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.

Brother Power

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 … )

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Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

Today’s pick is easily one of my all-time favorite Pre-Code horror stories. I first encountered an edited version of “The Greatest Horror…” in DC’s brief series of Black Magic reprints of the 1970s, but the tale achieves its greatest impact free of Comics Code restrictions.

The big question, of course, is who exactly is this “great horror?” Is it one of the freaks who populate the story, or – in the fashion of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men, the prejudice and hatred that lurks within “normal” mens’ hearts?

Our Four-Star Fright Fest – along with the entire 31-day Halloween marathon – concludes with “The Greatest Horror Of Them All” by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The story originally appeared in Black Magic #29 (Prize Comics, March-April 1954).

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No Ordinary Joe

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The comic-book world lost one of its greatest innovators this week. Joe Simon, the co-creator of Captain America and – heck – entire genres of comics with Jack Kirby passed away Wednesday at the age of 98.

Although many tributes have already mentioned Simon & Kirby’s most prominent creation – a certain star-spangled Avenger – Joe Simon will always hold a unique spot in my geeked-out heart for his whacked out masterpieces of the late ‘6os and early ‘70s: Brother Power The Geek and Prez.

I have to admit that both series warped my young, impressionable mind and helped me realize how comics could communicate more outré concepts than costumed musclemen beating the crap out of one another.

Simon, of course, was responsible for much more than DC oddities. Along with his famous partner, he created such landmark titles as Boy Explorers and Young Romance. Simon also founded and edited one of the more interested Mad knock-offs, Sick Magazine.

While the creation Captain America alone would enough for most writer-artists to consider themselves successful, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s accomplishments are proof positive of just how great an impact two visionaries can have on an art form.

Simon and Kirby, after all, did far more than create characters. They created the back-bone of an entire industry.

From Black Cat #6 (Harvey Comics, June-July 1947) here’s a brilliant, off-beat tale by Joe Simon starring “His Highness, The Duke Of Broadway.” The story is entitled “Fear.”

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War And Peace

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In celebration of the 94th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s birth, here’s a story from the very beginning of the King’s legendary partnership with the equally great Joe Simon.

Kirby first met Simon while working at Fox Publications. The two decided to freelance together and began their long collaboration with a memorable story from the second issue of Novelty Press’ Blue Bolt Comics.

The tale – which features one of the great femme fatales of the Golden Age, The Green Sorceress – may strike modern readers as odd given the heroes’ willingness to wage a brutal war against their enemies. They even resort to brainwashing as a means of securing victory.

While such tactics are usually attributed to anti-heroes – or form the basis of an over-hyped mini-series – in contemporary comics, Simon and Kirby’s early comics reflected their acute concerns regarding Hitler’s expansion in Europe.

(An issue they would tackle more overtly with their most famous creation, Captain America.)

At that point in comics history, super-hero comics were much more freewheeling. Even the Big Blue Boy Scout himself, Superman, felt free to toss criminals and sabouteurs to their deaths if it meant innocent lives would be saved.

To Simon and Kirby, who were following in the traditions of pulp characters like The Shadow and classic adventure fiction such as Dumas’ Three Musketeers, heroic figures utilizing any and all means possible to secure peace seemed perfectly natural.

Here are “The Green Sorceress and the Cyclotron” from Blue Bolt Comics Vol. 1 #2 (Novelty Press, July 1940) and “The Green Sorceress Reforms” from Blue Bolt Comics Vol. 1 #3 (August, 1940).

The story and art for both stories are by Simon and Kirby.

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Freedom’s Just Another Word

Meet Captain Freedom

With Captain America set to conquer the silver screen and further whet Marvel zombies’ appetites for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie, I thought it appropriate to highlight Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s work on another star-spangled hero.

Captain Freedom debuted in Speed Comics #13 (Harvey Comics, May 1941) as yet another publisher’s response to the commercial success of such patriotic characters as The Shield, Uncle Sam and – of course – Simon and Kirby’s Captain America.

Credited to “Franklin Flagg” (the writer’s real name is unknown, sadly, but the art to most of Captain Freedom’s adventures is by Arthur Cazeneuve), Harvey’s defender of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was a crusading newspaper publisher who decided he could better aid the American War effort by dressing up like a walking flag.

The good Captain was frequently aided on his adventures by a group of courageous newsboys known as “The Young Defenders.”

Captain Freedom proved popular enough to become Speed Comics’ cover feature and lasted until the magazine was finally canceled in 1947. His adventures were pretty much standard punch-em-ups, but at one point the Captain unexpectedly found himself elevated to the A-List after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were hired to draw a number of covers featuring Harvey’s star-spangled avenger.

Simon himself depicted the Captain in Speed Comics #17-#21 and #23 while Kirby and Simon teamed up for a striking cover to Speed Comics #22. It probably goes without saying that the covers outshone the Captain’s adventures inside the comic, but that’s a comic-book tradition that persists to this very day.

Here are the Simon & Kirby covers to Speed Comics. Be aware that some of the following images contain racial stereotypes that were considered acceptable in their day but are decidedly offensive now.

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Before Joe Simon and Jack Kirby introduced Captain America to the world, the pair honed their super-hero chops by writing and drawing a somewhat obscure Batman-wannabe for Prize Comics: The Black Owl.

The character – created by Robert Turner and Pete Riss of the Jack Binder Studio – first appeared in 1940 as “K The Unknown,” your typical good-for-nothing millionaire playboy who decided fighting crime was a worthwhile hobby to alleviate boredom. The “K” gimmick apparently worked about as well as the concept of a pro-wrestling dentist, however, as the name was changed to The Black Owl without explanation in the character’s second appearance.

The Black Owl continued, in one form or another, for about seven years. Although the character never really hit the big leagues in any incarnation, Simon and Kirby’s short stint on the would-be Caped Crusader remain a definite high point and set the stage nicely for the duo’s more heralded work on Captain America.

From Prize Comics #9 (Prize, 1941), here’s “The Menace Of Madame Mystery” by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

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If you’d like to read a more pristine version of this comic – along with tons of other boss Simon/Kirby creations – I heartily recommend purchasing The Simon & Kirby Superheroes, published by Titan Books.

‘Nuff said!