News

New Series from The Walking Dead Creator Robert Kirkman Reveals Top Comics Characters' Real-Life Origin Stories

Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, Method Man, and more join the conversation about fan favorites like Superman, Wonder Woman, and the X-Men.

by | November 10, 2017 | Comments

Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, which debuts on Sunday, shines a light on some of the lesser known aspects of comics’ well-known origin stories. Instead of detailing how Superman came to Earth or how Bruce Banner became the Hulk, the ambitious six-part series takes a look at the men and women behind the four-color characters and their struggles. While some of the stories will be familiar to comic book fans, they may also reveal a few new wrinkles worthy of appearing in DC Comics’ own Secret Origins series. Here is a preview of some of those stories.


The Timely Origin of Marvel Comics

While the debut episode, The Mighty Misfits Who Made Marvel,” begins as a tribute to well-known Marvel goodwill ambassador Stan Lee, Secret History lives up to its name by devoting much of its length to Lee’s 1960 co-conspirator Jack Kirby.

As Lee recalls, Kirby and writer Joe Simon were the “comics department” at Timely Comics, the publishing company we now know as Marvel Comics. Joining the group in the late 1930s, Lee would soon find himself running the place as both Kirby and Simon walked out when Timely’s owners (including Lee’s cousin Martin Goodman) declined to give them a piece of the lucrative Captain America profits. And as Secret History illustrates, this pattern repeats throughout both Kirby and Lee’s careers.

The story is familiar to fans of comic book history, in fact, it is almost as important as Bruce Wayne’s terrible night in Crime Alley. But Secret History unveils new facets of Marvel’s meteoric rise in the 1960s and the falling out between Kirby and Lee. The latter definitely has his say, telling it for the 10,000th time while wearing one of his trademark sweaters. But the episode also assembles an impressive panel of comic book talent and historians to offer Kirby’s case as well.

Portions are animated in the style of Marvel’s late 1960s Spider-Man and Iron Man cartoons — themselves a point of contention for Kirby, whom Marvel perceived as a “jobber” unworthy of any additional recognition or compensation. The animation also frames a snippet of archival audio many fans may have never heard before: a radio show interview with Kirby and Lee long after the former departed Marvel.

But the rough-and-tumble comics corporate world and its treatment of the creators responsible for its icons very much informs the first three episodes. The second part, “The Truth about Wonder Woman,” may not revolve around the boss’s office the way the first or second episodes do, but it illustrates how the character’s creator(s) and original philosophy faded into obscurity once the company brought in new writers for the series.


Marston and His Wonder Women

The case of William Moulton Marston, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and his live-in girlfriend Olive Byrne is worthy of its own feature film – in fact, it has one: Professor Marston & the Wonder Women. But Secret History changes its pace and style to reflect a story often told in comic book circles through giggles thanks to the alternative lifestyle at its core. Narrated by Keri Russell, the episode melds new interviews with historians and former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter with dramatizations of Martson’s life. In at least a few moments, the interview subjects are literally in the same room as the dramatized events.

And it doubles back to the corporate intrigue as Elizabeth Martson and Olive Byrne find themselves erased from the character’s history after Marston’s untimely death. The character herself changes with the arrival of new writer Robert Kanigher in the late 1940s and receives a radical reinvention in the 1960s. The progressive hero disappears into a white catsuit and some of the more regressive ideas of DC Comics’s editorial office and writer Mike Sekowsky.

Unfortuntately, both Kanigher and Sekowsky’s names — and their contributions to comics’s history — are omitted.

Granted, both of those men, or people like Spider-Man co-creator Steve Dikto or indie comics legends like Trina Robbins, could easily become the focus of season 2 episodes should AMC and executive producer Robert Kirkman decide to tell the stories of people the general public may not recognize.


The Boys from Cleveland

The series’ emphasis on the overlooked aspects in the history of the marquee characters is underlined by the third episode, “Trials of Superman” and its recreation of the three times Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster took DC Comics to court to get their character back. All of their attempts failed and both creators would live near poverty before Warner Bros. — DC’s eventual owner —was shamed into giving both men a lifetime pension. The episode gets to the heart of the injustice visited upon Siegel and Shuster and even names two men seemingly at the heart of DC’s callous indifference toward Superman’s creators: National Periodical bosses Harry Donnenfeld and Jack Lebowitz.  The pair ran DC ruthlessly and showed Siegel and Shuster less consideration that Lee would show Kirby.

And while the pain and corporate intrigues make for entertaining – and touching – secret origins, Secret History of Comics still celebrates the extraordinary accomplishment of disadvantaged kids who built the foundations of modern media empires. It is easy to forget that superheroes – their four-color fashions, powers, and thirst for justice – did not exist prior to Siegel and Shuster’s astounding innovation. People like Marston, Kirby, and Lee extended the idea into something richly diverse and endlessly enduring.


Subsequent episodes in the series will focus on the effect of 9/11 had upon the industry and the creation of Milestone Media and Image Comics in the 1990s. The latter two will be of particular interest as both companies were direct responses to the issue of ownership touched upon in the first three parts of the series. Image was founded by a group of ex-Marvel artists who sought greater creative control and ownership of their characters media rights. Milestone Media was an attempt by writers and artists like Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle to diversify the landscape of superhero comics. And certainly, the struggle for comic book creators to win complete control of their creations is an important secret history worth telling.

Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics premieres Sunday, November 12 at 11/10C on AMC.


Tag Cloud

crime drama Toys FX Rom-Com Ellie Kemper ratings MCU movie El Rey police drama Winter TV TBS Mary poppins Apple TV+ Nat Geo Universal Television Academy The Walking Dead TV renewals LGBT 21st Century Fox adaptation composers Sundance Now Classic Film best USA Network Elton John streaming TruTV zombies Crunchyroll game of thrones television screenings batman See It Skip It NBC sag awards video nature Photos Endgame Baby Yoda disaster cancelled television criterion Spring TV versus Schedule MSNBC Hulu finale mutant miniseries Horror Vudu Infographic Disney Plus Biopics spain biography 2015 A&E BBC America facebook Chilling Adventures of Sabrina quibi BET comics GoT cops Awards Tour Kids & Family DC Comics Sundance Tomatazos period drama Superheroes Marvel Television crossover what to watch Walt Disney Pictures Logo ghosts Acorn TV Music Shondaland Mary Poppins Returns Country San Diego Comic-Con revenge reviews free movies TCA 2017 Mindy Kaling cats Bravo joker Set visit Hear Us Out Crackle theme song spinoff robots scary movies Comedy Central award winner DC streaming service screen actors guild sitcom GIFs Lifetime Christmas movies Nominations Pet Sematary Tarantino VICE true crime sports renewed TV shows Film Festival YouTube ABC GLAAD Action Marathons Emmys TNT universal monsters Star Trek latino Esquire Ovation Peacock NYCC justice league cartoon History Turner Interview Lionsgate sequel science fiction adventure name the review Awards transformers elevated horror hist Certified Fresh Lucasfilm asian-american cars 007 Spectrum Originals based on movie political drama Cartoon Network discovery Nickelodeon diversity Christmas cancelled TLC Arrowverse YouTube Red zombie Opinion parents supernatural Tubi CBS Cosplay USA blockbuster space Pop TV dark cults Rocketman chucky animated Holidays die hard SDCC Netflix Christmas movies aliens witnail Martial Arts Lifetime serial killer Musicals social media 2017 Super Bowl Pixar DGA Emmy Nominations stand-up comedy Oscars The Purge Song of Ice and Fire Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt canceled TIFF PaleyFest Superheroe Turner Classic Movies Stephen King OneApp Black Mirror Apple TCA Winter 2020 FXX Amazon Prime Pride Month MTV crime Star Wars Animation Teen Freeform Chernobyl Anna Paquin christmas movies jamie lee curtis YouTube Premium RT History golden globes Amazon teaser Discovery Channel Red Carpet slashers Writers Guild of America Video Games Disney National Geographic casting breaking bad First Reviews SundanceTV ITV south america Character Guide RT21 talk show Britbox TV spanish language WGN Pirates Extras LGBTQ Film ESPN halloween psycho movies Shudder Grammys Reality Tumblr blaxploitation 20th Century Fox game show travel E3 YA concert DC Universe Brie Larson spider-man war DirecTV Western dragons Starz cancelled TV shows Summer OWN Mystery child's play IFC FOX Heroines Paramount CMT First Look 2019 President CW Seed series PBS unscripted Comic Book technology toy story politics 2018 thriller Paramount Network stoner rotten movies we love The CW Apple TV Plus Sundance TV TCA comedies binge franchise Marvel 4/20 Valentine's Day IFC Films Watching Series Adult Swim 71st Emmy Awards Mary Tyler Moore BBC Box Office AMC The Witch Masterpiece CNN Sneak Peek Countdown ABC Family Cannes Best and Worst HBO comiccon crime thriller dc Hallmark dramedy Holiday spy thriller comic Hallmark Christmas movies documentary boxoffice Amazon Studios Musical HBO Max psychological thriller harry potter medical drama Disney+ Disney Plus kids Binge Guide indie dogs E! Fall TV Winners Travel Channel dceu Rock X-Men FX on Hulu WarnerMedia 2016 TCM Women's History Month A24 Trivia canceled TV shows foreign docudrama Ghostbusters romance romantic comedy Creative Arts Emmys doctor who Marvel Studios anthology Year in Review historical drama Comedy festivals zero dark thirty singing competition Polls and Games richard e. Grant SXSW Calendar APB cancelled TV series Avengers tv talk 45 CBS All Access vampires reboot American Society of Cinematographers Columbia Pictures VH1 Mudbound Family Rocky Trailer TV Land Drama mockumentary green book cinemax Dark Horse Comics Quiz Amazon Prime Video New York Comic Con Syfy hispanic Spike 2020 Fantasy Sci-Fi anime book Funimation werewolf The Arrangement Food Network Pop Fox News Sony Pictures natural history Warner Bros. Disney Channel Thanksgiving strong female leads Trophy Talk Black History Month Election children's TV Disney streaming service Comics on TV cooking 24 frames directors Epix mission: impossible Premiere Dates Netflix independent Reality Competition Academy Awards Podcast Captain marvel Showtime a nightmare on elm street