This issue: WRIGHTSON • DeZUNIGA • ISABELLA & AYERS
r 2009 Octobe
MORBIUS AND WEREWOLF BY NIGHT TM & © MARVEL CHARACTERS, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MORBIUS • VAMPIRELLA ≈ FRANKENSTEIN ≥ SWAMP THING Ω ARCANE & UN-MEN GOLEM ≈ IT, THE LIVING COLOSSUS ≥ MAN-BAT Ω PATCHWORK MAN ≈ DR. THIRTEEN
Volume 1, Number 36 October 2009
The Retro Comics Experience!
Celebrating the Best Comics of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and Today! EDITOR Michael Eury PUBLISHER John Morrow
BACK SEAT DRIVER: Editorial by Michael Eury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
DESIGNER Rich J. Fowlks
INTERVIEW: Bernie Wrightson: Perfectly Frank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 The master of the macabre discusses his obsession with Mary Shelley’s tale, and more FLASHBACK: The Monster of Frankenstein . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 Mike Ploog, Roy Thomas, and Gary Friedrich recall the Marvelizing of the Monster
COVER ARTIST Earl Norem
TIMELINE: Frankenstein in Comics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 No pitchfork or torch is needed to hunt down these comics appearances of ol’ Flattop
PROOFREADERS John Morrow and Eric Nolen-Weathington SPECIAL THANKS Arthur Adams Michael Aushenker Dick Ayers Frank Balas Alex Boney Jerry Boyd Michael Browning Bruce Buchanan Jose Cabrera Piers Casimir Dewey Cassell Ernie Colón Gerry Conway Nicola Cuti Darren Davis Tony and Tina DeZuniga Mark DiFruscio Joshua Dysart Ray Falcoa Shane Foley Gary Friedrich Mike Friedrich Grand Comic-Book Database Larry Guidry Allan Harvey Mike Hawthorne Ola Hellsten Heritage Comics Auctions Tony Isabella Michael Wm. Kaluta Len Kaminski
David Anthony Kraft Kirk Langstrom Paul Levitz Alan Light Dave Louapre Michael Mantlo Marvel Comics Mark McKenna David Michelinie Mike Mignola Ian Millsted Nightscream William F. Nolan Eamon O’Donoghue Jimmy Palmiotti Martin Pasko Mike Ploog Howard Post John Romita, Sr. Bob Rozakis Alex Saviuk Bill Schelly Philip Schweier Steve Skeates Anthony Snyder Roy Thomas Rick Veitch Len Wein John Wells John Whalen Mel Whitlow Alex Wright Bernie Wrightson
FLASHBACK: Taste the Blood of Vampirella . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 Lordy, Lordy, Vampi’s 40, and BI eyes the vivacious vixen’s history BRING ON THE BAD GUYS: Morbius, the Living Vampire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 How Morbius went from Spider-Man supervillain to Marvel monster-hero FLASHBACK: Mud, Moss, and Mayhem: The Original Swamp Thing’s Latter Days . . .35 Nestor Redondo and the men who brought life to Swampy after Bernie Wrightson FLASHBACK: Monsters (Almost) Unleashed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41 Revisit 1975, the year the Patchwork Man and Man-Bat briefly became solo stars ART GALLERY: Monster Rally Gallery! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46 A cool and creepy collection of creature features by Starlin, Kaluta, Wrightson, and others BRING ON THE BAD GUYS: Major Arcana: The Life (and Death) Story of Anton Arcane and the Un-Men . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50 Exhuming the legend of the Swamp Thing foe who won’t stay dead BEYOND CAPES: Follow You … For I Am Dr. Thirteen! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .60 The real star of The Phantom Stranger steps into BACK ISSUE’s spotlight INTERVIEW: Dining with the DeZunigas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67 Pull up a chair with superstar artist Tony DeZuniga and his delightful wife, Tina PRO2PRO: Tony Isabella and Dick Ayers’ It! The Living Colossus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69 The writer/artist team and their recollections of the short-lived Colossus comeback FLASHBACK: Golem, Golem … Gone! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .72 Marvel’s take on an old Hebrew legend WHAT THE--?!: Power Records’ Monster Comics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80 Peter Pan Records’ not-so-kid-friendly Marvel Monster book-and-record sets GREATEST STORIES NEVER TOLD: The Secret History of All-American Comics, Inc. . . . .82 “In and Out of Darkness,” concluding Bob Rozakis’ fantasy comics history BACK TALK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88 Reader feedback on “New World Order” issue #34 BACK ISSUE™ is published bimonthly by TwoMorrows Publishing, 10407 Bedfordtown Drive, Raleigh, NC 27614. Michael Eury, Editor. John Morrow, Publisher. Editorial Office: BACK ISSUE, c/o Michael Eury, Editor, 118 Edgewood Avenue NE, Concord, NC 28025. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Six-issue subscriptions: $40 Standard US, $54 First Class US, $66 Canada, $90 Surface International, $108 Airmail International. Please send subscription orders and funds to TwoMorrows, NOT to the editorial office. Cover art by Earl Norem. Morbius and Werewolf by Night TM & © Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All characters are © their respective companies. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial matter © 2009 Michael Eury and TwoMorrows Publishing. BACK ISSUE is a TM of TwoMorrows Publishing. ISSN 1932-6904. Printed in Canada. FIRST PRINTING. Monsters Issue
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Alex Saviuk’s design for a Toy Biz Morbius action figure, courtesy of Anthony Snyder. © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
COVER DESIGNER Michael Kronenberg
“There’s nothing worse than an unhappy horror artist,” says Bernie Wrightson. Fortunately, Wrightson is pretty satisfied with his career which spans 40 years. “It’s all rewarding as long as there are monsters in it and it’s a horror story, because those are the things I love,” he told an audience at the 2008 Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for the genre resulted in his most personal project to date, an illustrated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Over the course of seven or eight years, he assembled a collection of about 60–65 illustrations for the novel. “This was my labor of love,” Wrightson beams proudly during a later interview. “I think the seed was planted when I was very young, and it kind of grew and grew. By the mid-’70s, to carry the metaphor, it blossomed.”
According to Wrightson, he has been a Frankenstein fan since the age of seven, while growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. “I just fell in love the movies. Universal had a whole package of old monster movies that they released to TV. It was the time of the horror host on Shock Theater. There was Zacherly in New York, and our version of Zacherly was a guy named Dr. Lucifer. He had a lot of the same schtick. He had a coffin where his dead wife slept and … the usual stuff, the tombstones and the cobwebs. Very jokey things, and he would occasionally break into the movie with some kind of schtick related to what was happening in the movie. It was kid’s stuff.” He also became a big fan of the EC’s horror comics and its stable of artists. “I liked Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, and George Evans, Reed Crandall. Everybody who worked for EC was just top-notch. They were the best people in the business.” One artist stood out. “For me … the creepiest story was always drawn by Graham Ingels. Ghastly Graham Ingels. And to this day, if you pick up Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror, or Haunt of Fear, and you look at any of those, and I guarantee, the Graham Ingels story,
That’s My Boy! Blacks, hatching, and intricate linework—Bernie Wrightson hallmarks—make the artist the perfect candidate to adapt the Mary Shelley classic. Page 37 from the Frankenstein graphic novel. © 2009 Bernie Wrightson and Darkwoods Productions.
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First sale: “Nightmaster” in Showcase #83 (1969) First published art: House of Mystery #179 (1969)
Comics: House of Mystery / Swamp Thing / Frankenstein / Creepshow / Batman: The Cult / The Weird / Captain Sternn / Batman/Aliens / City of Others / Dead, She Said / many memorable covers Film: character designs for Creepshow / Ghostbusters / Spider-Man / Serenity / Ghost Rider / The Mist
Works in Progress:
Frankenstein (25th anniversary edition hardcover, Dark Horse, 2008) / DC Comics Classics Library: Roots of the Swamp Thing
Bernie Wrightson Photo courtesy of Bernie Wrightson.
just looking at it—you don’t even have to read it, just look at the pictures—and it’s the creepiest stuff in the book.” Such artists as Ingels and Frank Frazetta inspired the young Wrightson to pursue art on his own. His earliest lessons came from a Saturday morning television program featuring artist Jon Gnagy. “It was a half-hour show and he would, in the course of the show, draw a picture starting with basic shapes—circle, square, triangle. He would show you how to turn the triangle into a cone and turn a rectangle into a cylinder, and, by finding a light source and making a shadow, turn the circle into a globe. He said, ‘If you can draw these three basic shapes, you can draw anything. This is what all drawing is based on.’”
However, it wasn’t until his teen years that, despite a few hurdles, Wrightson began thinking of a career in art. “There were no art classes in Baltimore at the time, in the 1960s, when I got out of high school. I tried to find a college that taught commercial art and there was nothing. I think the University of Maryland taught fine art, but I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to learn how to draw, you know, commercially. There was nothing at the time. This was years and years before anybody thought of teaching comics or just illustration in schools. But I found a correspondence course in Connecticut, the Famous Artists’ School, so I signed up for that.” Today, taking art courses by mail may sound rather suspect, but at the time, it was the only option for Wrightson. “It was the only place at the time that had what I was looking for and I still have the course books. I look at them from time to time and it’s still the best art training that I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of imitators, or there used to be. There were a lot of correspondence schools but I never looked into any of those. I just got lucky and found the best one.” While the Famous Artists’ School didn’t offer a degree, that was never a concern for the budding illustrator. “This was just a personal best kind of thing and I wasn’t interested in a degree anyway,” says Wrightson. “I always felt that for an artist, the best thing you can show is your portfolio. An artist is judged by his work, not by how much he studied or what grades he got.” Embarking on his art career after high school, Wrightson took a job with the Baltimore Sun, which lasted less than a year. “It was kind of sobering. I thought I’d be getting a job where I’d be drawing all the time, but most of it was re-touching photos or doing paste-ups. But the experience was valuable. It was not what I particularly wanted to do, but I learned a lot from it.”
