Iron Man

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Roy Thomas never met a Golden Age super-hero he didn’t like, a characteristic that certainly served the legendary writer-editor well over the decades.

His voluminous knowledge of comics’ original super-hero boom  – and apparent awareness of copyright abandonment within the industry – led to Marvel’s surreptitious acquisition of the Ghost Rider, introduced elements of Bill Everett’s Amazing-Man to the origin of Iron Fist and provided Bronze Age fan-boys like myself endless hours of nostalgia-tinged fun via The Invaders, Liberty Legion and All-Star Squadron.

One of Thomas’ more memorable pastiches, Iron Munroe, emerged after DC Comics’ infamous Crisis On Infinite Earths reboot wiped out the publisher’s well-established parallel earths mythos and – in the process – demolished much of its Golden Age continuity.

DC’s new order left a “Super” sized hole in Thomas’ All-Star Squadron, necessitating a quick replacement for the Man Of Steel. Somewhere within his voluminous memory, Thomas recalled an extremely obscure character called “Iron Munro,” a space-opera hero reportedly based on John W. Campbell’s ’30s sci-fi character Aarn Munro.

Thomas mixed and matched the Munro moniker with Philip Wylie’s Gladiator and voila

The All-New, All-Different Iron Munro

I’ve always been intrigued by the “real” Iron Munro, but never had the pleasure of reading any of the character’s stories until the advent of the Internet and what I’d like to call of Golden Age of Public Domain Comics sites.

I finally stumbled upon the character in the back pages of Shadow Comics #7 (Street & Smith, November 1940) and was pleased to discover his adventures were every bit as awesome as hoped.

(Satanic aliens! Jules Verne-styled spaceships!! Global destruction!!!)

The real discovery, however, is the identity of the story’s author: Theodore Sturgeon, one of the greatest science-fiction and horror writers of the 21st century. I’m not sure how the author himself would have graded Iron Munro under “Sturgeon’s Law,” but it’s always interesting to note how many pioneering science-fiction writers doubled as funny book scribes during the dawn of American comics.

The story is drawn by Jack Farr and is the apparently the final part of what modern readers would term a “multi-part arc.” Not to worry, though, Time Bulleteers. The Golden Age is the era of compressed comics, where all stories are summed up in one or two meaty captions!

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R.I.P. Nick Cardy

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Like many comic-book fans and professionals, I was saddened by the news of Nick Cardy’s death on Sunday. His beautifully designed covers for DC – particularly during the late 1960s – taught me to appreciate how strong imagery can make or break a comic-book story.

Here are just a few of my favorites ….

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Cardy’s career encompassed more than DC comics covers. He broke into the industry in 1940 as part of the Eisner and Iger Studio and penciled numerous features for Fiction House. He also worked on Eisner’s Lady Luck feature for the syndicated Spirit section.

Cardy served overseas during World War II and even earned two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat. A compilation of his wartime sketches were recently published by Titan Books.

He settled in at DC after the war and enjoyed a long career at the company illustrating such titles as Aquaman, Bat Lash and the Teen Titans. Cardy left comics in 1970 to become a commercial artist.

In remembrance of Cardy, here’s one of his earlier efforts for Fiction House. Although the art is cruder than his DC work, his staging and choreography clearly show the potential that Cardy ultimately fulfilled in his justly hallowed career.

From Fight Comics #26 (Fiction House, June 1943), here’s the beautiful and deadly Senorita Rio. The script is not credited, but the art is by Cardy under his birth name, Nick Viscardi.

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Golden Age Geek

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The horror comics Joe Simon and Jack Kirby produced for Prize Comics tended to emphasize mystery over gore, a choice that cast the supernatural as more of an inscrutable force of nature than outright malevolence.

Today’s tale, in fact, plays much like an episode from Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone – a program the comic predates by at least seven years. If he were aware of the story, I’m sure Serling would have been intrigued by the premise of  an old man’s loneliness creating an unexpected companion.

The real point of interest, however, is the aforementioned “companion.” A creature composed of rags and trash, it bears a striking resemblance to a character created by Joe Simon years later: Brother Power The Geek.

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Simon isn’t credited as the writer of the Black Magic story, but the coincidence is too great to think he didn’t have a hand in creating both characters. Although some consider Brother Power the worst super-hero title of the 1960s – if not ever – I’ve always liked Simon’s weird take on the Hippie Counter-Culture and The Silver Surfer.

(But what do I know? I also liked Prez… )

The 13 Days Of Halloween continue with “A Rag – A Bone And A Hank Of Hair!” The story originally appeared in Black Magic # 13 (Prize, June 1952) and was drawn by the great Mort Meskin.

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Coming tomorrow: Earth is haunted by dead, floating fetuses from Mars!!! (That should garner a few Google hits … )

Men Of Steel

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I haven’t really enjoyed DC Comics for several years now, but I’ll give the corporate overlords at Time/Warner credit for green-lighting this excellent two-minute tribute to Superman by Bruce Timm and Zack Snyder. The special highlight for me, of course, is the reference to Neal Adams’ Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, the greatest comic-book of all time. For a more detailed list of references, click here.

