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

USA Epix best Paramount Network Emmy Nominations indie BBC America Netflix women revenge SDCC finale medical drama french Television Critics Association Broadway 2018 adenture 93rd Oscars Star Wars Year in Review Food Network indiana jones political drama VOD VH1 Trophy Talk spain BET Awards technology NYCC quibi Lifetime Christmas movies DirecTV Sundance Now 71st Emmy Awards debate child's play franchise cooking ratings Family james bond boxoffice halloween Film Festival FX on Hulu Trivia A24 japan joker Mindy Kaling football 2019 OneApp Disney Channel australia Fall TV IFC Films spanish language sitcom dramedy Pet Sematary Pixar book adaptation all-time Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Reality VICE rt archives MSNBC 2016 E3 comic Premiere Dates name the review mutant Tomatazos rotten movies we love action-comedy Spring TV TV movies harry potter Comic-Con@Home 2021 adventure a nightmare on elm street DC Universe 2015 based on movie telelvision GLAAD psychological thriller Discovery Channel comic books nbcuniversal Song of Ice and Fire Nat Geo Comic Book BET space Film comedies 2020 Disney+ Disney Plus Calendar obituary Acorn TV miniseries zombies boxing reviews Opinion Vudu rom-coms GIFs FXX south america stoner Amazon Prime Video Trailer saw Certified Fresh Mary poppins posters First Look Comics on TV SXSW golden globe awards The Walt Disney Company Dark Horse Comics trailers spanish hidden camera PlayStation Musical archives See It Skip It Endgame 20th Century Fox Spectrum Originals children's TV aapi FOX TruTV docuseries streaming Animation TLC Cartoon Network disaster HBO TCA Winter 2020 venice classics concert basketball golden globes dark YouTube Red cancelled TV series kaiju Anna Paquin Summer Television Academy El Rey RT History Paramount films Rocky BBC One rt labs critics edition prank Grammys Box Office Chernobyl sports Masterpiece Awards teaser Countdown nfl History American Society of Cinematographers deadpool Marvel Television ESPN adaptation stand-up comedy cinemax cancelled television LGBTQ Tumblr Alien 1990s Pop discovery hollywood new zealand legend emmy awards cars APB justice league ViacomCBS live action olympics movie Polls and Games Creative Arts Emmys thriller worst spider-man serial killer comics Academy Awards green book Shondaland doctor who lord of the rings WGN dogs Winter TV witnail natural history police drama criterion Martial Arts OWN Best and Worst razzies screen actors guild Captain marvel TV robots Rom-Com asian-american critic resources strong female leads Hallmark Christmas movies Bravo docudrama Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt romance laika Warner Bros. GoT fresh satire Star Trek Fox News parents TCM Disney streaming service Starz universal monsters PaleyFest monster movies The Witch Holidays The Arrangement 2017 cancelled TV shows latino series television WarnerMedia TIFF composers canceled Funimation 72 Emmy Awards Hallmark mission: impossible Election The Academy ID ABC NBA Ghostbusters new star wars movies remakes Showtime Crunchyroll DGA Awards Tour Paramount Plus Emmys IFC CNN science fiction zero dark thirty know your critic Freeform Syfy Amazon LGBT festival Apple TV+ Tarantino PBS Turner The CW war Travel Channel Black History Month Biopics diversity directors BBC New York Comic Con Brie Larson Avengers Thanksgiving japanese halloween tv Shudder superman Fantasy Elton John Marathons TV Land Sundance TV high school Universal ghosts theme song Sci-Fi foreign Binge Guide President independent mockumentary jamie lee curtis Superheroes Interview The Walking Dead CW Seed dc Mystery stop motion movies Amazon Prime CBS cats kong critics screenings The Purge TCA unscripted Mary Tyler Moore animated Ovation singing competition young adult christmas movies Stephen King fast and furious crime drama NBC tv talk what to watch new york period drama Pop TV Disney San Diego Comic-Con Marvel Studios TNT blaxploitation Super Bowl Turner Classic Movies Image Comics spy thriller 4/20 heist movie blockbusters Apple TV Plus TV renewals breaking bad HBO Go Musicals biopic Apple news Tokyo Olympics comiccon free movies elevated horror Character Guide Pacific Islander Sony Pictures slashers MCU Mary Poppins Returns talk show worst movies book Classic Film E! Christmas sequels canceled TV shows Baby Yoda Nominations BAFTA slasher Amazon Studios Lionsgate hispanic Adult Swim anthology FX nature YouTube Premium Esquire Ellie Kemper video on demand crossover social media Schedule aliens DC Comics Lucasfilm psycho TCA 2017 documentary Cannes Britbox CBS All Access Fox Searchlight royal family 007 Reality Competition cops 2021 scorecard Wes Anderson dragons toronto sag awards 99% crime thriller sequel chucky game of thrones die hard cults international Spike game show godzilla scene in color supernatural casting Infographic pirates of the caribbean USA Network dceu Black Mirror king arthur Comedy Logo richard e. Grant Teen Heroines suspense Legendary spinoff TV One vampires Video Games festivals cartoon superhero Set visit DC streaming service Extras Kids & Family Mudbound romantic comedy Peacock Sundance rt labs Valentine's Day Rocketman Netflix Christmas movies Columbia Pictures versus italian Red Carpet National Geographic CMT YouTube Lifetime Hear Us Out AMC Holiday renewed TV shows award winner transformers RT21 Oscars Drama HBO Max Western hispanic heritage month marvel comics Action Crackle video werewolf Country Music zombie Women's History Month twilight politics mcc Exclusive Video 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 45 wonder woman Cosplay binge 73rd Emmy Awards target Rock Podcast jurassic park crime Arrowverse ITV Nickelodeon batman true crime comic book movie biography dexter documentaries First Reviews Toys anime ABC Family black Sneak Peek 21st Century Fox cancelled popular toy story 90s Marvel Photos Pride Month Disney Plus travel Pirates king kong marvel cinematic universe Quiz historical drama Winners A&E kids reboot ABC Signature SundanceTV MTV 24 frames feel good Hulu gangster Tubi streaming movies Horror Writers Guild of America hist rotten facebook Superheroe Watching Series Comedy Central YA TBS blockbuster comic book movies scary movies TCA Awards X-Men Walt Disney Pictures