Peeking Through the Scream Door Bernie Wrightson’s cover art for the 1971 fanzine Scream Door #1 shows his affinity toward Mary Shelley’s patchwork man. According to Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com), who kindly provided this scan, the bottom panel of this art was also used in the publication Berni Wrightson: A Look Back. Art © 2009 Bernie Wrightson.
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A TRIP TO ORLANDO
Wrightson then began looking for work in the comicbook field. “I went to comic-book conventions, basically, and just started showing my stuff around to anybody who wanted to look, and some of the people eventually who looked at it were editors at DC, and they said, ‘You know, you could work in comics. You’re good enough.’ I had to think about that for a while—maybe a month—and then I moved to New York.” By now it was the late 1960s, and DC’s horror line consisted of House of Mystery and House of Secrets. Both followed the old EC anthology format, “hosted” by a couple of ghoulish type of characters. “I just happened to be very lucky, in that a year or so before that they had started House of Mystery. And, of course, it was under the Comics Code Authority, so you couldn’t really deal with stuff like vampires and werewolves,” Wrighston says. “The Code was very strict about that the really horrific kind of stuff, like zombies. You couldn’t use the word ‘horror’ in a title; really, really strange, strict rules. Joe Orlando was the editor of House of Mystery, and he was one of the original EC artists. His idea was, ‘Well, if we can’t have really good, gritty horror stories, you know, if we can’t do it with the content, let’s find artists who can draw stuff that looks creepy, and just make the books look like horror comics.’” The short-story format helped novice writers and artists learn the ropes before moving on to higher-profile books such as DC’s superhero titles. “I never related much to superheroes,” confesses Wrightson. “I read Superman and Batman and Fantastic Four and all that stuff when I was younger. It was fun to read but it was nothing that I ever really wanted to draw. Superheroes were somehow not real to me ... compared to werewolves and mummies and stuff. I can buy that, but I can’t buy the X-Men. But that’s just me.” DC Comics’ horror line expanded slowly, with titles such as The Unexpected and The Witching Hour added by the early 1970s. Each issue would feature a handful of stories, perhaps eight to 12 pages long. One of the most popular of these, illustrated by Wrightson and written by his “partner in grime” Len Wein, was “Swamp Thing,” which premiered in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971), then made the leap into a title of its own. [Swamp Thing vol. 1 #1 was cover-dated Oct.–Nov. 1972.] Wrightson explains, “Part of the fun is following a character and watching him develop and seeing which direction he’s going to follow. It just seems that most of the time people jump in with that initial enthusiasm and after a while the characters begin to pull you along as a creator, and the characters begin to tell you what do with them.
“We were pretty much making [Swamp Thing] up as we went along. It was basically a monster-of-the-month kind of thing, like the Kolchak/Night Stalker TV show. It was the same hero, but a hero needs someone to fight and it would be another monster. But I’ll take the blame for that. I was looking for stuff that was fun to draw, so maybe Len had other ideas about developing the character and taking it in another direction, or maybe I held him back because I wanted to have another monster. I never talked with him about that, but looking back and rereading it, it looks a little suspicious now.” Swamp Thing eventually stumbled once Wrightson and Wein departed after the tenth issue, and was canceled after #24 (Aug.–Sept. 1976). Revived in the early 1980s, it led to two feature films and a syndicated television series, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon show. Since the Swamp Thing was created under DC Comics’ work-for-hire policy, Wrightson and Wein saw only token appreciation for their creation.
TM & © DC Comics.
Swamp Thing, Take One When Wrightson and writer Len Wein introduced Swamp Thing in House of Secrets #92—the moody title page from which is seen at right—they had no inkling that they had created a horror and pop-culture icon. The issue’s cover is seen in the upper right. TM & © 2009 DC Comics.
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In the early 1970s, horror comics were experiencing an explosion in popularity. Not since the days of EC Comics had horror been so popular. At Marvel Comics there were the Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, Son of Satan, Satana, the Zombie, the Man-Thing, the Living Mummy, the Scarecrow, Dracula, and the Monster of Frankenstein. First and foremost of the Marvel horror explosion was Werewolf by Night, premiering in Marvel Spotlight #2 (Feb. 1972). Then came Dracula in his own series, Tomb of Dracula, which lasted 70 issues. Next came the flaming-skull-headed biker Ghost Rider, who tried out in Marvel Spotlight before blazing into his own title. Then Marvel’s version of Frankenstein burst onto the scene.
The Frankenstein Monster is the creation of Mary Shelley, who wrote her famous novel in 1818 and titled it Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The Monster was popularized in the 1931 Universal Pictures movie starring Boris Karloff as the creature. Karloff’s Monster is the image most associated with Frankenstein. But it was almost 42 years between the first Frankenstein movie and Marvel’s Frankenstein comics series. [Editor’s note: See this issue’s Frankenstein in Comics Timeline for a neckjolting jaunt through the Monster’s many comic-book appearances.] Marvel’s Frankenstein Monster actually first appeared in X-Men #40 (Jan. 1968), but that character was an android version with superpowers. The “real” Frankenstein Monster appeared in a cameo
“My Lord!” is Right! Mike Ploog’s freakish interpretation of the Marvel-published Monster, in pencil form, from page 3 of issue #6 (Oct. 1973). Courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). (inset) Mary Shelley’s novel. © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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Beyond Karloff The challenge of artist Ploog and Marvel Comics was to make their Monster reminiscent of actor Boris Karloff (left) but unique as a Marvel character (as seen in this detail from the cover of Monster of Frankenstein #3.) (below) Marvel’s first issue. Karloff Frankenstein © 2009 Universal Pictures. Ploog Frankenstein © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
in Silver Surfer #7 (Aug. 1969). Then, in late 1972, the Monster of Frankenstein got his own, self-titled Marvel Comics series. Monster of Frankenstein #1 (Jan. 1973), or, as it’s titled in the indicia on the splash page, simply Frankenstein, was written by Gary Friedrich, drawn by Mike Ploog, and edited by Roy Thomas. Series editor Thomas was first invited to write the book, to be teamed with artist Ploog, who was already making a name for himself with his horror work in the new Werewolf by Night and Ghost Rider series. “I’d been working with Dick Giordano adapting Bram Stoker’s Dracula [in the black-and-white magazine Vampire Tales], so I wanted to start with the [Mary] Shelley Frankenstein story, then bring [the Monster of Frankenstein] into the present,” Thomas says. “But eager as I was to work with Mike Ploog on Frankenstein, I just didn’t have time. “So I turned the project over to Gary [Friedrich], who did a fine job with it.” This was the second teaming of Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog. With horror comics being hot and Friedrich and Ploog even hotter after kickstarting Ghost Rider, Marvel turned to its star writer/artist combo to produce another fright-filled hit. Instead of delving deep into the occult like Ghost Rider and Son of Satan, Marvel decided to go with an old favorite. “I don’t remember whose idea it was to do a Frankenstein book,” Friedrich says. “But at this time, Marvel was cranking up the gears on the monster mags, and if you’re doing to do a monster comic, what better character than Franky?” Ploog says that because horror was popular, Marvel decided to try the Frankenstein Monster in his own title. “Werewolf by Night had became a successful title and was selling very well and DC’s horror comic line was doing well,” the artist recalls, “so I think Stan [Lee] and the boys decided to expand into that market.” Ploog used a drawing of the Frankenstein Monster by John Romita, Sr. as the basis for his own rendition and turned the Monster into a creature so fearful, yet at the same time one so pitiful and in search of his humanity—or eternal rest. Friedrich wasn’t involved in choosing the appropriate look for the Monster, but loved Ploog’s version. “I don’t remember Romita doing the original drawing, though probably he did since he was there in the office and could show roughs to Stan [Lee] and Roy as he worked, which would have been a lot faster than waiting for Mike to draw them and then bring or mail them into the office,” Friedrich says. “I don’t recall being greatly involved in the project once it was decided to do an adaptation Monsters Issue
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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted, interpreted, borrowed from, parodied, and ripped off in more comic books than a single edition of BACK ISSUE can contain. We’ve dug through the comics morgue for this sampling of covers featuring our favorite reanimated monster (and a few of his distant cousins)…
Briefer’s monster-hero goes solo in Frankenstein Comics.
Mary Shelley’s tale is adapted in Classic Comics #26.
Batman and Robin meet Frankie in Detective #135.
Bizarro meets Frankenstein in Superman #142.
Black-and-white mag Castle of Frankenstein begins.
Dell’s Frankenstein #1 loosely adapts the 1931 movie.
Model-building craze spawns this MAD cover.
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All covers © their respective owners.
Dick Briefer’s “Frankenstein” starts in Prize Comics.
Herman Munster and TV family spin off into comics.
Stone-age guest appearance in Flintstones #33.
Lovable Franken-family begins long Gold Key run.
Lid-flipping TV cartoon gets a Gold Key tie-in.
Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster in an undated painting by Gray Morrow. Art scan courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). © Universal Pictures.
Dell Comics’ short-lived superhero Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, Jr. #1 stars Hanna-Barbera’s giant robot.
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Mutants meet Monster in Marvel’s X-Men #40.
Reprinting of Classics (Comics) Illustrated #26.
