Stan Lee Was Tricked Into Allowing a Controversial Story by Fake Mail

In the 1970s, the writer and artist for Dr. Strange protected the integrity of their story by pulling a fast one on Stan Lee with a fake fan letter.

In the 1970s a pair Marvel comic creators pulled off a larger-than-life scheme to trick Stan Lee and preserve their artistic vision. From the 1950s onwards, comics were often targeted for censorship in order to comply with the Comics Code Authority. However, comics writers also had to be careful not to just comply with the Authority’s standards but also not to print something that might turn off a portion of their readers. Stan Lee thought that one reality warping Dr. Strange storyline had the potential to do just that.

Marvel Premiere #14 was the end of a Dr. Strange story arc written by Steve Englehart and penciled Frank Brunner. It features the antagonist Sise-Neg traveling backwards in time to try and obtain godlike powers. Dr. Strange and his nemesis Baron Mordo accompany him on his journey, with Strange trying to convince him of the worth of humanity and Mordo trying to convince him of the opposite and become Sise-Neg’s disciple. Over the course of their journey, Sise-Neg inadvertently causes many iconic moments from the Bible, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the establishment of the Garden of Eden. At the end of their journey, Sise-Neg ascends to godhood and takes the name Genesis. Upon ascension, Genesis realizes that the world is exactly as it should be and thus recreates the universe exactly as it was. All this leads Dr. Strange to speculate that Genesis’s recreation of the universe was in fact paradoxically the original creation of the universe as well.

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The implications of Dr. Strange’s hypothesis worried Stan Lee, who thought that the ending of the story might offend religious readers. According to CBR, Frank Brunner explained in an interview with Comic Book Artist #6 that upon reading the issue after publication, Lee ordered Brunner and Englehart to print a retraction saying that Genesis was just a god, not the Judeo-Christian God. However, the two creators of the comic thought that issuing that statement would defeat the whole point of the story. So, they came up with a Hail Mary plan in an attempt to save the integrity of their work. While in Texas, Englehart supposedly penned a letter from a “Reverend Billingsley” in which he claimed that a young churchgoer had brought him the comic and that it was the best comic he had ever read. He then sent this letter in to Marvel. Upon receiving the letter, Marvel decided to publish that instead of a retraction, thus maintaining the integrity of the story.



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It’s a truly incredible story that succeeded against all odds. There was no guarantee that Marvel would believe the contents of the letter or even choose to publish it. Even if the editors were pleased that one minister enjoyed the book, they could have still decided that it was better to play it safe and issue the retraction in case other religious readers were offended. But the stars aligned, and their scheme somehow worked.

It is nice to see that, in a medium that has so long been the target of censorship, at least one story was able to escape those restrictions. And the story is much better for it: the ending of the story is much more powerful if Genesis is viewed as the Abrahamic God. So Englehart and Brunner’s scheme to trick Stan Lee and the rest of the Marvel editors into preserving their artistic vision was worth it.


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Source: CBR

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