With the sheer number of stories published about some of the characters, it’s a wonder that there aren’t more stories that feature developments that don’t work, don’t stick or are simply just plain weird. Here, then, are five more forgotten Marvel story developments.
THE FALCON IS REALLY “SNAP” WILSON, LOWLIFE. CAPTAIN AMERICA #186 – There’s been some disagreement in recent years as to whether this was intended to be a genuine revelation or not, largely because it hasn’t aged well on any number of levels. Reading the issues, though, I’m inclined to believe that it was meant to be genuine. Writer Steve Englehart and artist Frank Robbins drop a bombshell on the audience in the middle of this CAPTAIN AMERICA run–namely that the Falcon, Cap’s stalwart social worker partner, is actually a creation of the Red Skull, who had used the Cosmic Cube to transform drug mule and career criminal (to say nothing of zoot suit owner) “Snap” Wilson into a prospective super hero as a long con on the star-spangled Avenger. This was one of the earliest forerunners to the “everything you know is wrong” trope that became a huge thing after Alan Moore did it with Swamp Thing in the 1980s. Here, though, the end result was pretty destructive–especially given that Englehart was off the series before these revelations could be played out and given any sort of closure or proper context. The “Snap” Wilson backstory hung as a millstone around the Falcon’s neck for decades, until Rick Remender finally put it to rest in ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA #3, wherein it was revealed that it was this revelation that was a product of the Cosmic Cube, and that Sam was truly the Sam Wilson we had come to know all along.
HERCULES PULLS THE ISLAND OF MANHATTAN. MARVEL TEAM-UP #28 – Every once in a while a story would come along whose logic was so egregious that even the editor couldn’t remain silent about it. Such was the case with this issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP, in which Spider-Man and Hercules join forces to take on a cabal of villains who have cut Manhattan Island adrift from the mainland and are threatening to sink it. At the climax, using a gigantic chain, Hercules up and hauls the whole island back into place once more–don’t ask about any bridges or tunnels that would have been shattered, to say nothing of the power grid. The whole story is so ridiculous that Roy Thomas can’t stop himself from adding an editorial note at the very end of the story indicating that he knows that this is all nonsense. In later years, this adventure was chalked up as being an example of Hercules embellishing when recounting stories of his past deeds. But it’s really writer Gerry Conway and artist Jim Mooney who need to take the blame for it.
CAPTAIN AMERICA GAINS SUPER-STRENGTH. CAPTAIN AMERICA #159 – The early 1970s were a hard time for Captain America. In the maelstrom of the ever-escalating Vietnam was and the growing dislike for President Nixon, Cap’s seeming brand of patriotism was very much out of step with what the young audience was looking for. The series was on a strong downward trend when writer Steve Englehart came on board. Englehart was prepared to try anything and everything to save the character and the series–and one of his thoughts was that maybe Cap simply wasn’t powerful enough to be as exciting as the rest of the Marvel stalwarts. So he and artist Sal Buscema had a poisonous injection from the villainous Viper interact with the Super-Soldier Serum still in Cap’s system to grant him a Spider-Man level of super-strength. In practice, this didn’t make a whole lot of difference to the character, and after a short while it was largely forgotten about. Roy Thomas, ever the faithful clean-up man, eventually revealed that Cap’s super-strength had gradually faded away. But by that point, his series was in solid sales shape again and he no longer needed it.
T’CHALLA BECOMES THE BLACK LEOPARD. FANTASTIC FOUR #119 – Almost from the moment of his creation, Marvel had run into some difficulties in promoting the Black Panther. Shortly after he was introduced in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, the real-world Black Panther Party began making headlines for its militant civil rights activities. While there wasn’t any overt connection between the two, Marvel thought, probably rightly, that many readers wouldn’t be able to help but draw a connection. For a long while, the character was only referred to as the Panther, especially on covers. But eventually, in 1972, writer Roy Thomas ripped off the band-aid and had the character rechristen himself as the Black Leopard, so as to avoid any unwanted connection. This move went over like a lead balloon, and by the character’s next appearance in AVENGERS, writer Steve Englehart had T’Challa take up the Black Panther name once more–and since then, the Black Leopard has been just a footnote in the character’s career. Artwork in this issue was provided by John Buscema.
NIGHTCRAWLER BECOMES INVISIBLE IN THE SHADOWS. UNCANNY X-MEN #103 – One of the most interesting aspects of the early days of the All-New, All-Different X-Men was that the characters were not yet fully formed. While each of the newcomers would eventually settle into a particular groove, in the initial installments there was a lot of trial and error at play, as writer Chris Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum tried to determine just who all of these people they were writing about really were. (I could do a whole post about the Many Origins of Wolverine) So it turned out in UNCANNY X-MEN #103 that, despite having looking the way he does since birth, Nightcrawler discovers that his body literally becomes invisible whenever he steps into the shadows. It’s a bit crazy that he wouldn’t have noticed such a thing at some point growing up–maybe he only lived in brightly-lit areas or something. Anyway, this idea appears to be the product of Dave Cockrum’s imagination, and here, Claremont chooses to roll with it. But it never really comes up again by the time Cockrum leaves the series a couple of issues later, and so Chris and later collaborator John Byrne simply do away with it. The most their willing to concede is that Nightcrawler is hard to see in the shadows, which would appear to be obvious. Me, I chalk it all up to a malfunction in the portable Image Inducer that Nightcrawler was carrying in this issue–No-Prize, please!
BONUS! IRON MAN’S NOSE. IRON MAN #68 – This one only rates a special mention because its origins lie less in a deliberate creative choice than on a stupid mistake. But yes, for a few years during the 1970s, Iron Man added an ill-conceived nose-piece to his armor’s face-plate. Why, you ask? Well, as the story goes, publisher Stan Lee would give feedback on the Marvel titles from time to time, and on occasion, those listening would take his words too literally. So at some point, while looking at an image of Iron Man, Stan remarked, “Shouldn’t he have a nose?” What he was saying was that the artist had drawn the front of the faceplace in profile so tight to Iron Man’s skull that there wouldn’t be room in the helmet for a nose–but sadly, those that were listening took away the idea that Stan wanted Shell-Head to add a nose to his mask. Mike Friedrich and George Tuska did the grim duty here, and Iron Man would maintain his protruding proboscis until at a later date Stan noticed it and asked people why Iron man was being drawn with a nose–and when people told Stan that it had been his idea, he hit the roof and ordered it removed again.