In the proud history of comic-magazine monsters, there’s never been a creation quite like Vampirella. Her timing on the national scene was not fortuitous. She followed the slinky and beautiful host Vampira, who in turn ushered, in a manner of speaking, sitcom scarequeens Lily Munster and Morticia Addams. Hammer Films, over in Great Britain, had already pushed the envelope with sexy, seductive vampire brides played by Barbara Shelley (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, 1966) and Marianne Harcourt (Kiss of the Vampire, 1963). By the end of the 1960s, Vampirella’s time had come. And publisher James Warren was glad to have her. His young company had seen some tough times following the initial successes of its illustrated ventures, Creepy and Eerie, but financial problems led to more reprints than many of its faithful readers could bear. By 1969, things had improved slightly, but a shot in the arm was needed. That “shot in the arm” morphed into a bite in the neck. A full-page house ad drawn by Tony Williamsune appeared in the back of Creepy #28 (Aug. 1969). Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, Warren’s two narrators of the “nauseating novelettes” the company had been doing, were trembling in fear! “She was coming!” Eerie threatened to scream if his uncle let her through the door. In a follow-up ad in the next issue, Vampirella (taken from a Frank Frazetta drawing) strutted her stuff before her still-rattled “family members.” Vampi was a knockout—in more ways than one! Her first issue boasted an unforgettable Frazetta cover, which had to delight longtime readers who’d been clamoring for the artist’s return to Warren. “Illustrated Tales to Bewitch and Bedevil You”—this seductive spiel appeared above the cover’s logo, but more to the point was the further announcement just inside, “Captivating Comics about Fantastic Females!” This was this new title’s subtle secret. These new “excursions into evil” were specifically designed around the enticement of the femme fatale with supernatural specialties. This was made to order for awkward pre-teens (myself included). In ’69–’70, my age group was far too unsophisticated for Esquire, a bit too young for Playboy, and generally too unsure of our rarely tested manhood to read … uh, romance comics (openly, at least). Happily, we now had Vampirella. “We knew we had a hit in her,” Forrest J. Ackerman, one of her creators, told me as he signed my Vampirella and Famous Monsters mags at the San Diego Comic-Con in the late ’90s. “She was sexy … and sensational!” he laughingly added. She sure was.
Necking Vampirella gets ready to put the bite on an unlucky (or lucky—depends upon how you look at it!) victim in this outstanding unpublished ’90s illustration by José “Pepe” González. All artwork and photos in this article were provided by Dewey Cassell and Jerry Boyd. © 2009 Harris Publications, Inc.
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New Ghoul in Town! The delectable Vampirella made her first appearance in this 1969 house ad in Creepy #29. This knee-knocking illo was done by Tony Williamsune. (below) Three great impressarios of horror (left to right): Vincent Price, James Warren, and Forrest J. Ackerman, the latter of whom helped create Vampirella. © 1969 Warren Publishing. Vampirella © 2009 Harris Publications, Inc.
LOVE AT FIRST BITE
In her first appearance, beautifully realized by Tom Sutton and nicely written by Ackerman, the young bloodsucker was a carefree flirt/tease. She lived on the planet Draculon (among other permutations). This was a planet of bloodthirsty vampires, but their thirst was easily sated by the rivers of blood (!!) that were natural to the landscape. If any prospective readers had been casual about picking up and thumbing through that historic premiere issue, Sutton’s opening splash with the gorgeous young bat-woman taking a long shower (in blood, yet!) had to be the answer to their doldrums! Vampi’s partially (but carefully concealed) nude body spoke volumes about thrills to come. Other creature queens to follow drawn by Neal Adams, William Barry, Jack Sparling, Billy Graham, Reed Crandall, Sanho Kim, and Dick Piscopo would follow this standard. Their stories of cave girls, futuristic lady space explorers, warrior women, alluring aliens, sea goddesses, and female werewolves came in various states of undress with come-hither smiles that hadn’t been seen in comics ever. Vampi (as she quickly came to be known) bespoke danger, but she was just out to have fun in her first adventure. An intrusion on her world by some of those pesky, gotta-explore-all-of-space Earthmen got the action going. (Ackerman was always partial to science fiction.) The spacemen fire on the curious bat-woman flying above them, but Vampirella’s attack is better coordinated and a few fang-tipped bites later—and it’s all over. Or is it? The vamp discovers that the lifeblood of Draculon is the lifeblood of these space travelers! With a laugh, she readies herself to return in their spaceship to the planet of their origin. Her first adventure was over, but she stepped into the traditional horror-mag narrator mode right after that, posing provocatively on the opening story pages for maximum appeal. And she had appeal to spare! The artists and writers certainly did their part, but the competition couldn’t match up. DC, Marvel, Gold Key, and Charlton had horror-mystery comics in 1969, of course, but the Comics Code ensured that they couldn’t bring “sex” with a capital “S” with them. Publisher Warren could, and did. Jim Warren told Comic Book Artist’s readers (in the superb fourth issue), “We [Ackerman and Warren] had both seen the movie Barberella together and had loved it. I carefully outlined exactly what I wanted: A modern-day setting but something with a mystique of vampires, Transylvania; something legendary—and Vampirella was born. Think about Bram Stoker and what he did with Dracula: Horror and sex. I didn’t want Wonder Woman. I didn’t want a superhero type. I wanted a modern setting. Sexy, but not naked or bare-breasted.” Mr. Warren knew his audience. Readers sensed a turnaround. The reprints were slowly eased out as veterans like Reed Crandall, Monsters Issue
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No one can ever accuse Stan Lee and Steve Ditko of getting off to a slow start with The Amazing Spider-Man. Nearly all of the web-slinger’s great villains were created during the book’s first three years under its creators. But Morbius the Living Vampire is one of the few later creations who has managed to join the pantheon of great Spider-Man foes, alongside the likes of the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Mysterio, Electro, the Vulture, and Kraven the Hunter. Created by writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, Morbius has become a Marvel mainstay who at one point even held down his own monthly series.
Morbius isn’t a true vampire, at least not in the traditional sense, although he shares many traits with the classic vampires of film and fiction. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Michael Morbius learned he was dying from a rare blood disease. He attempted to find a cure, creating a serum derived from vampire bats. The formula did cure his illness, but it also transformed him into a chalk-white, fanged creature of the night. He also developed superhuman powers: enhanced strength and the ability to glide on the air currents. In this respect, there was little difference between Morbius and the traditional vampire. Although he was still alive, Morbius discovered he needed to drink human blood to survive. He also shared the vampire’s aversion to light, although sunlight did not destroy him as it would a supernatural vampire. He also lacked the undead vampire’s aversion to garlic and religious icons. However, artist and co-creator Gil Kane gave the Living Vampire a more conventional supervillain’s costume, rather than the gothic garb most typically associated with literary and movie vampires. Morbius’ introduction in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (Oct. 1971) was noteworthy for more than just the introduction of an instantly classic supervillain. It also marked the first time in the book’s storied history that a writer other than Stan Lee penned the script for the web-slinger’s adventures.
