Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mistakes Were Made

Marvel No-PrizeSo you think you've got it tough today with Orion dying in The Death of the New Gods, only to pop up a couple months later in Final Crisis #1, only to get murdered again? Error, clue, stupid mistake, deliberate misdirection, or just a failure to communicate in the DC offices? Whatever the case, we know a dead Orion when we see one, and we were looking at him right then. No point in telling us he not dead, he's just restin' (altho' I'll admit...Orion does have beautiful plumage)...DC out and out made a silly mistake. It's apt to happen with these complicated and elaborate crossovers, but silly mistakes aren't the sole property of Messrs DiDio and Morrison, oh no no no no no. (No.) Once upon a time Marvel used to award their famed empty envelope that held nothing but bragging rights...for fans who wrote in not simply to nitpick a mistake, but to explain it in a logical in-universe manner. Stan initiated the empty envelope prize in '67, but that's not to say that Marvel Mistakes began in the summer of love. Why, let's take a big steaming gander at the final page of Tales of Suspense #74 (February 1966), shall we? Yes, let's shall!

Tales of Suspense #74 panels
Written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and George Tuska, lettering by Artie Simek

Captain America has just made the Red Skull's Skull-shaped airship (skullship?) go whoom!, and as he floats gently to earth on his parachute, he reflects about the land of the free, the home of the brave, upon mom, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, all probably to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Stirring moments from Cap there. Brings a tear to your eye. It's good to be an American when he's around, blowin' up Nazi-themed sky-cruisers.

Wander down to your local Rexell drug store a month later, grab Tales of Suspense #75 from the ("Hey Kids! Comics!" spinner rack, plop your 12¢ down on the counter, and roll it up in the back pocket of your Toughskins to read later on in your treehouse. Flip open the open and the first thing you see is

Tales of Suspense panels

Captain America plummeting to his death after blowing up the Skullship.

Wha...huh? What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here? Where did his parachute go? And by all that's holy and good, how will Captain America survive? How will the Cap survive?!?

Tales of Suspense #75 panels

Oh. Well, that's okay then. Emergency over.

Still, where did that chute go? Now, there were no No-Prizes (is that a double negative?) given for solving a mystery in 1966, but if I was to have a shot at it, let's might go something like this: As Captain America floated to Earth on his parachute, a technician who had been blown free of the wreckage of the Red Skull's ship hurtles past him. In the blink of an eye Cap instantly realizes that, like those contractors for hire on the second Death Star...

...that this guy is an innocent, a simple Joe jus' doing his job, so he goes into a power dive, hands the guy his parachute, allowing Mister Independent Contractor Work-for-Hire to float gently to safety, and Cap continues plummeting downwards, knowing he'll be able to pull himself to safety, just the way Cap always does.

At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. And I betcha I woulda won a No-Prize for it. Because Cap always thinks about the little guy.

Still, even without a No-Prize, folks are gonna notice. (Remember: comics are not just for kids anymore!) From the letters column of Tales of Suspense #78, a few months later:

Tales of Suspense LoC

Stan's candidness..."we just forget to draw it" refreshing is that?!? And...

Tales of Suspense LoC

Didja ever think it might just be this exact incident that gave Stan the idea to reward readers for solving Bullpen mistakes? The timing's right...hmmm. The world may never know, but I'd like to suggest that John Bemus and Stephen McMichael hereby be awarded retroactive No-Prizes for possibly inspiring Stan to explain away errors the good ol'-fashioned all-American way: get somebody else to do it for him. John and Stephen, we salute you! Your No-Prizes are in no way shape or form in the mail on their way to you!

The No-Prize disappeared in the 1980s after substantial differing ideas on how and why to award them, thus removing one way among many to connect the readers with the true Marvel Bullpen Experience. The demise of the No-Prize is sadly mourned by yours little stuffed truly—it seems that maybe Marvel just doesn't want you to point out errors (and I'm bettin' there a lotta 'em) these days. Another error-related practice that has long fallen out of vogue at Marvel is the occasional actual editorial correction—an admission in the letter column or the Bullpen Bulletins that "We goofed!", making our pals at Marvel seem just that much more human and approachable. Why, here's a great example from Fantastic Four #201 (December 1978):

FF #201 panel
Written by Marv Wolfman, layouts by Keith Pollard, finishes and inks by Joe Sinnott (finished art), coloring by Francoise Mouly, lettering by John Costanza

This panel is a much-needed infodump after a lengthy battle where the FF are trapped by the computer systems in the Baxter Building, fighting for their very lives (SPOILER ALERT: they survive). But Reed "Professor Exposition" Richards neglects to explain how he escaped from a deadly microbe, and the rest of the FF, and most of the readers, forget all about it. I bet a Swiss Army knife was involved somehow.

But in the letters page of FF #204, Mighty Marv takes the time to issue an apology and correction: apparently Reed spritzed the evil killer microbe with his contact lens fluid, making it the most ineffective alien threat until those spaceguys in M. Night Shaymalan's Signs landed two miles from the beach.

FF #204 panel

Marv even suggests you cut the panel out of FF #204 and paste it into #201. Is it mere coincidence that months later, he was over at the Distinguished Competition, putting together a team of Titanic Teens? We may never know, but I know I gotta get my safety scissors and a pot of paste to fix my copy of FF #201. Mistakes may come and corrections may go, but I miss the old days when the Bullpen at least had a sense of humor about it. Those were the days when, even if we didn't get a No-Prize, we were all winners.


Bill D. said...

I still want one of those silly envelopes! I check eBay every so often, but no dice.

SallyP said...

The No-Prize, really was one of Stan's more inspired ideas. It made the readers happy, and it got the writers off the hook. It is a shame they did away with it, but the postage alone nowadays would send Marvel back into bankruptcy.

I suppose they could e-mail No-Prizes, but it wouldn't exactly be the same thing.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

For the No-Prize:

The last page of "Tales of Suspense" #74 was a dream sequence...

Cap was briefly concussed by the explosion of the Skullship, and in his addled state, he dreamed how the attack should have gone. "Oh, yeah, a parachute would have been a good idea...provide me time for speechifyin'..."

He woke up a split second later, on the splash page of ToS #75.

Yeah, that'll work.