WONDER WOMAN #28, “Eagle of Space” from #105, “Wanted: Wonder Woman” from #108 and “Revolt of Wonder Woman!” from #144.
By the way, for what it’s worth, while the Earth-2 Green Arrow and Speedy apparently were still around when that All-Star Squadron picture changed, they indeed were later removed from continuity. Their replacements in the Seven Soldiers of Victory have seemingly varied since Crisis, but the last version I’ve seen had Quality’s Alias The Spider character (an archer, but retconned into a crook pretending to be a hero) and Vigilante’s sidekicks of Billy Gunn and Stuff the Chinatown Kid filling the GA and Speedy slots (only one Vig sidekick at a time), letting Wing remain an “Eighth Soldier”.
— Tom Galloway ([email protected])
I used to work at a comic book store about six years ago, and I personally knew of three copies of ACTION COMICS #1 in existance, having either personally seen them, or knowing others who have seen them. Plus, our store, while hunting for key golden age books for a customer, was offered at least 3 other copies. So, I’d say, since that makes six right there, that there would have to be at least a dozen.
— [email protected]
…Regarding the number of copies of ACTION #1: The CGC website has, in their census, 20 copies listed as slabbed (12 unrestored and 8 restored). So, if you figure that there still are a few (not that many, probably) copies yet to be sent to CGC, I reckon there are around 25-30 copies of that book still around.
— Raphe ([email protected])
MORE OF THE JOHN WELLS DEPARTMENT:
Some of the questions I receive can be answered fairly simply. Some require longer answers. Some deserve the kind of incredible research John Wells does. I’ve passed a few such questions along to John and he has responded with encyclopedic information. Here is his response to one of those questions.
I need more info on the Blazing Skull dude from MARVELS. He only shows up in one panel with Captain America as they’re flying out of the sky to kick Hitler’s butt. I was wondering what this dude’s origin is and if he has any connection to Ghost Rider? One would think that he does seeing as how they bear a striking resemblance. What are his powers? Who is he? What was his origin? Thanks.
— Sam Evans ([email protected])
One would certainly think there was a connection between the motorcycle-riding Ghost Riders and their Golden Age predecessor with the flaming skull, particularly after the Blazing Skull was billed as “Ghost Rider 1945” on the cover of MIDNIGHT SONS UNLIMITED #9. Such is not the case, though.
The Blazing Skull made his debut in Timely’s MYSTIC COMICS #5 (March, 1941), hanging around for a mere five episodes, the last of them in #9 (1942). Reporter Mark Todd wore a red costume with white crossbones on the chest and that flaming headgear whose color, according to Roy Thomas in 1993’s INVADERS [second series #3, “changed from issue to issue. He was given ill-defined powers by yet another race of eastern utopians, the so-called ‘Skull-Men,’ who were only mentioned, never shown.” Mark Todd’s name served, incidentally, as a subtle nod to his skeletal appearance. In German, “mark” translates to “marrow” and “tot” is “dead.”
Thomas initially revived the Blazing Skull in 1971’s AVENGERS #97, the climax of the legendary Kree-Skrull War (later recapped in AVENGERS FOREVER #1). Therein, Rick Jones — with an assist from the Supreme Intelligence — was able to bring the comic book heroes of youth to life as constructs intended to tackle the advancing Kree. Two decades later, Roy brought back the genuine article in 1993’s INVADERS [second series] #s 2-4, set in June of 1942. As portrayed here, the Blazing Skull was a smart aleck but a good fighter and acrobatic whose only true super-power was invulnerability to flame.
Thomas embellished the 1941 origin in INVADERS #3 and writer Dan Slott added a few more details in MIDNIGHT SONS UNLIMITED #9. Mark Todd was a reporter for New York’s Daily Globe, assigned to overseas coverage on behalf of the Federated Press Syndicate. In 1940, during his war coverage in China, Todd took refuge from Japanese shelling in a mountainous cavern and came face-to-face (so to speak) with the Skull-Men, a group of brilliant men who’d abandoned society. While in seclusion, they’d learned to turn their flesh invisible “to remind them not to be misled by physical appearance.” Their flaming aura was apparently a side effect.
The Skull-Men saw Todd as a vessel through which their beliefs could be broadcast to the outside and charged him with bringing “peace to the world.” Provided with a flaming mask, Mark initially thought the entire scenario was “a lot a’ hooey.” He was soon won over by the Skull-Men’s claims, taking the alternate identity of the Blazing Skull both abroad and in the United States. The Skull even abandoned the mask after he figured out how to mentally render his skin invisible.
In 1993, the modern-day Ghost Rider was a very hot commodity for Marvel and, while I’d imagine Roy would’ve featured the Blazing Skull regardless, the character’s presence in INVADERS had to have been a selling point to the Marvel higher-ups. Though the Blazing Skull worked with the Invaders both in the mini-series and — as you’ve noted — on the final page of Busiek & Ross’ MARVELS #1, there’s no evidence that he ever became a full member of the team.
There’s absolutely no question that Mark Todd’s presence in 1995’s MIDNIGHT SONS UNLIMITED #9 was motivated by his similarity to his modern look-alike. A striking Alex Ross cover sandwiched the Blazing Skull between the Mighty Destroyer and Union Jack while a caption screamed “Ghost Rider 1945.” The 43-page story was full of good humor, managed to use the Skull’s “stupid” [his word] protection from flame to good effect and even included a sequence in the final act that put our hero on a motorcycle.
And that was the last anyone’s seen of either Mark or the Blazing Skull in mainstream continuity (but his ghost showed up in a panel of 2000’s alternate future saga, UNIVERSE X: 4 #1). While writing an entry for 1993’s OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #32, though, researcher Murray Ward couldn’t resist a small reference. His subject was the villainess Ion, a nuclear physicist-turned-evil-ionized-cloud-of-hydrogen gas, and her real name was Voletta Todd. Among her known relatives was her Uncle Mark, “presumed deceased.”
The Blazing Skull hasn’t entirely gone unused, though. Jim Scully, of the short-lived 1970s series SKULL THE SLAYER, first appeared under that name in 1993’s QUASAR #s 45 and 46 and was revealed as Scully in CAPTAIN AMERICA #420. Bathed in a neon green aura, the second Blazing Skull is unable to revert to his human form and has the permanent appearance of a glowing human skeleton.
— John Wells ([email protected])
Next week, more questions and more answers. Meantime, don’t forget my daily Anything Goes Trivia at http://www.wfcomics.com/trivia.
Copyright ? 2000 to 2003 by Bob Rozakis. All Rights Reserved.