Monster Supervillain Detail from the cover art to Spectacular Spider-Man #7 (June 1977), penciled by Dave Cockrum and inked by Al Milgrom. Courtesy of Anthony Snyder (www.anthonysnyderart.com). © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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Lee was working on a screenplay for a sciencefiction movie at the time, so he needed to take a break from his heavy workload as a writer for Marvel. For this monumental passing of the torch, Lee chose his righthand man, Roy Thomas, to be the new Amazing Spider-Man scribe. “Actually, I wanted to do Fantastic Four, but Stan wanted me to do Spider-Man, so I did Spider-Man,” Thomas says. “I got to write Fantastic Four a few years later and I enjoyed writing Spider-Man, so it all worked out.” Attributing Morbius’ origin to science, not sorcery, was in part a creative, innovative twist on a classic fictional monster. But it also represented an opportunity to take advantage of recent changes in the Comics Code Authority, which governed content in comic books aimed at a youthful readership. For years, the Comics Code declared, “Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.” So using vampires— or any undead creatures—in mainstream comics had been out of the question. (A similar concession was made in a Marvel Two-in-One story set in Haiti. The mindless, perhaps undead, creatures in the story were referred to as “zuvembies” rather than “zombies.”) But the Comics Code’s restrictions were somewhat loosened in the early 1970s and Lee wanted to capitalize by bringing in a vampire to the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. “We were talking about doing Dracula, but Stan wanted a costumed villain. Other than that, he didn’t specify what we should do,” Thomas says. “I deliberately wrote that issue a little differently than Stan would have. Maybe better, maybe worse, but different.” Lee also left Thomas with a compelling plot thread to resolve, as in the landmark Amazing Spider-Man #100, Spidey attempted to find a cure for his spider-powers, only to grow four additional arms! So Thomas started thinking about a possible vampire villain for Spider-Man, and how he could weave that into the storyline he inherited. He says he remembered a science-fiction film from his youth in which a man was turned into a vampire by radiation, not magic. That gave him the inspiration that Morbius should be a creature of science. As for the name “Morbius,” another 1950s sciencefiction film provided the inspiration, albeit inadvertently. A character in the film Forbidden Planet was named Dr. Morbius, and the name stuck in Thomas’ subconscious. He didn’t realize from where he had come up with the name until the book already was in print, he says.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Amazing Spider-Man #101 picks up with Peter Parker trying to deal with the consequences of his failed attempt to cure his spider-powers. Now, he truly is a freak, unable to move in normal society. Peter responds to the unexpected turn of events with fear, anger and his trademark self-deprecating humor. “S’funny ... in pop fiction, the masked hero's always looking for a gimmick that'll ‘Strike terror into the hearts of evil-doers,’” he says. “The Shadow, Batman ... there was even a guy called the Spider once. Well, cheer up, web-spinner. You’ve got ’em all beat. And the only person you'll scare more than the crooks will be yourself.” He realizes that he can’t see Gwen Stacy, Aunt May, or the Daily Bugle staff until when—or if—he is able to rid himself of his four extra arms. So he calls Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard, who knows a little something himself
about experiments gone wrong. Dr. Connors offers Spider-Man the use of his beach house in a remote section of Long Island. There, Spider-Man can hole up and look for a cure away from prying eyes. Meanwhile, the scene shifts to a ship floating off the New York coast. Several crew members have disappeared in recent days and the remaining crewmen place the blame on a goateed drifter they picked up shortly before the disappearances began. The man, Dr. Michael Morbius, is forced to flee and hide from the angry mob. However, when the sun goes down, Morbius assumes a far more dangerous persona— that of a living vampire! “But now, it is night once more—and the night belongs to me—to Morbius! For the darkness is a time for strange thirsts, and when Morbius thists—it must be quenched!,” Morbius says as he pulls in another victim. That night, he murders the ship’s entire crew before gliding to shore. Thomas says this introductory scene is a nod to a similar scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the definitive and certainly the most famous vampire novel ever written. Monsters Issue
Nap Time Morbius slumbers, just before his encounter with Spidey, on page 14 of the Roy Thomas/Gil Kane/ Frank Giacoia classic Amazing Spider-Man #101 (Oct. 1971). © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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One of the most critically lauded comics of the 1970s was the ten-issue run of Swamp Thing by writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson. But that’s not what this article is about. This is, instead, a look at what came after Wein and Wrightson, for, though one might not realize it today, Swamp Thing ran for a further 14 issues before finally being canceled in the summer of 1976. Swamp Thing debuted in a one-off tale in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) and the issue garnered very good sales. Indeed, as Len Wein himself was later reported as having said, “House of Secrets outsold everything that month.” Confident in the knowledge they’d spawned a hit, Wein, Wrightson, and editor Joe Orlando had a problem: Success demanded the character’s return, but the story was complete in itself, with little possibility for a sequel. That they succeeded in capturing lightning in a bottle for a second time—and brilliantly— is a matter of record. The resulting ten issues remain so popular that as recently as spring of 2009 they have been reprinted in a new, lavish hardcover volume from DC. But with Swamp Thing #10 (June 1974), an exhausted Bernie [then Berni] Wrightson took his leave. As news of his departure leaked out, fans reportedly suggested Jeff Jones as a suitable replacement. According to an editorial in Swamp Thing #11 (Aug. 1974), however, the powers-that-be felt that Jones’ work would be too similar to Wrightson’s, and wanted to take the series, and its mossy star, in a slightly different direction. The artist ultimately chosen was Nestor Redondo.
THE FILIPINO INVASION
Redondo was then best known as a component of the “Filipino Invasion.” Facing falling sales and rising costs, DC had looked to foreign countries such as the Philippines and South America for artists with cheaper rates. Filipino artist Tony DeZuniga had proven himself a valuable resource, and, through him, DC began to secure the services of other talents. Alex Niño, Alfredo Alcala, Gerry Talaoc, as well as Redondo, were just a few of the artists whose work filled pages in various DC books of the 1970s. Len Wein stayed on as writer, though his working method had to change. He and Wrightson had worked “Marvel-style”—plot, art, dialogue—but with Redondo living halfway around the world, Wein now had to produce a full script in advance.
Remarkable Redondo Filipino artist Nestor Redondo ably filled Bernie Wrightson’s vacated artist’s chair on DC Comics’ original Swamp Thing series. Seen here is the cover art to issue #18 (Sept. 1975), courtesy of Heritage Comics Auctions (www.ha.com). TM & © DC Comics.
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Better Call Orkin! Swampy needs pest control help on this page 8 splash from ST #14 (Jan.–Feb. 1975). Courtesy of Heritage. TM & © DC Comics.
Swamp Thing #11 begins with the erstwhile Alec Holland gazing at the smoking ruin of what was once his laboratory. Having stood staring for so long, however, the Swamp Thing finds he has taken root and, tearing his foot out of the ground, ambles off into the swamp, decrying his pathetic lot. Meanwhile, Abigail Arcane and Matt Cable are tracking the creature, but find themselves kidnapped by huge, mutated “worms.” In the clutches of one “Professor Zachary Nail,” Matt and Abby discover that atomic radiation from Nail’s equipment has mutated a wide variety of swamp fauna, and Nail himself is on a mad crusade to save a few examples of humanity before the world outside succumbs to pollution. The worms are a remnant of some ancient race accidentally revived by Nail. Swamp Thing arrives, and discovers that the worms, unknown to Nail, merely desire to cultivate the humans as food! During the fight that follows Nail opts to destroy his base, and Swamp Thing helps
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everyone escape before the explosion destroys the worms—and Nail. It’s a solid issue; perhaps a little wild plot-wise, but very readable. Swamp Thing himself is cast as a tragic figure, and Abigail Arcane and Matt Cable provide likable support. Nail’s scheme, as unlikely as it is, plays up the pollution concerns of the day. Nestor Redondo’s art is nothing less than brilliant. His lush brush work and hatching often produce a photorealistic feel, but his fluid lines keep the work from appearing static. The man knows his anatomy, providing something of a master class in comic-book figure work. That Swamp Thing and Rima the Jungle Girl were his only regular series is to be regretted. Perhaps the finest example of his work during this period was on the tabloid-sized adaptation of the Bible [in Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-36, June–July 1975], where Redondo worked over layouts by Joe Kubert, producing a result that is simply stunning. He remains one of the most sorely underrated comics artists ever. As writer Gerry Conway tells BACK ISSUE, “I agree that Nestor is one of comicdom’s great unsung talents. His misfortune is that his art is very much part of a ‘school,’ and they were all heavily influenced by each other’s art style. As a result, their work tended to look alike. Nestor, to my mind, was the best of the bunch; I worked with him on a number of stories, including as an editor, and always found his art to be dynamic and interesting. I especially enjoyed the work we did together on Swamp Thing.” Swamp Thing #12 (Oct. 1974) is a time-travel story that finds our muck-encrusted hero dragged unwillingly from era to era by a huge, glowing crystal. Redondo excels himself with some of his strongest art for the series, depicting dinosaurs, Roman gladiatorial showdowns, 14th-Century Europe, and the American Civil War with equal verisimilitude. The research required to believably pull this off would have given many artists pause, but Redondo never skimps on the detail; his panels often filled with half a dozen characters and lush backgrounds. “The Leviathan Conspiracy” in #13 (Dec. 1974) sees Swamp Thing captured for experimentation by a misguided scientist. And with that, co-creator Len Wein bowed out. The editorial in #14 (Feb. 1975) informs the reader that Wein left due to work and health pressures (kidney stones are mentioned), but that a diligent search had turned up a “young, interested, and very committed” new writer: David Michelinie. Michelinie’s debut tale is a beautiful story, which Redondo more than rises to the challenge of illustrating. “The Tomorrow Children” opens with Swamp Thing coming to the aid of a small mutant child who is being pursued by angry, axe-wielding townsfolk. As we’re told, “[N]ature spawns no animal more vicious, no creature more vile, than that mindless flock of humanity called ... a mob!” As the villagers scatter, and the child flees, we learn something of the history of these events. People have been dying and huge creatures have been spied in the swamp. When old Jeb Wheeler found three mysterious children hidden in a box abandoned in the swamp, the answer was clear to the townsfolk— the children were the cause. They, and Jeb, were hounded out of town. Attacked by a giant ant, Swamp Thing is stunned to see more of the creatures controlled by the mind powers of the three kids. The girl, Delta, and her brothers,
Fan out the DC comic books that you bought in the fall of 1975 and you see the sub-groups within. The superheroes, obviously. War. Horror. The recently added sword-and-sorcery books. And Swamp Thing, Man-Bat, and the Patchwork Man (starring in House of Secrets)—the Monster line. Oh, wait … there wasn’t any monster line, at least not intentionally. However comforting the notion of a grand plan may be, the reality is that many publishing decisions owe more to chance or mundane business developments. DC’s highly touted rollout of sword-and-sorcery comics in the spring of 1975, for instance, “was a burst of activity to fill a sudden increase in the schedule,” DC president Paul Levitz explains. “I think any move towards monsters as ‘heroes’ was more a case-by-case reaction.” Up to that point, DC had had a good bit of success with its line of horror comics since the late 1960s, many of them hosted by comedic figures like Cain and Abel. Marvel Comics had taken a stab at the genre from 1972 to 1975, but a lack of staffing and the company’s natural strengths in serial fiction led to their own development of an entire sub-line of monstrous continuing characters that embraced every major horror icon, sometimes twice over. By contrast, DC’s principal venture into the monsterhero genre had been Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing in 1972, itself based on a one-shot story in the previous year’s House of Secrets #92. By 1975, both Wein and Wrightson had left DC’s Swamp Thing, but the book remained a going concern under original editor Joe Orlando, writer David Michelinie, and artist Nestor Redondo. Indeed, there’d even been an uptick in sales, albeit one that took place while the original creative team was on the book and, as Levitz notes, “only became evident after they left because of the lag time in newsstand sales reporting.” Nonetheless, this was enough to warrant the announcement in the Amazing World of DC Comics #6 (May–June 1975) that “Swamp Thing is so hot that its [publication frequency is] shifting from seven times a year to eight!” Enter the Patchwork Man. Seen for the first (and last) time in Swamp Thing #3 (Feb.–Mar. 1973), the man once known as Gregori Arcane was a quasi-Frankenstein Monster whose body had been all but destroyed when he stepped on a land mine. Unfortunately, from Gregori’s perspective, he had a mad-scientist brother named Anton who decided to “improvise” with his sibling’s body
I Hate Meeces to Pieces! Swamp Thing spin-off the Patchwork Man rumbles with rodents in this Nestor Redondo-drawn image from the character’s second solo story. Intended for House of Secrets #141, this tale went unpublished in the US but saw print in Sweden’s Gigant #3. TM & © DC Comics.
