Sunday, June 14, 2009

Episode #78: A Julius Schwartz Birthday Surprise: "Superman" #411!

For his 70th birthday in 1985, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz recieved an unusual birthday present. He became a main character in an issue of one of the comic book titles he edited, Superman #411. And it was a total surprise to him! His birthday was June 19, 1915, and he would pass away on February 8, 2004.

How this particular birthday surprise happened was that DC writer Elliot S! Maggin approached DC Executive Vice-President Paul Levitz with the idea of doing a special Superman issue that would feature Julius Schwartz as a character, and doing it behind his back as a birthday surprise. Elliot and artist Curt Swan worked in advance so that production chief Bob Rozakis could slip the story into the production schedule. It would replace the story Julius would be working on, which would be postponed for an issue. Except for a few close calls, everyone involved was able to keep "Julie", as he was affectionately called, from discovering the subterfuge.

Julius Schwartz wrote about the surprise in his autobiography Man Of Two Worlds: My Life In Science Fiction And Comics written with Brian M. Thomsen and published by Harper Entertainment in 2000. The book may not be in print anymore, but check your local used book store or favorite internet vendor.

Julius Schwartz' premiere in a comic book story occurred in Superman #411, cover dated September 1985. The issue was published on June 13, 1985. I could find no art credit for the cover at , or . The story was written by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by Curt Swan, inked by Murphy Anderson, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Gene D'Angelo. Under the creator credits was the folowing tag: Aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Paul Levitz, Bob Rozakis. This story appeared in the middle of a Lex Luthor trilogy begun in the previous issue, #410, August 1985, May 9, 1985. The cover, by Klaus Jansen, illustrated the story Clark Kent -- Fired! The story was written by Cary Bates, pencilled by Curt Swan, inked by Al Williamson, lettered by Gaspar Saladino and colored by Gene D'Angelo.

Julius Schwartz was introduced on the splash page, standing on a steet corner in Metropolis as Superman flew overhead, as a homeless street person. He was later thrown out of a soup kitchen for causing a disturbance and would make his way to the Galaxy Broadcasting building. After leaving a note with Perry White's secretary, Julius went to the roof and jumped off. As he expected, Superman saved him. To thank Superman for his good deed Julius corrected Superman's dialogue. After Superman left Schwartz on the sidewalk and flew away Julius said, "That man has to do something about his dialogue!"

Perry and Alice saw their old friend Julius Schwartz being interviewed on TV and drive around Metropolis to search for him. Superman spotted them during his patrol, and then stopped a car that ran a red light. After Perry overheard Superman's parting remark to the driver he told the Man Of Steel, "Supes, old friend, somebody's going to have to do something about your dialogue!" Perry and Alice ask Superman for help in finding their old friend Julius Schwartz. A mysterious figure kidnapped Julius and took him to an abandoned warehouse, where he was revealed to be someone who is robotic on the right side of his body, head to toe.

While riding in the back seat of the White's car, Superman listened to Perry talk about his old friend. Some of the details parallel the real Julius Schwartz career in science fiction and comic books. Perry and Julius were friends with real science fiction writers of the early 20th century, before their success, including Ray Bradbury, who was Superman's favorite as a boy. Julius would become an agent for science fiction writers, and had a knack for story ideas and plot devices when they wrote themselves into a corner and didn't know how to write themselves out.

Perry and Julius would also self publish their own magazine, Incredible Stories. Schwartz also created a few comic book super heroes (something the real Julius Schwartz did not do). His first creation was Ultra-Man, who came from another planet, could lift a car, leap an eighth of a mile, and nothing short of a bursting shell could penetrate his skin. This copied the original description of Superman's powers from Superman #1. Schwartz published Ultra-Man in comic book stories but they were not a success after the appearance of Superman in Metropolis. He would try again with Night Wizard, but Batman appeared, and Madame Miracle before Wonder Woman appeared and finally Jet Jordan with the Flash. None of these characters would succeed.

The captured Julius Schwartz asked his kidnapper what his name was. When he said it was Olaf, Schwartz said that he thought it was a lousy name. Acting like an editor he suggests others that would be better, like Robotman, Metallo or Captain Danger. Olaf had one question for Julius, about the quickest way to get his own hydrogen bomb, and Schwartz began to describe everything he would need.

After having Alice drop him off, Superman resumed his patol over Metropolis, and was worried about Perry's memory. He had begun to have short term memory problems even as he remembered details from decades past (as mentioned in episode #64).

Olaf was able to illicitly procure all the equipment he needed overnight. He called his superiors to report that the information processing machine was assembled and connected to the mind for which it had been built.

