Did you know Jack Kirby almost made a bizarre comic strip based on Frank Zappa’s hit single Valley Girl? I didn’t either, and I found out too late to use it in this list, so I’m mentioning it here in the intro. Anyway, let’s get to the actual article: these are real comics that were almost published (but weren’t), and they’re all completely bonkers.
10. Jack Kirby’s Spider-Man
If you ever doubted Steve Ditko’s contribution as co-creator of Spider-Man, check out Jack Kirby’s original take on the character: he was a tall, muscular dude, and his costume included buccaneer boots, standard superhero trunks, and a gun holster. Why the gun holster, you ask? Because he shot web from a weapon, not his wrists (MADNESS!). Also, he had a magic ring that allowed him to transform back to his secret identity of teenage student Peter Parker — yep, in this version, Spider-Man was an adult, and probably shared as much of a personality with Peter Parker as Captain Planet does with the Planeteers.
Kirby had drawn five pages of his version when Stan Lee decided it wasn’t working out and brought in Steve Ditko to completely re-do the concept. Apparently it was Ditko who came up with the idea that Spider-Man should ALWAYS be a teenager, which was a pretty revolutionary concept for the time. Of course, we can’t really say Spider-Man was the first teenage superhero who wasn’t a sidekick, because a few decades earlier we had…
9. Jerry Siegel’s Superboy
The concept behind Superboy (“Superman, only a boy”) is pretty straightforward. How different could Jerry Siegel’s original idea for the character have been? Very different, it turns out: the “Superboy” Siegel pitched to DC Comics was an irresponsible 12 year old brat who used his powers exclusively to pull pranks on people. This is consistent with Siegel and Shuster’s depiction of baby Superman as a troublemaker in early Superman comics. So, rather than saving farmers from being run over by tractors, this version of Superboy would have spent his time placing cows on top of trees, or something.
DC turned down the idea, for some reason… and then went on to publish a comic called “Superboy” while Siegel was off serving in World War II. This version, first written by an uncredited Don Cameron, is the one that eventually went on to introduce us to concepts like the city of Smallville, Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Meanwhile, Siegel took his rejected “prankster superhero” idea and turned it into his next big hit: the tragically unfunny Funnyman.
8. Holy Terror, Batman!
I’m not trying to get cute with the name here: that’s what the comic was actually called. Written and drawn by Frank Miller (who else?), Holy Terror, Batman would have pitted the Dark Knight against Osama Bin Laden and the rest of Al Qaeda. Miller described it as “a piece of propaganda – Batman kicks al-Qa’eda’s ass,” comparing it to those old WWII comics where superheroes got to punch Hitler or slap random Japanese people. Miller never said much about the plot, but we know that it involved a terrorist attack on Gotham City, Catwoman somehow getting into trouble, and Batman killing a whole bunch of brown people, presumably.
Eventually, Miller decided to drop the “Batman” part, replacing him with a new character called The Fixer, probably because this means he can make the comic even more insane and violent. He was still working on Holy Terror last year, but we’re not sure if he’ll ever actually release it. It wouldn’t be the first time Miller drops a project that seems too insane to be true, like…
7. Frank Miller’s JESUS!
Here’s all we know about this one: it was by Frank Miller, it starred Jesus, and the title of the comic was all in caps, ending in an exclamation mark. If that isn’t enough to convince you this comic would have been completely nuts, you’ve probably never read anything by this guy. Bear in mind that this would have been published by Dark Horse, the same company that had recently put out Miller’s ultra-violent 300 and Sin City graphic novels. This man was not in a reflexive state of mind.
JESUS! was announced in 2000, but then Miller got distracted with other projects like DK2 and All-Star Bats, so we can safely assume he’s abandoned this one by now. He did, however, include a Jesus-looking character going on a violent revenge trip in Sin City: Hell and Back (the image is from there). And speaking of crazy Jesus comics that almost happened…
6. Swamp Thing meets Jesus
The idea of Swamp Thing, a monster made of plants, traveling back in time and meeting Jesus Christ sounds bizarre enough — but the comic was actually much, much weirder than that. The cover art showed Swampy becoming a wooden cross much like the one Jesus was crucified on (which would be within the scope of his shape-shifting powers), and it’s been widely reported that this moment was actually included in the issue. That is, Jesus was meant to be nailed on top of Swamp Thing. Another version of the story places Swampy under the cross, collecting Jesus’ blood with the Holy Grail. Either way, crazy stuff.
DC actually approved writer Rick Veitch’s proposal for this issue, and then cancelled it at the last minute — not because of the Swamp-Cross cover or the Grail moment, but because Veitch had written Jesus as if he was a simple magician, rather than the son of God. Apparently, DC has something against wizards.
5. Ghost Rider meets Casper
Another hard to believe crossover, though it becomes more feasible when you consider that at the time this was proposed, Marvel had recently published that abomination called Archie meets The Punisher. Around that same time, Ghost Rider writer Ivan Velez, Jr. decided to write a detailed proposal for a story where the Rider meets Casper, the Friendly Ghost. The story would have taken Ghost Rider to the Harvey Comics universe (home of Richie Rich and, um, others…) while stranding Casper in that cesspool of sex and violence that the Marvel Universe had become in the 90’s.