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and created a mute creature with only dim memories of his past life. The Swamp Thing was little better at expressing himself than the Patchwork Man, but they ultimately found a common bond in saving the life of a white-haired woman named Abigail Arcane. Gregori’s now-grown daughter had no idea that the father she’d long believed dead had just saved her life. The fact that the Patchwork Man had fallen to his apparent death at the end of the story was immaterial. In comics, as fans often say, if you don’t see the body, they’re not dead. And Gerry Conway, it was decided, would resurrect him for editor Joe Orlando in an ongoing series debuting in House of Secrets #140 (Feb.–Mar. 1976), with art by Nestor Redondo. Enthusiastically welcomed back to DC in 1975 after several years as a major player at Marvel, Gerry Conway soon had a full and varied slate of assignments as both a writer and editor. There was no doubt which of them was the favored child. A full-page house ad in Sept. 1975 cover-dated comics sported a striking illustration by Steve Ditko (himself newly returned to DC) that proclaimed, “Fantasy’s most bizarre hero now in his own macabre magazine— Man-Bat!” All-Star Comics, Blackhawk, and [1st Issue Special’s] “Codename: Assassin” (“three more from Conway’s Corner”) played second fiddle with a short nod at the bottom of the page. Note that this ad appeared three months before Man-Bat #1 was published. “I think we simply needed to fill a page that month,” Gerry believes, “and [publisher] Carmine [Infantino] was eager to showcase Steve Ditko’s arrival at DC.” The Man-Bat comic, according to Amazing World of DC Comics #6, was one that “our publisher has wanted to do for a long time now.” Created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams in Detective
Comics #400 (June 1970), Man-Bat was a scientist named Kirk Langstrom whose efforts to emulate Batman wound up turning him into a feral creature who began to lose touch with his human side. Robbins cured his tragic anti-hero in his third appearance (Detective Comics #407), but not before adding another wrinkle when Langstrom’s new wife Francine become a She-Bat. Both of the Langstroms suffered relapses in subsequent tales before Kirk perfected his bat-formula, enabling him to switch back and forth with no impact on his faculties. Disappearing after Robbins left DC for Marvel, Man-Bat finally returned opposite Batman in The Brave and the Bold #119 (June 1975) and had his origin reprinted in Batman Family #1 (Sept.–Oct. 1975), renewing his familiarity with readers as the ongoing series loomed. “As far as Man-Bat goes,” Gerry Conway recalls, “I think what interested me was the opportunity to work with Steve Ditko. It’s been a while, obviously, but I believe we came up with the idea of proposing a series to Ditko first, then picked Man-Bat as a natural fit. Patchwork Man was another story. I don’t think I felt any particular affinity for the character, but I believe Joe Orlando was looking to put together a regular series figuring to capture some of Swamp Thing’s audience with a kind of spin-off.” Man-Bat #1, released in early September, traded on its Batman connection through the expected Batman guest-appearance but allowed Kirk Langstrom his independence. Discovering that his wife’s latest transformations into the She-Bat were being caused by one Baron Clement Tyme (ahem), Man-Bat pointedly refused the Dark Knight’s help in stopping him. Batman had become a crutch to him, he asserted, and it was time to stand (fly?) on his own. It was, all told, a solid first issue whose visuals (inked by Al Milgrom) at times echoed Steve Ditko’s classic work on Doctor Strange in shots of the sorcerous Baron Tyme. If there was any awkwardness, it was in the depiction of Batman himself, who seemed somehow less imposing here. Wisely, Ditko mostly kept his shots of the hero in shadows or partial silhouette. Where the jam-packed first Man-Bat deferred the character’s background to a text page, the introductory Patchwork Man story in mid-November’s House of Secrets #140 actually devoted several pages to the character’s origin, expanding on the Swamp Thing backstory. Given a title character who couldn’t speak or even think coherently, the burden of plot advancement and dialogue rested on a new cast of characters who operated out of the Mount Good Hope Institute under Doctor Elijah Chomes. Exactly why Chomes wanted to study the captive Patchwork Man was unclear, but we’ve read enough comics to know that this sort of thing never ends well. Certainly, that’s what the creature must have thought since he escaped at the end of the story with the help of a friendly cab driver. The most provocative detail in the issue stemmed from scientist Darleen Greer’s reaction to Chomes’ description of the Patchwork Man as being not unlike “an infant child.” As the story closed, she confided to colleague Andy Harty that she was herself pregnant, something sure to complicate her relationship with her estranged husband and potentially end her career. In short, she
Man-Bat Flies Solo Steve Ditko and Al Milgrom’s rendition of Man-Bat graces this 1975 DC house ad. (inset) The cover to Man-Bat #1, drawn by Jim Aparo. TM & © DC Comics.
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Classic film and television monsters, as well as created-just-for-comics creatures, constitute some of our beloved industry’s most fascinating creations! In this gallery of the gruesome, I’ve collected artwork by a few of comicdom’s finest talents including some rarely seen and never published pieces for fans who thrill to those “things” that go bump, pow, and crash in the night ... and in the day!
piled written and com by
(left) Four of Marvel’s mightiest heroic monsters—the Hulk, the Beast, the Thing, and Man-Thing—collide with each other (!!) and with DC’s Swamp Thing in this Jim Starlin pencil plate from the 1972 ACBA Portfolio. (above) Awww, dare we call Hot Stuff and Spooky “monsters”? Sure, why not? The “Tuff Little Ghost” and everyone’s favorite “Devil Kid” wave to us from behind a tree in the Enchanted Forest, courtesy of their longtime artist, Howie Post, who penciled this double-portrait in 2004. Hulk, Beast, and Thing © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. Swamp Thing TM & © DC Comics. Spooky and Hot Stuff © 2009 Harvey Entertainment.
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(top left) Mike Ploog does film storyboards these days. Here’s an undated etching of a movie monster that hasn’t been “produced” yet (but maybe one day he will....). (above right) Ghost Rider does his best to smile in this Ploog marker convention drawing from 2007. (far left) His signature got cut off the reproduction of this late ’80s illo, but here’s Art Adams’ rendition of the unforgettable Universal Studios’ Bride of Frankenstein. (left) With his bride around, you knew that Frankenstein couldn’t be far behind! This bust of the (Karloff-like) man of many parts by Mike Mignola was done in ’06. Monster art © Mike Ploog. Ghost Rider © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein © 2009 Universal Pictures.
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As a newly transformed creature lumbers out of the Louisiana bayou in 1972’s Swamp Thing #1, a narrative caption introduces the emerging swamp monster as “a muck-encrusted, shambling mockery of life—a twisted caricature of humanity that can only be called … Swamp Thing!” Although Alec Holland’s transformation into Swamp Thing was a new horror-fiction conceit at the time, the fear of bodily mutation and metamorphosis is endemic to the human experience. In her notes to Dante’s Inferno (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), Nicole Pinsky observes that “the notion of Horror as we know it from fiction or the movies involves detailed, uncanny transformation of the human body…. The body may be snatched or bitten, invaded or inverted or duplicated, obscenely revived or repellently distorted, but above all it changes.” From Ovid to Dante—from Mary Shelley to Franz Kafka to Romero’s Living Dead—the fear of corporeal metamorphosis has haunted human storytelling for millennia. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s best-known creation is no exception. When Alec Holland is transformed into something unbearably monstrous, the reader is compelled to both pity and fear him as the monster tries to regain his humanity. The exact opposite is true of his nemesis, Anton Arcane. If Swamp Thing’s story is a tragedy that loosely mirrors Frankenstein’s monster, then Anton Arcane represents a darker, more sadistic version of the monster’s creator: Victor Frankenstein. Swamp Thing spends much of his time trying to hold onto and recreate his humanity, while Arcane is willing to trade his humanity for the opportunity to live and rule forever. For almost four decades, Arcane has remained not just a common comic-book foil to Swamp Thing, but a dark reflection that reveals the depths of human (and inhuman) horror.
DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Although Arcane spoke his first dialogue in the last panel of Swamp Thing #1, he didn’t fully appear until the second issue of the series. Swamp Thing #2 (“The Man Who Wanted Forever”) begins as a horde of Arcane’s patchwork creations—called Un-Men— surround Swamp Thing, lull him into a trance, and sweep him out of the bayou on board a plane destined for eastern Europe. The Un-Men are only loosely men, as they seem to have been assembled from different parts of humanoid bodies. The Un-Men’s apparent ringleader, a creature named Cranius, is essentially a brain with a face sitting on top of a hand. The only other Un-Man with a significant role in this issue, Ophidian, is the serpent-like creature who hypnotizes
Mortal Enemies By the time he tangled with DC’s resilient muck-monster in Swamp Thing vol. 2 #98 (Aug. 1990), Anton Arcane had become a grotesquery in appearance and soullessness. Cover painting by John Totleben. TM & © DC Comics.