During his search for Julius Schwartz Superman stopped a gang dealing in stolen hospital equipment. In the gang's hideout Superman found a gieger counter that was turned on and detecting a radioactive source in the area. Superman left the crooks for the police as he said, "Excuse me, I've got to see a man about a source!"

A police officer said, "That guy's got to do something aobut his dialogue!"

The geiger counter led Superman to the abandoned warehouse Olaf held Schwartz in. Olaf's robot limbs are an equal to Superman until he chopped Olaf's robot leg off. Olaf's mysterious superiors teleported him away for repairs. Julius asked Superman to get him out of the contraption, which he did. Superman realized too late that the equipment contained Schwartz' life support, but it was no big deal to Julius. He told Superman he had found a way out of his miserable life, and asked Superman to take him to Earth-Prime. In the pre-crisis DC continuity, Earth-Prime is our real world, where Superman is a character in a comic book. Superman wrapped Julius Schwartz in his indestructible cape and carried him through the multiverse to Earth Prime.

The pair appeared over 5th Avenue, where a police officer said, "Are they makin' another one o' those movies already?"

In an eighth floor conference room in a 5th Avenue building, DC staffers were celebrating the birthday of the real Julius Schwartz. I'm sure that the faces portrayed in the scene were real DC staffers, but I don't know who most of them were. Publisher Jenette Kahn toasted Julius, " I'd like to propose a toast to the silliest, grouchiest, youngest seventy year old any of us --"

She was interrupted by Superman and the Earth-1 Julius Schwartz. The two Julie's fall into each other's arms and called each other their imagination. The real Julius told his Earth-1 counterpart that the years had not been kind to him. The Earth-1 Julius replied that the rest of the years would do well by both of them, and disappeared into the Earth-Prime Julius Schwartz. He was faint for a moment, and Superman asked if he was alright. Schwartz replied that he's fine, and that Superman should see what he had in store for him. Maybe he had some ideas about how to improve Superman's dialogue. The two men shook hands, Superman greeted Curt Swan and a few other DC staffers and returned to Earth-1.

Julius Schwartz then said, "Hey, where's the party? A guy doesn't turn 70 every day!" and then handed out pieces of birthday cake.

In the epilogue Clark Kent returned to his apartment at 344 Clinton Street with a package he had bought at the same flea market he had purchased the Mort Weisinger bust. He unwrapped a bust of Julius Schwartz and placed it next to Mort.

On the inside back cover was a guest Meanwhile ... column written by Rick Stasi from Kansas City where he wished DC Comics a happy 50th birthday with some reminisces about growing up reading comic books.

Curt Swan's panel layout was very dynamic, compared to silver age Superman stories, with several pages with page high vertical panels. Another story point I enjoyed was everyone commenting about how Superman needed to improve his dialogue.

According to Julius Schwartz' autobiography, on the day Superman #411 was published, he was called into a special meeting in the conference room by publisher Jenette Kahn's administrative assistant. He wondered what the latest office crisis was about when he walked into a conference room with champagne on ice and Jenette holding the first copy of #411. When he sees his own picture on the cover he blurted out, "My God! How could you do this to me? I was right in the middle of a three-part story about Luthor!" Everyone laughed, including Julius. He looked through the issue to find that not only was he on the cover, but he was a main character of the story as well including parts of his long career in scince fiction and comic books. (I'm sure he enjoyed being portrayed as a street bum.) Other birthday festivities included the reading of birthday wishes from friends, including a telegram from Harlan Ellison, and phone conversations by Ray Bradbury and Alan Moore. Schwartz remarked in his book that this was a major highlight of his fifty plus years in the comic book industry.

In the back of the issue was a preview of the cover that Julius Schwartz thought was the cover for issue #411, with a note by Bob Rozakis explaining the birthday surprise to readers. That cover would appear on Superman #412, October 1985, July 11, 1985, showing Superman slamming his fist through the chest plate of Luthor's battle suit. The Klaus Jansen cover illustrated the story titled Luthor -- Today You Die! done by the same creative team from issue #410. The conclusion of the trilogy appeared in #413, November 1985, August 8, 1985, titled Superman -- Your World Is Mine! created by the same creative team again.

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at , , and most other podcast aggregaters. Send e-mail to . The podcast theme is Plans In Motion composed by Kevin MacLeod, part of the royalty free music library of .

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics. The image from the cover of Superman #411 is used for educational purposes within the fair use provision of U. S. Code: Title 17, Sec. 107.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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