Here’s a sample line from the script: “Casper is freaked. He’s never seen so much violence. He fights the impulse to run away.” It looks like the story would have left the little guy completely traumatized. Marvel liked the idea enough to submit it to Harvey Comics, who responded by saying “What the hell is wrong you, Marvel?” We don’t know if those were their actual words, but we do know that Harvey shot down the idea and stopped inviting Marvel to their birthday forever.
4. Batman: Prince of Denmark
“Prince Batman” sounds like the title of an awesome movie soundtrack, but it’s actually the name of the main character in this rejected 1996 pitch by legendary Batman writer Steve Englehart. The Tragedy of BATMAN, Prince of Denmark would have been a 96-page Elseworlds special reimagining Bruce Wayne as the lead character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Bruce would spend most of the comic trying to decide if he should avenge the murder of his father — or, as Englehart put it on the cover of his pitch, “To be the Bat, or not to be…” (…the Bat).
We don’t know why DC decided they wanted nothing to do with this idea, or how far along Englehart had gotten before they shot it down (was there an artist attached to the project, and did he get to draw Batman with a crown?). All the writer says on his website is that it’s “Unpublished.” The biggest loss here is that we’ll never see the inevitable spin-off sequel, “Bullock and Montoya are dead.“
3. The Original Fantastic Four?
The reason Marvel Comics is a media giant right now, the reason characters like Iron Man, the X-Men or Hulk exist, is that at some point in the 60’s Stan Lee’s boss saw that DC’s Justice League of America comic was selling pretty well and told Lee to write something like that. A superhero team book. Instead of putting together a group of already existing superheroes, like DC had done, Lee decided to create a new team called the Fantastic Four, and the rest is history. Except that’s not how things happened, according to the FF’s co-creator Jack Kirby.
In a recent court deposition, Kirby’s close friend and personal assistant Mark Evanier stated that, according to Kirby, “Stan’s initial idea was to revive the characters from the 1940s The Human Torch, The Submariner, Captain America, and certain others.” If Evanier is correct, it was Kirby who suggested they should create new characters instead, thus kicking off the Marvel Revolution. Note that they still kept The Human Torch on the team (under a new identity), and that Namor the Submariner showed up a few issues later, which proves that they were in Lee’s mind at the time.
We’re not saying a comic with those old guys would have definitely sucked: there’s a huge chance it would have had the same effect the Fantastic Four did. Or, it could have faded into obscurity like the many other fine comics Lee and Kirby had been producing since the 50’s. A frightening prospect for anyone wearing Spider-Man boxers right now (that would be me).
2. The K-Metal from Krypton (1940)
Two years after introducing Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster said “right, that’s enough” and wrote a story where Clark Kent tells Lois who he really is — effectively ending that whole secret identity thing. Think about it: Clark Kent barely existed at the time. He was little more than a mask that Superman used when he didn’t feel like walking around in his underwear. Clark had no friends or family at this point… his whole personality was defined by his relationship with Lois. A relationship that Siegel and Shuster planned to take to the next level (one where Clark’s bumbling act would no longer be necessary), and would have done so if DC hadn’t pulled the plug on this comic.
The K-Metal from Krypton starts when a meteor made of something called “K-Metal” approaches Earth, taking away Superman’s powers. While investigating the meteor Superman discovers his alien origin from the first time. He also tells Lois his secret identity in order to get her help — you see, Siegel envisioned Lois and Clark as a bantering crime-solving couple, but DC didn’t like that approach so they scrapped the whole thing. However, the script found its way to the people who made the Superman radio show, who borrowed some elements from it: mainly, the “K-Metal”, renamed kryptonite, which was first mentioned on radio and eventually incorporated (or re-incorporated) into the comics almost a decade later. Same with the idea of having Superman learn his alien heritage. The scene where Superman tells Lois who he is took a little longer to resurface: about 51 years.
Another thing: The editor who insisted on dropping this story was the same guy who forced Bob Kane to undo The Joker’s death in the first issue of Batman, and also told him that Batman could no longer use a gun or kill people… and he did all that simply to remind the creators that DC owned the characters, not them. Apparently he came into the office one day and said to himself “okay, I’m gonna fuck with some people,” and inadvertently ended up changing two comic icons forever.
1. Alan Moore’s Twilight of the Superheroes
Shortly after Watchmen, Moore wrote this long proposal for a crossover event set in a future where all the DC superheroes (including Superman, Woman Woman and the rest) have taken over the world and turned into decadent bastards. It’s basically Dark Knight Returns meets Watchmen, only darker and more disturbing than both combined. DC Comics actually bought the proposal, but then Moore quit the company (for unrelated reasons) so the series was never made. DC later used some elements from the proposal in other stories, but not the superhero incest, or the superhero rape, and only a little bit of the superhero murder.
The proposal is very well written and the last scene is simply brilliant, but while reading it, a few things stand out: First, Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel are married in it, desp
ite being brother and sister. Second, there is an implied love scene between Billy Batson and J’onn J’onnz, posing as a prostitute, right before J’onn murders Batson in a cheap motel room. And third… what the hell, Doll Man? If the effect of Watchmen caused superhero comics to turn grim and gritty for a while, Twilight of the Superheroes would have turned the whole medium into a massive orgy of wrongness (and actual orgies).
Maxwell Yezpitelok can be found at http://twitter.com/mrmxy