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Swamp Thing for the journey across the ocean to a castle in the Balkan mountains. Arcane doesn’t appear until almost halfway through the issue, but he quickly takes control of the story. Arcane stands in stark contrast to the rest of the creatures in Swamp Thing #2. While he is clearly old and withered, he is still distinctly human. And whereas he refers to the Un-Men who inhabit his castle with him as “pets” and “experimentations,” he repeatedly calls Swamp Thing “my boy” and “my friend.” He seems at first to want to help Swamp Thing regain the human form he had once had. Arcane has discovered the secret of immorality but, as he tells Swamp Thing, “it is a secret I dare not put to use—while I still inhabit this bent and wizened form.” Through a mystical, alchemical process, Arcane offers to transfer consciousnesses: Arcane will take on the form of Swamp Thing while Swamp Thing reverts back to the form of Alec Holland. As with any deal with the devil, Arcane’s offer is too good to be true. As soon as Alec regains his human form, he learns that Arcane’s plan is little more than a revenge fantasy. As Arcane tells his Un-Men, “this malformed body means far more than immortality, my pets— it means power! Power to exact the vengeance that has gnawed at my heart for years … vengeance against the unthinking cretins who inhabit the village below … the self-centered snobs who shunned me in my youth— who scorned me and my work! In this indestructible body, I’m able to do what I’ve longed to do … I can go
Oh, the Humanity!
down the mountain—and destroy them all!” From the very beginning, immortality is only really half of Arcane’s design. The plan is foiled when Alec reclaims the Swamp Thing body, sacrificing his humanity to save the lives of the villagers below. Arcane falls to his apparent death from a window high in his castle and, unable to cope with the loss of their master, the Un-Men jump from the same window onto the rocks below. Despite the elaborate thematic mirrors and inversions built into the first Swamp Thing/Arcane confrontation, co-creator Len Wein says he was really just trying to create a good villain that fit the genre of the book. “We never sat down and specified what sort of evil he represented,” Wein says. “I never really thought you needed to compartmentalize evil. I didn’t think it needed that much dissecting to be that disturbing. You want a mad scientist in a horror book, and I liked the idea of giving Alec the chance to become human again very early on. And Arcane fit right into that.”
(left) Anton Arcane offers to make a man out of our beleaguered bog beast on page 12 of 1972’s Swamp Thing #2. (right) In the next issue, Aracane’s brother Gregori’s life is “saved” as he becomes the Patchwork Man. Art by Bernie Wrightson.
ARCANE, FAMILY MAN
Arcane also provided a way to establish a sense of continuity for the series as a whole. Arcane left behind two family members who would play prominent roles in Swamp Thing’s life for years to come. Swamp Thing #3, entitled “The Patchwork Man,” reveals that Arcane had “saved” his own brother, Gregori Arcane, after a land mine accident years earlier. In a twisted act of fraternal salvation, Arcane recreated Gregori as one of his Un-Men
TM & © DC Comics.
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“Follow me … for I am The Phantom Stranger!” So said the logo of one hep early-’70s DC series. And at least one character took those words to heart—Dr. Terrence Thirteen, professional Ghost-Breaker. Yes, when Doc 13 wasn’t shadowing the spookily garbed supernatural superhero around in the book’s feature stories, he followed him as the star of his own occultish backup feature. BACK ISSUE decided to debunk the debunker by hunting down the only men who could reveal what made Dr. Terry and Marie Thirteen tick—Phantom Stranger’s writers.
A DOCTOR OF DATA
The year 1951 was quite a year for entertainment: The King and I premiered on Broadway; Bedtime for Bonzo, starring future US President Ronald Reagan, hit the silver screen; and CBS presented the first color TV broadcast … viewed only by network executives since color TV sets had yet to be introduced to the American public. In the world of comics, Osamu Tezuka, father of manga, introduced his most famous creation, Astro Boy. On a lesser note, it was also the year that saw the haphazard creation of DC Comics’ protagonist Dr. Terrence Thirteen, a parapsychologist and investigator of reported supernatural activity. Thirteen was an orphan of a character, created by artist Leonard Starr and an uncredited writer to replace the “Captain Compass” feature. Imagine a less bumbling, more intense Clark Kent and you get the vibe of this neurotic paranormal investigator. The character’s first published appearance arrived in Star Spangled Comics #122 (Nov. 1951), where he toplined his own feature through #130 (July 1952). For generations, the Thirteen family’s less-savvy neighbors had hated and feared them, suspecting supernatural goings-on—but in reality, the Thirteens were thoroughly devoted to science and rationality. Thus, when the family patriarch died and appeared to come back in spirit, son Terry Thirteen, with his wife, Marie, set out to dispel the occurrence. That set the tone for the series, in which the married Thirteens investigated ostensibly occult-like situations, only to arrive at some mundane explanation. Following his Star Spangled run, Dr. Thirteen’s next appearance did not arrive until nearly 18 years later when the character turned up in Showcase #80 (Feb. 1969) as a supporting character in a Phantom Stranger story. When the Stranger received his own series that year, Dr. Thirteen made the leap as the character’s nemesis.
PHANTOM GETS A FOIL
The Phantom Stranger was one “weird hero” (see BACK ISSUE #15 for proof!). Dressed like a cross between the Spirit and the Phantom of the Opera, the Stranger operated somewhere between the passivity of the Watcher, old radio man-of-mystery the Whistler, and the crime-busting heroics of The Shadow. More often than not, he would merely materialize and disappear, long enough to forewarn characters of the consequences of their actions. Like a buttinsky Rod Serling, he might occasionally interfere.
“I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts”… …or monsters, or demons, felt DC’s resident Ghost-Breaker Dr. Terrence Thirteen, seen in the foreground in this detail from page 13 of Phantom Stranger #3. The headshot of the Stranger himself came from the character’s first issue. Art by Bill Draut. TM & © DC Comics.
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er Michael Aushenk
Dr. Thirteen “No. 1” The Ghost-Breaker bumped the Boy Wonder to grab the cover of Star Spangled Comics #122 (Nov. 1951), his first appearance. TM & © DC Comics.
All of this did much to raise the ire of Dr. Thirteen, a skeptic who did not believe in the supernatural and, least of all, believed that the Stranger was truly a phantom. He took to accusing the Stranger of perpetrating “cheap parlor tricks!” or ”smokes and mirrors!” to make it appear that he was ghostly. And off they went, bickering like an old married couple (yes, Doc 13 and the Stranger, not Terry and Marie)! So, whose idea was it to pit Thirteen against the Stranger as comic relief? “It was editor Joe Orlando who gave me this setup,” explains Mike Friedrich, who wrote fresh wraparound material for the first three issues, which relied heavily on old reprints written by John Broome and others. Friedrich admits that he was not comfortable with the premise. “I was handed archive copies of the early-1950s stories of both characters,” recalls Friedrich. “In the Mike Friedrich original, Dr. 13 was a serious ‘ghost-buster’ and we were reprinting those stories as well. So to run him up against Phantom Stranger meant that Dr. 13 had to be treated as a fool, since we readers knew that Phantom Stranger really is a supernatural being. I didn’t know how to maintain Dr. 13’s integrity in this situation. In retrospect, it would have been better to have created a new foil for Phantom Stranger, but I wasn’t mature enough as a writer or as a person to have suggested that.”
The idiosyncratic scribe was barely an adult when he received the assignment, which appears to have been a bone that the DC editors threw to a young, hungry writer. “I had been writing for about a year,” Friedrich tells BACK ISSUE. “I was 19 years old and writing for DC during my college summer break. I had a contract with them that guaranteed me a certain amount of work, so editorial director Carmine Infantino spread me around to the different editors. Joe Orlando had just come into the company on staff and Carmine asked Joe to give me something to do. Phantom Stranger is what he came up with. So it was a chance to work on something different. It was challenging to me because I was a superhero fan at the time and didn’t have the same kind of visceral engagement with other story genres. “I was writing a lot of different things that summer,” Friedrich reminisces. “I remember a fun issue of Teen Titans, drawn by Gil Kane and Wally Wood, for Dick Giordano; “Batgirl” (also by Kane) for Detective Comics, for Julie Schwartz; an issue of The Flash, also for Schwartz; an issue of Challengers of the Unknown, for Murray Boltinoff; and a spoof on Gil Kane, drawn unwittingly by Kane himself, for House of Mystery, for Joe Orlando.” Writing on Phantom Stranger often meant working with phantom artists. Friedrich: “I was writing full scripts, so I didn’t collaborate with the artist at all. I saw the artwork for the first time when it appeared in print.” For some, plumbing new contexts from old scripts might have been daunting. Not for Friedrich: “Actually, it was a little easier for me to think about how to connect the old material into the present than it would have been to think of new stories from scratch, because going into it I had so little awareness of both Phantom Stranger and Dr. 13.” Friedrich made the most of it, adding flare to early stories such as “Defeat the Dragon Curse … or Die.” “Creatively, I think Phantom Stranger was one of my weaker comic-writing experiences,” says the often self-critical Friedrich. “I was relieved when I returned to college and lost the assignment.”
