Imagine being a teenager during the early Silver Age of comics and getting to go on a tour of the offices at DC Comics. OK, now imagine they were just giving out original art like they give out lollipops at banks? Would you have kept the art for 60 years? Would you have sold it? Would you have shared it?
Well, legendary comics scribe Marv Wolfman — the creator of characters like Blade and The New Teen Titans, and writer of Crisis on Infinite Earths — went on those storied tours as a teenager in the early '60s, having been lucky to go to school but a few skips away from DC Headquarters in New York City. On one such occasion, he stumbled on a tour souvenir: a 12-page story titled, "Too Many Heroes" written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Shuster.
He kept it for over 50 years, and now fans will be able to read it for the first time as a part of the 384-page Action Comics #1000: 80 Years of Superman hardcover book on Apr. 19. The hardcover is comprised of numerous classic Superman tales reprinted, but "Too Many Heroes" is the crown jewel of the lot.
Wolfman is also supplying a script for the landmark Action Comics #1000 periodical with unpublished art by Curt Swan, one of the most significant artists of the Golden and Silver Ages of mainstream comics. SYFY WIRE spoke to Wolfman about both of these big contributions to Superman's 80th Anniversary.
What do you remember about the DC Comics tour, was it something that totally blew your mind as a young comics reader?
Marv Wolfman: Absolutely, especially the first time. You're inside a professional company, and two of the artists that I liked worked in the production department: Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson had drawing boards there. It was really cool, I got to talk to them, and they spent time with me. The fun of it was just being able to see what was coming out, what they were working on next. They had the tour every single week and one of the production people gave the tour and occasionally they would give us artwork.
Did they just hand it to you on the way out or did you get to pick it out?
In the case of the lost story for Action #1000, that story was among thousands of other pages being wheeled off to the incinerator. They told us if you want any of it, grab it. So we dove into it like Uncle Scrooge into his money bin and we just grabbed whatever we could. We didn't even have time to look at what we were grabbing.
Later, the four or five of us on the tour went downstairs and started trading amongst ourselves. I noticed I had almost all of a Superman story and the other guys had the few pages that I was missing. So I traded huge amounts of pages to get what I wanted, so I could have that totally unpublished story.
My heart sank when you said "incinerator".
I'm not condoning anything. You have to remember it was a different time period, and the artists didn't want their art back. They weren't interested at the time.
Were you amazed that they were as preserved as well as they were once you got them?
I don't know why [DC] kept them for so long. By that time, the pages were already 20 or 30 years old. They were only taking up space. It took all of us kids to show them that they had value. When the professionals started seeing kids trading artwork and selling artwork, that's when they decided that they wanted it. Comic book artists back then were not paid that well, so this would be a great supplement to their income.
Now, this is long before comics were seen as collectibles, or something you want to archive. Where do you store something like that?
It was in suitcases because this was 1940s artwork, which meant it was double-sized, larger than today's artwork. The suitcases were protected and large enough to store it.
Would this story or experience be an inspirational point for you and your career as a comic book writer?
No. That was my fan side and a pure fan thing that I absolutely loved, but it had nothing to do with my career in the slightest.
What made you share the pages with the public now?
Well, just to be clear, I never gave them up. I still have them. I just let DC publish them. My feeling was that if you're going to do something special for Action Comics #1000 and 80 years of Superman, then let's do something REALLY special. Plus, I didn't know if I'd be around for when we're celebrating 100 years of Superman. [Laughs]
You got to contribute a story for Action Comics #1000 and write around unpublished Curt Swan art, right?
I don't know what the original pages were meant for. Superman is not in it, and the copy in there had nothing to do with Superman. It was just four isolated pages of art by Curt, and it was my job to turn that into a story. So all the copy was eliminated and now all of the copy you see is mine. I came up with how to make Superman part of the story, I added a Superman villain, I took those four pages and figured out how to get a beginning, middle, and an end.
So it was a great challenge because I think the average person when they read it, won't even realize Superman isn't in it; we threw a Superman splash page on the last page so physically, he'd be in it. Other than that, he's not in the story at all, but as far as you know, he's throughout the whole story because you get that feeling he's there, even though you don't see him.
Was this the first time you had written a story in this method?
Oh no, back when I was an assistant editor, sometimes the editors would ask me to take an old story and come up with an entirely new script based on the artwork. So I love challenges like that and I find that amazing to try and do. When it works it's just wonderful. Recently [in mid-2017] I did that The New Teen Titans: Games graphic novel that George Perez and I did. We had plotted it back in 1985 and George drew the first 70 pages but 25-30 years later, we felt the story didn't work. So I came up with a whole new story written around the original artwork. Nobody was able to tell because it matched the artwork.
What does it mean for you to be a part of Action Comics #1000?
I'm thrilled that they asked me. I've written Superman in six different decades, which seems impossible, but if you accept the fact that I wrote a story at the end of 1969 and the beginning of 1970, then that accounts for two decades. I've got a long-lasting connection to Superman and he is my favorite character -- to be asked to be a part of it, is great.
How significant is it for Superman to reach this milestone, and how do you feel Superman fits in with today's narrative?
Superman represents hope, he represents the best of us. You can tell endless number of stories about that. He is the person who can inspire and lead you to do (great) things. I think it's more of a testament to how good a character he is that he's been around this long.
On Apr. 18, Action Comics #1000 will be released as two different books, each with exclusive material: a 384-page hardcover that will be priced at $29.99 and a 40-page periodical comic.