The Batman Problem Who Paid A Promise Eight Years Too Late
In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, discover the Batman comic book that famed writer Harlan Ellison did a favor…eight years too late.
Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and thirty-fourth episode where we take a look at three comic book legends and determine if they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three captions.
Harlan Ellison did a special issue of Batman or Detective comics in favor of Julius Schwartz…eight years after Schwartz ceased publishing Batman comics.
The late Harlan Ellison was one of the most acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writers of the 1990s and he was also a huge fan of comic books and he had a lifelong friendship with Julius Schwarz, the comic book editor longtime DC comics (which started in DC in the 1940s and remained with the company until his retirement in the mid-1980s, then continued to make company convention appearances until his death in 2004). When Schwartz passed away, Ellison wrote a long obituary for him which we posted here at CBR (can’t remember if it was CBR exclusive or not), where he noted:
It’s her story, and I won’t dwell on it except to say that one of the delights of the past eighteen years for me has been Julie’s weekly phone call. Every Wednesday morning, 8:15 a.m. L.A. time, 11:15 a.m. at the DC offices where Julie did her weekly subway hegira, Julie would call and we would talk about what each of us knew about the week’s gossip, events, scandals and hiring-shootings. He was amazed that if he called me, 3000 miles from the office he was sitting in, I knew secret things that no one in the hallways would talk about. He always wanted to know who my “inside man at skunk work” was. I never told him.
We talked about the Yankees (which he loved), we talked about pea soup (which he loved), we talked about Dixieland Jazz (which he loved), and we talked about various people (some of whom ‘he did not like). We practiced our Yiddish on each other and he told me stories about the grandchildren. He sent me fanzines with anecdotes about him underlined in red marker.
When Ed Kramer and Dragon*Con instituted the Julie Award for Excellence in Multimedia, he was mad with pride. It is a large and terrifyingly beautiful sculpture, and speaks to Julie’s belief that artistic excellence in a place can lead to exceptional effort in many forms. The price is a great price.
Just like his friendship.
He was awesome, because behind the scenes, soft and sweet, he nuhdz and kvetched and chivvied and pushed a plethora of talent from Alfie Bester to Len Wein to Neal Adams to Ray Bradbury to Paul Levitz to be better than they weren’t before. Working at jobs that would pay their rent until they could move on to producing signature designs.
He was good, because he was sweet, kind and loyal and a lovable pain in the ass who always had time for a smile, a bad pun and a note of encouragement for hundreds, maybe thousands of strangers. who, after meeting himself once, felt he was their dearest friend. The outpouring of pain and loss at his passing surprised even those who knew him all their lives.
He was a living legend. He told me himself.
And how could I doubt someone I loved so much?
I’m not going to turn this into a hagiography on Schwartz, a guy who we learned a lot of bad things after his death (and obviously, if we had been more careful, we should have recognized him while he was alive), but I just wanted to make it clear that Ellison was very fond of Schwartz, so he wanted to do him a favor…but also not actually wanting to DO said a favor if he could postpone it, and so after promising Schwartz he would do a story for him in 1971, then he just didn’t.
RELATED: Did Moon Knight Have His Own Manga in the 1970s?
Mark Evanier told the story of a 1981 awards show at Comic-Con International in San Diego where Schwartz received an award ten years after Ellison promised Schwartz he would do a number one or the other Batman or Detective comics as Schwartz and Ellison enlisted Evanier’s help to surprise Schwartz. Evanier reminded:
Julie Schwartz is on stage, as are Ray Bradbury and a few other people. Julie thanks everyone and talks about how in his career he has worked with so many talented writers and artists. Completely unaware that Harlan is even in the same area code let alone twelve feet apart, he says something like, “Everyone helped me by getting their work in on time. Well, except for one person, but I probably shouldn’t mention his name.”
Someone shouts, “Mention his name!” Once when Harlan told this story he said it was me, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I kind of remembered it was him but he would have remembered if it had been him. Whoever shouts it makes Julie say, “That was Harlan Ellison!” There’s a big laugh in the audience…and I don’t think any of them have spotted Harlan behind that pillar. Julie adds: “He promised me a screenplay ten years ago and I’ll probably never see it. If I do, I’ll probably reject it!”
Suddenly, Harlan leapt from behind the pillar and, walking towards the stage, he proudly waved the envelope. The audience is hysterical and Julie gasps in astonishment and laughs and has a kind of editorial crisis at the same time. I doubt anyone who was there will forget that moment.
How an Iconic Moon Knight Story Came to Be by Accident
The twist, of course, is that Ellison whispered something to Schwartz as he gave him the script and when Evanier asked Schwartz what he said later that day, Schwartz explained:
He leans over to me confidentially and says, “He said, ‘This is just the first page, but I promise I’ll finish it next week.'” Julie then opens the envelope to show me and, of course, it’s a title. page and about fourteen sheets of blank paper.
As it turns out, Ellison didn’t receive the script until LEN WEIN’S last issue as editor of the Batman titles in 1986, eight years after Schwartz ceased to be editor of the Batman titles. (Joe Orlando took over, with Schwartz still connected to the book, in 1977, and in 1978 Orlando and his assistant, Paul Levitz, were fully in charge. Levitz briefly took over before Dick Giordano was in charge at the start of the 1980s, then it turned into Len Wein taking office around 1983).
The problem was Detective comics #567…
It opens with Ellison noting that the story is 15 years behind…
The story (drawn by Gene Colan and Bob Smith) is a cute tale of Batman finding nothing to do all night, as Gotham’s cops or its other citizens take care of all the problems that night, leaving Batman feeling pretty useless by the time he went home and went to bed…
Thanks to Mark Evanier for the awesome story. To go check out his page to get the full story, including a photo of the moment!
SOME MORE LEGENDS OF ENTERTAINMENT!
Check out some entertainment legends from Legends Revealed:
PART TWO COMING SOON!
Check back soon for part 2 of the legends of this episode!
Was there seriously a Moon Knight TV show in Japan in the late 1970s?
About the Author