SCIENCE VS. SUPERSTITION
It was a familiar scene. A character in crisis. The Phantom Stranger— reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s snappily dressed, straight-laced anti-heroes and perhaps an echo of the Mysterious Traveler—materialized as an issue’s character arrived at the crossroads of making a decision that could detour his or her fate for the worse. Enter the Thirteens to get ensnared in the proceedings. Sometimes Marie was kidnapped. Once Terry was kidnapped. By the end of the story, after the Phantom Stranger has saved the day, Thirteen thanks the mysterious wraith by threatening to expose him, once and for all, as the sham he is! What an ingrate, that Terry Thirteen! As Phantom Stranger hit its stride, writers Bob Kanigher, Dennis O’Neil, and Gerry Conway contributed to this formula. And, for at least one series scribe, this cocktail of cynic vs. spook was a gas! “I loved writing those stories,” Conway tells BACK ISSUE. “They were, I believe, my first series-character work (not counting the ‘bookend’ Abel introductions I did for House of Secrets), and I had a great deal of fun putting all of those characters together.” Conway is no slouch in the Gerry Conway pantheon of Bronze Age writers.
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So there we were, somewhere east of Pasadena, breaking bread with the master artist Tony DeZuniga. On the table, a homecooked meal by Tony’s lovely wife, Tina, whom, until recently, worked for many years as a restaurateur. In another corner: Tony’s makeshift studio, where stunning painted commissions of Vampirella and Supergirl hang. by
Michael Aushenk er
On April 21, 2008, my pal and fellow humor cartoonist, Crying Macho Man creator Jose Cabrera (top photo, left), and I shared a meal with the artist who, either as a penciler or inker, made fine art out of issues of Conan the Barbarian, House of Mystery, Ghosts, Dracula Lives!, The Human Fly, Strange Tales featuring the Golem, and, of course, his significant creation with writer John Albano, DC’s twisted Western title Jonah Hex. Name the artist, DeZuniga inked ’im: Gil Kane, Lee Elias, Bernie Wrightson, Rich Buckler, Carmine Infantino, on and on. So, how did we get here? It all began last winter. While researching BACK ISSUE articles, including this issue’s one on Phantom Stranger foil Dr. Terrence Thirteen, I corresponded with the Bronze Age artist, who at the time lived in Stockton, California. In Northern California, Tina ran a restaurant called Orchid (no relation to Tony’s Black Orchid). A native of Manila, Tony had long ago moved West from New York City, where he spent his ’70s DC/Marvel years. So binging on issues of Phantom Stranger, I decided to give my friend Jose, on his February 8th birthday, a copy of Showcase Presents: The Phantom Stranger, which includes DeZuniga’s phantasmagoric Dr. 13 backup features. A week later, Jose was hooked. Next thing you know, we’re talking Phantom Stranger and DeZuniga 25/8. So imagine our excitement when, a month later, Jose and I were doing Wizard Con L.A. and we discover that DeZuniga is in the hizzay! Tony was chillin’ with a pair of great “Filipino Invasion” artists he helped usher to American comics: Alex Niño and Ernie Chan. Jose and I ditched our respective table duties long enough to befriend Tony and Tina. Two months later, on April 21, 2008, Jose broke away from his lovely wife Naomi long enough to meet me in West L.A., our point of departure. The night’s magic began early as we enjoyed a traffic-free drive east on the 10 to the 110 (at the height of L.A.’s rush hour–– unheard of!). Once at the DeZunigas’ place, we had a blast. “The DeZunigas were easy to talk to and could keep up with the likes of Michael and myself (we can be chatterboxes),” Cabrera tells BACK ISSUE. “What stood out for me was the incredible hospitality of Tina, Tony’s wife. There was nothing she wouldn’t get us short of water (Tony doesn’t like drinking water).” Following Tina’s lead, Jose dug into Tina’s entrees (bottom left). “The food was warm, home-cooked, and delicious,” Cabrera recalls. “The machada (a Spanish dish of beef flanks and potato, smothered in tomato sauce) melted in my mouth. The other dish consisted of chicken and shrimp with loads of vegetables that were still simmering from the heat of the pan. I could see Michael’s eyes water over from the pure ecstasy of the flavors.” Monsters Issue
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In the early to mid-1970s, while Marvel was launching new horror series like Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, and Man-Thing, the company also reprinted many short monster stories from the 1950s and early 1960s in titles like Monsters on the Prowl and Where Monsters Dwell. One short-lived series combined the tone of those short stories with the ongoing serial format that Marvel had successfully developed by 1973. “It! The Living Colossus” ran for only four issues of Astonishing Tales (#21–24). The series was written by Tony Isabella fresh from the just-canceled Doc Savage, with artwork from Dick Ayers who had worked on many of the original monster stories. Tony and Dick kindly dredged the dark recesses of their memories for us. – Ian Millsted IAN MILLSTED: Is it true that the series came about because Stan Lee liked the idea of a series called “It”? TONY ISABELLA: The series came about because Supernatural Thrillers #1, which featured an adaptation of Theodore Sturgeon’s “It!”—the granddaddy of all swamp monster stories—sold very well. So Stan and Roy [Thomas] felt we should do a book called “It!” The problem was that Marvel already had a swamp monster series in Man-Thing. So we had to come up with a different type of monster to star in our new “It” series. MILLSTED: How did each of you become involved in the series? ISABELLA: Roy wanted to give me a series to write and knew I was a monster-movie fan. He asked for my input on our new “It,” and that’s when I learned the issues of Monsters on the Prowl which reprinted the original Colossus stories had sold better than other issues of the title. I pitched him on the new “It” being a continuation of those stories, though; in my original pitch, the specialeffects man hero of the second Colossus story had married his actress sweetheart and already started a family with her. Any member of the family would have been able to activate and control the Colossus. Roy steered me to the more dramatic premise of the hero being paralyzed.
Colossus—the Marvel Project Dick Ayers’ pulse-pounding splash page to the return of IT!, from Astonishing Tales #21 (Dec. 1973). Thanks to Mark DiFruscio for the scan. © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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Beginnings: Chamber of Chills #5 (1973)
Milestones: Tales of the Zombie / Hero for Hire / Deadly Hands of Kung Fu / Ghost Rider / Black Goliath / The Champions / Black Lightning (co-creator) / Shadow War of Hawkman / Justice Machine
Work in Progress: Currently on view as “America’s Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist” in his “Tony’s Online Tips” column (see URL below)
Beginnings: Funnyman (1947)
Milestones: Ghost Rider (the original Western version) / Wyatt Earp / Human Torch / Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos / Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders / Combat Kelly and the Dirty Dozen / Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth / Freedom Fighters / “Scalphunter” in Weird Western Tales / Jonah Hex (Dick’s personal choice for his milestone series) / The Unknown Soldier
Work in Progress: The Dick Ayers Story
dick ayers Photo by Nightscream, from the New York Comic-Con on April 20, 2008.
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DICK AYERS: I dug out my accounting ledgers and did see that I only did about 30 pages for “It” in ’73. I believe I did only pencils and Marvel printed my pencils. I’d been asked to draw the pencils dark, which I do remember doing. I was only rarely happy with someone else inking my pencils and was always trying to get control of how my drawings would be inked. I was more relaxed and happy with my own inking, for I still was drawing while I inked. I worked from synopses when I penciled for Marvel. I didn’t see or read the story until after I saw the printed copy. MILLSTED: The first issue has a tagline on the splash page: “Return to the most thrilling days in Monsterdom.” The series is obviously tapping into the Atlas-era monster stories, but you both seem to have worked in references to the likes of King Kong in both art and script. Were you enjoying yourselves there? AYERS: My memory does tell me that 1973 was a slow period. If the story was penciled before ’73 I might’ve been in better spirits. I do remember enjoying working on the story. ISABELLA: I’m crazy about giant monsters. I grew up watching the likes of King Kong, Godzilla, Gorgo, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and the rest. Even today, no matter how cheesy a movie might be, if it’s got a giant monster in it I’ll watch it. It’s been quite a while since I’ve reread my “It” comics, but in writing them I seldom passed up any chance to reference the monsters and the movies I love. MILLSTED: And, of course, the lead character is an f/x creator called O’Bryan. Referencing Willis O’Brien [the special-effects wizard behind the original King Kong film], presumably? ISABELLA: You assume correctly. MILLSTED: The series seemed to arrive (and disappear) quite suddenly in Astonishing Tales, replacing Ka-Zar. Marvel was expanding titles at the time. How organized were things?
In 1974, Marvel Comics Group introduced a bold new monster-hero to the readers of Strange Tales. Subtitled “The Thing That Walks Like a Man,” the character was a big, brutish, superpowered man of stone. Sound familiar? But in fact, this “thing” had been around … for about 500 years. The bloodline of Frankenstein, Superman, Captain America and the original Human Torch (both labcreated supermen), and iconic Marvel monster-heroes such as Hulk, Tales of the Zombie’s Simon Garth, and, yes, even the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, harkens back to the Jewish folk tale about the all-powerful stone automaton the Golem. The Eastern European legend had survived via generations of Ashkenazi Jews, right down to their descendants, who included the Jewish superhero creators that dominated comics’ Golden and Silver Ages. So it was inevitable that by the ’70s, after decades chronicling the adventures of popular characters that may as well be “crypto-Golems,” Marvel finally released its official take on the medieval legend. Strange Tales featuring the Golem made its splashy debut in #174 (June 1974). Four issues later, the character was Golem, Golem, gone! So, what happened? Let’s voyage back in time and find out…
BEFORE FRANKENSTEIN, SUPERMAN, THING, AND HULK…
“Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! I made it out of clay…” goes the old Chanukah song. But back in the 16th century, one Rabbi Loew topped that by a country mile when he turned a giant slab of clay into the Golem. The year is 1580 A.D. The place is Prague. There are many variations of this old story. One version, from The Prague Golem: Jewish Stories of the Ghetto, recounts how “a priest called Thaddeus—a fanatical anti-Semite— tried again to … bring about discord and … evoke new superstitious accusations of blood rituals. Rabbi Loew soon learned about it and raised a question ‘upwards’ in his dream to find a solution to the problem how he should fight against the evil enemy. He received the following answer: ‘You shall create Golem from clay and may the malicious antiSemitic mob be destroyed.’ “Rabbi Loew interpreted the line of strange words so that he should create a living body from clay with the aide of the letters provided from heaven. He called for Jizchak ben Simson, his son-in-law, and for a disciple of his, Jacob ben Chajim Sasson, the Levite, and entrusted them with the mystery of how a Golem should be created. “…Together we shall create Golem from the fourth element which is the earth.”