Carmine Infantino, 1925-2013

Carmine Infantino

Like many comic-book fans of my generation, I was initially exposed to the late Carmine Infantino’s work through Batman, Flash and Adam Strange reprints DC published as back-up features in the early 1970s.

hateofthehoodedhangmanStories like “Hate Of The Hooded Hangman” introduced me to an artist whose work looked modern no matter how long ago it had been published.

At this point in my fanboy evolution, I had taken an interest in the creators behind my favorite heroes.  I looked through my DC collection for other pieces by Infantino and discovered the artist had become the company’s publisher.

I was 10 years old and didn’t really know any better, so I sent a letter to Infantino pitching my Batman knock-off, “Night Man,” as DC’s newest superstar. (Not the most original concept, I admit, but at least my character beat Steve Englehart to the name by 20 years!)

As you might expect, Night Man – and his teen sidekick, “Kid Comet” (!)  – weren’t destined for stardom. However, I did receive a kind letter from Infantino that let me down easily and encouraged I continued honing my craft.

(Sadly, I later learned there was little craft to hone. But that’s another story …)

27767Even though I stupidly lost Infantino’s letter, I always remembered his words fondly and followed the artist’s career after he moved to Marvel and drew such faves as Spider-Woman, Nova and Star Wars. He also returned to The Flash in time for Cary Bates and DC to wrap up the character that jump-started the Silver Age in the first place.

(Like many other seemingly unalterable deaths, Barry Allen eventually got better. Again, that’s a different story.)

The greatest compliment I can pay Infantino is that his best work – which spanned decades – still stands up today.

A good summation of Infantino’s legendary career can be found here. As for this very small corner of the comics-o-sphere, I’d like to pay tribute to his work by posting several stories from Infantino’s bibliography.

Like many of his contemporaries, Infantino was greatly influenced by the work of Milton Caniff. The following tale, which was originally published in 1947, shows that Infantino had already mastered Caniff’s trick of mixing aesthetically pleasing art with gritty, he-man action.

The story, entitled “Mr. Bedlam Hires A Killer,” first appeared in Airboy Comics Vol. 4 #3 (Hillman, April 1947). The hero of the tale, “Rackman,” can best be thought of as Marvel’s Stilt-Man re-imagined as a hard-boiled P.I.

The art is by Infantino and Bernard Sachs.

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Our second story demonstrates how far Infantino’s skill had progressed in the span of two years. His slicker style proved a good match for the romance genre, as shown in this tale from Hollywood Confessions #2 (St. John, 1949). “The Scandal I Had To Confess” was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Infantino.

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Carmine Infantino is best known, of course, for his long tenure at DC Comics. Here’s a story featuring the Golden Age Flash. Although Infantino’s art  – and John Broome’s story – are more sophisticated than most super-hero stories of the era, “The Rival Flash” marked the final issue of Flash Comics until the “Flash” concept was revamped and redesigned by Infantino, Broome and Robert Kanigher seven years later.

The resulting character, Barry Allen, proved popular enough to jump-start the Silver Age of super-hero comics. The boom in sales also led to the revival of the Jay Garrick Flash as well, bringing everything full circle.

From Flash Comics Vol. 1, #104 (DC Comics, February 1949), here’s “The Rival Flash” by Broome, Infantino and Sachs.

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When Infantino returned to active freelance work, his style had grown looser but remained vivid. Here’s a story from his tenure at Warren Publications that also demonstrates his long mastery of the sci-fi genre.

“Stand-In,” written by Bruce Jones and inked by Dick Giordano, is primarily about cheating death. Through his lifelong contributions to the comic book industry and its fans, Infantino has achieved an immortality of his own.

The story originally appeared in Vampirella #57 (Warren, January 1977).

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My deepest condolences to Mr. Infantino’s family, friends and fans.

Enter Batgirl

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Here’s the original, unaired TV episode that would have introduced Barbara Gordon and the All-New Batgirl to the numerous denizens of TV Land circa the late ’60s.

In my book, Yvonne Craig’s portrayal of Barbara Gordon remains definitive to this day. Her embodiment of a fun-loving, alluring and – most important of all – competent super-heroine is the reason why I never liked The Killing Joke.

In fact, the best comic-book representation of this Batgirl – outside of the original story by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino – is the classic Batgirl: Year One mini-series by Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez.

Maybe that Barbara Gordon will reappear one day in a modern DC comic …

Lock And Key

On the last day of 2012, I thought it would be appropriate to take a glimpse into the world of tomorrow with the man who practically defines the word: Tommy Tomorrow!

The “Time Vault World” originally appeared in Action Comics #195 (DC Comics, August 1954). The story and art are by two of my favorite creators, Otto Binder and Jim Mooney respectively.

Happy New Year!

