Earlier this year DC/WB announced their intention of producing a documentary on the 75th Anniversary of DC Comics. The good news is that DC/WB decided to give Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson a small cameo and it’s at the very beginning so that’s quite nice. Hooray! However, it is a slightly awkward situation. If this were a dinner party, the Major would be the ghost of Hamlet’s father who sat down to dinner with the rest of the guests. And you are?

75 Years DC Comics by Paul Levitz

How do you explain the founder of the whole thing being fleeced out of the company and at the same time say gee, he was a great guy and we’re thrilled he started it? That’s an interesting problem the filmmakers have and I’m particularly intrigued to see how they solve it. Several of the eternal optimists in our family were so excited that there was some loose talk of canonization. Much as I champion my grandfather, St. Nick doesn’t quite ring true to me. The rest of us took the news with varying degrees of the gimlet eye ranging from out and out cynicism to middle of the road–well maybe things have changed.

In all fairness Diane Nelson, current head of DC Entertainment evidently wasn’t aware of the Major or his role nor is there any reason why she should have been. Her background is in film not comics. To her credit she seems to be doing her best to connect with the historical aspects of DC along with the small task of running a very large corporation. Believe me, I can sympathize as my background is not comics history either and if you want to hang out with the smart boys who have been at this from their early years of collecting as kids you’d better start on a learning curve just in order to be able to speak the lingo. It’s not a chore. I’m having a ridiculous amount of fun doing so and most of these guys are the greatest.

© respective holders. From Jon Berk Collection.


Sean Welch, the producer and Mac Carter, the director of the DC doc proved to be absolute gentlemen and seemed genuinely interested in the Major’s story. Partner Jason Brown and I spent some time with them getting photos for the doc, providing them with biographical information and some pulp covers from my collection. Jason who has a background in film found them very easy to work with. In the film business that’s a high compliment. I was glad to be able to contribute to the cause celeb as I’m always happy to promote MWN’s life and accomplishments. And even more important, Aunt Toni seemed pleased by the acknowledgement and Uncle Douglas quite thrilled. For that reason alone I was willing to jump through the DC/WB hoops, provide my volunteerism to the WB Charitable Foundation and pay the necessary lawyer’s fees to ensure that at some future date we didn’t agree to provide limbs or internal organs along with a few photos.

It’s very tricky providing media people with information. You just don’t know how they will ultimately use it or how it will be slanted especially in a corporate situation that has mega layers of lawyers whose sole focus is protecting the corporate personhood. The documentary is to be premiered in a rough cut at this year’s Comic Con so we’ll see how the Major’s 2 minutes turned out. In spite of my cynicism I’m hoping for the best for everyone’s sake. It would be nice to get on an even keel with DC/WB. As far as I can tell we as a family have nothing to gain by being adversarial but given the past it is important to be cautious.

The party line I’m hearing is that it was a Damon Runyon period and everyone including the Major was a crook. Well, that’s not exactly so. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson may have been making a lot of promises and ducking bill collectors as this was the Great Depression but he certainly didn’t have ties to bootleggers and other illegal activities. If he had our family would own DC and not the other way round. The man had a past history of knightly behavior and taking it on the chin for the underdog. So the whole “let’s paint everyone with the same brush” doesn’t speak to historical accuracy even though it’s a nice PR gambit.

Sean Welch and Mac Carter had the proverbial job of cleaning out the Stygian Stables with this project. Putting together a documentary of this length in such a short period of time is indeed Herculean. And the fact that they took such care with our very short sequence speaks well of how they must have approached the entire piece.

Sean, the producer also produced the Oscar nominated film, Spellbound about the National Spelling Bee which won all sorts of awards. He and director Jeffrey Blitz just completed a new documentary on lottery winners called Lucky that was shown at Sundance this year. I’d love to see that.

From the documentary Lucky

Mac, the director is also a writer who developed a comic book arc with Jeffrey Blitz called The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft. It appears to be optioned for a film by none other than Ron Howard and has a great look to it. When I spoke to Mac he seemed very knowledgeable about comics and pulps.

So although I’m not siding with the family eternal optimists on the possibility of St. Nick arriving at Hollywood and Vine neither I am going with my own worst cynicism leading to Ophelia throwing herself in the river. I’m opting for All’s Well that Ends Well.