To Protect and to Serve A dramatic scene rendered by John Buscema and inked by Jim Mooney, from Strange Tales #174’s Golem origin story (June 1974). © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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Don’t Call It a Comeback Also from Strange Tales #174: Mooney inks this moody passage by Buscema, in which the Golem is reanimated. © 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Reciting the Zirufim, the trio said: “And the Lord formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Kazam! Loew had an obedient Golem on his hands. “We have created you from a lump of clay. Your mission is to protect the Jews from persecutions. Your name will be Josef and you will live in the Rabbi’s house. Josef, you must obey my commands no matter when and where I might send you…’ Josef nodded his head…” Loew prohibited the people in the house to use Golem for private purposes. One day, after Loew forgets to give Josef his daily chores, his clay creation (not exactly Gumby) is “found rampaging around the Jewish town like a madman, he wanted to demolish everything that got in his way. His inactivity had made him both bored and angry.” Luckily, there’s a failsafe: the Hebrew word emeth (“truth”) etched across the statue’s forehead. Rub out the first character on his forehead and it spells meth, which spells “death” for the Golem, who becomes recumbent again. Michael Chabon, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, drew the connection explicit between the Golem and the creators of the first costumed superhero Siegel and Shuster (who inspired the fictional Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, as did Joe Simon and Jack Kirby). Using the Prague Golem as the basis for this novel’s B-plot, Chabon draws an analogy between the powerful protector and Kavalier & Clay’s creation, the Escapist, a superhero devised during the chaos of World War II as the Jewish people were rendered powerless against the Nazis’ wrath. After all, Superman, Batman, Human Torch, the Spirit, and other Golden Age comic-book characters—as well as scores of Marvel characters (Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Hulk, X-Men, and, in part, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Iron Man)—were “Jewish” by virtue of their creators. These cartoonists may not have been religious per se, but they were culturally Jewish. No matter their religiosity, Jews are first and foremost a race, with Judaism the biological and cultural connector of a nomadic people scattered around the world over millennia. Marvel’s architects—Stan Lee (nee Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), as well as publisher Martin Goodman—were the driving engine of the comic-book renaissance we now call the Marvel Age. The American comic-book industry had always been a magnet for immigrants—Italian, Irish, Asian—and Jewish creators had sizable roles in the birth and rebirth of the superhero, romance, humor, and other genres, from Siegel and Shuster to Will Eisner to the MAD bullpen—William Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Als Feldstein and Jaffe, Bernie Krigstein. Chabon in Kavalier & Clay, and Julius Feiffer before him in his superhero myth analysis The Great Comic Book Heroes, made the case that it’s no coincidence that original superhero Superman was portrayed as an outsider, and forced to assume a new alias to try to blend into the American mainstream … much as Jewish immigrants have in their quest to assimilate.
MARVEL MAKES A GOLEM
It had to happen. Marvel was first among comics publishers to feature black superheroes—and villains. Marvel was first to recognize the women’s movement in comics with characters like the Black Widow. And now, in this issue of ST, we’re proud to introduce the comics’ first Jewish monster-hero. – A “Special Bullpen Note” touting this “notexactly-original … yet highly innovative feature.” First published in 1951 as a horror comics anthology, Strange Tales, by 1970, had morphed into something of a superhero experiment—a launchpad for new characters/concepts. Editor Roy Thomas, writer Len Wein, and artist John Buscema debuted Golem following the exit of another Thomas-created, Wein-scripted character, Brother Voodoo. “I have this feeling that it was my idea to do the Golem because I had done it in The Hulk,” says Thomas. Monsters Issue
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.
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What if … instead of selling his share of All-American Publications to Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz in 1945, Max Charles “Charlie” Gaines had purchased National Comics (DC Comics) from them? That’s the premise of this fantasy series being divided between the pages of BACK ISSUE and its TwoMorrows big-sister mag Alter Ego and set on “Earth-22,” where things in the comics business happened rather differently than the way they did in the world we know. Just imagine: a comic-book industry in which the Golden Age Green Lantern and Flash, rather than Superman and Batman, are the premier heroes of comics, media, and merchandising. The author, Bob Rozakis, a longtime writer, editor, and production manager for DC Comics, has imagined just that in…
The Secret History of All-American Comics, Inc. The Story of M. C. Gaines’ Publishing Empire
Book Two – Chapter Eight: In and Out of Darkness
The Dark Age Begins Frank Miller redefined superheroes for the end of the 20th century with his four-part Green Lantern: The Darkest Night Returns. Art courtesy of Alex Wright. (All images in this article are © DC Comics.) If early comic-book history is broken into the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages, the period following AA’s Crisis on Infinite Earths should be called the Dark Age. “It’s not like we planned it that way,” says Bob Greenberger, AA’s editorial director. “When we revamped the AA Universe in 1986, we felt that we had a blank slate. The writers and editors went in a direction comics had never gone in before.” “We probably brought it on ourselves,” says former editor Len Wein. “It started with the publicity gimmick of allowing the readers to vote whether Girl Lantern or Flashette would die in the Crisis. Once we established that we could and would kill off a fairly major character, there was no stopping us.” Indeed, just months 82 • BACK ISSUE • Monsters Issue
after Girl Lantern met the Grim Reaper, Flashette was crippled by Rag Doll in Flash: The Killing Doll. Another major influence on the era was Frank Miller’s four-part graphic novel, Green Lantern: The Darkest Night Returns. Set in a grim and gritty future, the Emerald Warrior is a vengeful, aging character, meting out his own form of justice and coming to blows with his former friend the Flash. The overwhelming success of Miller’s miniseries, as well as that of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, seemed to set the path that the books would follow for the next decade-plus. “The heroes grew angrier, the villains more sadistic, and the entire AA Universe became a much darker place in the ’90s,” says editor Barbara Randall.
KILLING GREEN LANTERN AND SMASHING THE FLASH
In 1993, AA got front-page newspaper coverage around the world when it was announced that Green Lantern would die in an epic battle with a villain called Doomsday. [“There was a lot of discussion about what we should name the villain,” recalls Martin Pasko, the editor of the GL books. “At first, he was going to be a reincarnation of Timberano, the giant wooden ape, so we were calling him ‘Timmy.’ But that really didn’t sound scary! We considered names like Green Smasher and Woodbeast before settling on Doomsday, which now, of course, seems like it should have been the obvious choice all along.”] The reaction of the general public was unprecedented. The AA offices were picketed by protestors, demanding that the storyline be dropped. “Save Green Lantern” rallies were held in a number of cities and a candlelight vigil was staged in Littletown, Pennsylvania, the real-world town that claimed to be the home of young GL. “It was crazy,” says publisher Michael Uslan. “I came into work the next day, pushing through a crowd of protestors outside the building. One of them recognized me and started yelling at me. I kept saying, ‘He’s not real! He’s a fictional character!’ But they kept yelling and finally building security had to come and help me get inside.” When Pasko received a death-threat in the mail, the FBI was called in. “It was a little scary at the time, but looking back now, it was just silly,” he says. “It was all cut-out words from magazines, like in a bad movie: ‘If you kill Green Lantern, I will kill you.’ The FBI came and took a lot of fingerprints—probably half the staff had picked up that letter—but they never found out who sent it.” As had been planned all along, Green Lantern came back four months later. “He was dead, but he
got better,” jokes Pasko. There are still those people who claim that it was the public reaction that prompted AA to revive him. “Sure,” says Uslan. “It makes perfect sense that we would kill off our bestselling character and rely on our secondary characters to stay in business. That would be like McDonald’s announcing they were only going to sell Fish Filets from now on.” The dark path that the AA Universe was following continued in 1994 when the Flash’s back was broken in a battle with Solomon Grundy. “Well, we couldn’t kill him,” says Barbara Randall. “We’d just been down that road. Of course, we’d already put Flashette into a wheelchair in The Killing Doll, so we had to do something worse to the Flash. I wanted to have virtually every bone in his body broken. Grundy was strong enough to pound him into jelly. We compromised on both arms, a leg, and his back. Plus a concussion that left him in a coma for three issues.” While the storyline drew some media attention, it did not match that of Green Lantern’s demise, nor did the “battle” between Kid Flash, Johnny Quick, and Max Mercury to determine who would become the new Flash. And, of course, as planned, Jay Garrick eventually healed and reclaimed his position as the Fastest Man Alive. Monsters Issue
BANG! POW! The somewhatinnocuous Rag Doll became a major figure of the Dark Age when he ended Flashette’s career by crippling Kelly Kelley. Even more traumatic was the death of Green Lantern at the hands of Doomsday a few years later. Art courtesy of Larry Guidry and Shane Foley.
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Be tantalized by our triple-terror treatment of Frankenstein, with macabre master BERNIE WRIGHTSON’s fascination with the Mary Shelley class...
Published on Oct 5, 2013
Be tantalized by our triple-terror treatment of Frankenstein, with macabre master BERNIE WRIGHTSON’s fascination with the Mary Shelley class...