by BK Munn
Pity the poor newsboy of the day, trying to hawk his papers on the streets of Fawcett City or Toronto, as the case may be. Who edits these things?
Margaret Atwood’s new memoir/essay collection on science fiction and fantasy, In Other Worlds, is being excerpted in The National Post. Saturday’s excerpt included Atwood’s reflections on her early experience of comic strips and superheroes, and her attempts at creating same. She name-checks Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates, and Little Orphan Annie, before letting loose with this observation:
“Where did we kids discover the knowledge of flying capes, superpowers, other planets, and the like? In part, through the primitive comic-strip superheroes of the times, the most popular of which were Flash Gordon, for space travel and robots; Superman and Captain Marvel, for extra strength, superpowers, and cape-based flying; and Batman, who was a mortal, with a non-functional cape — one that must have encumbered him somewhat as he clawed his way up the sides of buildings — but who nonetheless shared with Captain Marvel and Superman a weak or fatuous second identity that acted as a disguise. (Captain Marvel was Billy Batson, the crippled newsboy; Superman was Clark Kent, the bespectacled reporter; Batman was Bruce Wayne, the very rich playboy who lounged around in a smoking jacket.)”
Of course, everybody knows that it wasn’t Billy Batson but Freddy Freeman (secret identity: Capt. Marvel, Jr.) that was the “crippled newsboy.” Billy Batson was simply a newsboy of the non-crippled variety before graduating to radio announcer and journalist for station WHIZ.
Now, I don’t expect Margaret Atwood to remember this sort of comics trivia for 60 years or so after first reading –she’s got enough on her plate building her own worlds– but what about the fact-checkers and editors at the National Post and McClelland & Stewart? They really dropped the ball on this one. Holy Moley!