Remembering Joe Kubert

Like many comic-book fans, I was greatly saddened to hear that Joe Kubert passed away today at the age of 85. He was truly one of the medium’s greatest talents, easily standing alongside the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Jack Cole and any other legend one would care to mention.

I first encountered his work through DC’s Bronze Age war titles like Sgt. Rock and Blitzkrieg, but soon discovered his equally revelatory stints on the Golden- and Silver-Age Hawkman via reprints. Every so often, I’d run across a Viking Prince back-up or a Ragman cover and further marvel at the man’s ability to draw a striking and exciting comic.

Those traits would even translate to his earliest, more primitive Golden-Age efforts.

I’ll leave the biographical details and emotional tributes to those who had the pleasure to know and work with Kubert. For now, let’s just remember the man through his astounding body of work.

From Cat-Man Comics #10 (Holyoke, May 1942), here’s an example of early Kubert art starring the electrical super-hero known as Volton!

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By the time a few years had passed, Kubert’s style progressed considerably. The difference can readily be seen in this Hawkman feature that was first printed in a “Wheaties Miniature Edition” of Flash Comics (DC Comics, April 1946). “The Scavenger Of The Skies” was written by Gardner Fox.

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In the 1950s, Joe Kubert became managing editor of the small St. John imprint, which had already published some of the better comics of the era despite its relative obscurity to such titans as DC.

Kubert created one of his most enduring characters at St. John: Tor. As it was obviously a labor of love, the artist would revive the character several times in subsequent years for a variety of publishers.

Here is Tor’s first appearance in One Million Years Ago #1 (St. John, September 1953). The story is written and drawn by Joe Kubert. Note how his art has essentially evolved to what we recognize today as the classic Kubert style.

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My sincerest condolences to Joe Kubert’s family, friends and fans. He will definitely be missed.

Tears Of A Crook

Few Golden Age super-villains had a better gimmick than The Weeper: a homicidal maniac who despised joy and wept crocodile tears over the tragic fates of his victims. Can you just imagine the type of field day Alan Moore or Grant Morrison would have with that particular concept?

The Fawcett creative team certainly knew they had a winner on their hands, as The Weeper returned twice to bedevil his arch-foes Bulletman and Bulletgirl and even formed a super-villain team known as The Revenge Squad.

(Multiple appearances by Golden Age villains were usually reserved for the Claws, Jokers and Sivanas of the funny-book hierarchy. The majority of bad guys in comics’ first decade usually bit the dust after one or two skirmishes.)

The Weeper died sometime later, but his heretofore unknown son took up the mantle after World War II and took on the team of Mary Marvel and Bulletgirl.

This Weeper wasn’t seen again until the 1970s, long after Fawcett was forced out of the super-hero business. In an attempt to replicate their success with introducing Golden Age heroes into the modern era via summer team-ups with the Justice League, the DC brain trust concocted a rather mediocre “Crisis On Earth-S” that brought Fawcett’s heroes and villains face to face with the mightiest heroes of Earth 1 and 2.

The Weeper teamed up with The Joker in that particular tale, giving writers E. Nelson Bridwell and Martin Pasko the opportunity to craft a memorable scene where the morose madman wondered what the Harlequin of Fate found so damn amusing about committing such heinous crimes.

Like most of Fawcett’s characters, The Weeper went into mothballs after that adventure and remained dormant for several decades while less colorful antagonists like Doomsday and the Jason Todd Red Hood hogged the attention.

Fortunately, the good men and women behind the Batman: The Brave And The Bold cartoon recognized The Weeper’s potential and – after recruiting comedian Tim Conway to provide the villain’s voice – once again teamed the Golden Age great with The Joker to provide one of the series’ most memorable episodes.

Given the Nu52’s insistence on revisiting the grim ’n’ gritty ‘90s, it’s unlikely that either The Weeper or his nemesis Bulletman will appear again soon in a DC Comic. Fortunately, readers can still enjoy the villains handful of appearances from the Golden Age.

From Master Comics #23 (Fawcett, February 1942), here’s “The Weeper: The Murderer Who Mourns His Victims.” The art is provided by the Binder studio.

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Insects, Nazis and Sivana! Oh My!!

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John Byrne once produced a comic where Batman and Captain America teamed up to fight some insane scheme or other concocted by The Joker and Red Skull. At one point, it looked bad for the heroes until the Clown Prince of Crime discovered the Skull’s true motivations …

See, Nazis are such scumbags that even a homicidal maniac like The Joker can’t stand the rotters.

Thaddeus Bodog Sivana has a similar epiphany in the following Captain Marvel Jr. adventure, but in keeping with the mad scientist’s evil nature his main gripe with the Germans is that they’re interfering with his own plans to conquer America.

Throw in an army of monstrous insects and you have another Otto Binder classic!

“Captain Marvel Jr. Battles The Insect Giants” originally appeared in Captain Marvel Junior #12 (Fawcett, October 1943). Although Binder is credited with the story, I couldn’t find any information about the artist.

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