Born in 1954 in Philadelphia, Charles “Chuck” Dixon grew up reading comic books. He did his first comic book writing, on Evangeline for Comico, in 1984—his wife (since divorced) Judith Hunt drew the book.
A year later, Marvel editor Larry Hama hired Dixon to write back-up stories for The Savage Sword of Conan. In 1986 Dixon added Eclipse to his list of employers, writing for their Tales of Terror anthology and then for Airboy. The following year he started Alien Legion for Marvel’s Epic line.
In 1990, Dixon caught the eye of DC editor Denny O’Neil, who invited him to write a Robin mini-series. That led to more work within the Batman group, and Dixon wrote Detective Comics #644-738, including several major Batman story arcs.
To this day Dixon is considered one of the most prolific Batman writers in the character’s history.
Back in the days of Usenet, I used to hear a lot of variations of “Why are there so many negative reviews and so few positive ones?” As one of those reviewers who not only discussed the art half of comic books but who also wrote a lot of positive reviews in my 4½ years of doing Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts, I would see this manifest more as “Why are the threads responding to the few negative reviews so long, as opposed to those on the far more numerous positive reviews?”
The answer was pretty self-evident to most of us reviewers. In general it’s much easier for people to perpetuate clever putdowns, or to pile on a negative thread, than it is to engage in the vocabulary of positive discussion. One of the things we would identify as a next-to-useless post would be someone merely typing “Me too” or “Ditto.” It added nothing of substance to the online dialogue, it just took up bandwidth. But it had the opposite effect of the real-life etiquette advice that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It became “If you can’t add something of substance to a discussion rather than just agreeing with the original poster, you’re better off not contributing at all.” I suspect that what some of them actually meant was “Bored now. You’re being too nice; throw us some raw meat.
And of course, that was a shame. I’ve never found it that hard to say good things about comic books. I love comic books. I buy and read quite a wide variety of graphic literature, and as I’m generally not in the assumed demographic for much of it I’ve learned to adjust my tastes accordingly — that is to say, there’s still some subject matter that doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ll generally try to give most of my chosen reading a fair chance, and I think I tend to be easily pleased. Nitpicking details, while worth noting in a review, has never weighed as important to me as how the work made me feel, whether it held together as a whole and moved me during the time it took me to read it.
Before we get to this week’s official topic, a continuation of our discussion of how superheroes have been evolving, I’d like to remind you all that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I’m sure all you fans of the late 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel – and I know you’re legion – remember that this means that the development of an organism exactly mirrors the evolutionary development of the species.
Okay, now that that’s settled…consider any given story genre the organism and storytelling as a whole the species. The first stories, maybe told around campfires, were not long on characterization. According to some anthropologists, they were basically religious, an effort to give an identity to the forces that shaped people’s lives, the forces they were already acknowledging, maybe, with rituals. Not much characterization in these yarns. They were more about what happened – some deity decides to create the world – than the nuances of the protagonists’ personalities. As storytelling evolved, from an element of religion to entertainment, the characters began to have personalities, sort of, until by the time Homer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre the good guys and bad guys were acting for reasons peculiar to who they were. And by the time of Greek drama, which, again, was part of religious festivals, they were pretty individualized.
Shoot forward about 2,500 years…Along came comic book superheroes (as opposed to all the other kinds of superdoers, who are a bit outside our boundaries, though I’m sure they’re very nice) and…well, they weren’t quite as uncharacterized as those campfire deities. But we do find ontogeny-recapitulating phylogeny, sort of. Clark Kent was, after all, “mild mannered” and Lois Lane was ambitious, but the stories were plot driven – the stuff was more about what the heroes did rather than why they did it. (Batman comes close to being an exception; a few issues into his initial run in Detective Comics, writer Bill Finger actually motivated him. But unless there are a lot of stories I haven’t read, the emphasis on what makes Bruce Wayne tick came later.)
Paul Dini back to animation already? Too much rough Countdown coverage from the blogs?
Imagi Animation Studios has inked a deal with writer/producer Dini to collaborate on the screen for its upcoming CG animated movie, Gatchaman. Directed by Kevin Munroe and slated for release in early 2009, the movie is based on the original classic Japanese anime series Gatchaman (1970s), which aired in the US as both G-Force and Battle of the Planets. Dini has written for and/or produced TV series including Batman: The Animated Series, Duck Dodgers and Lost and a range of comics such as Detective Comics, The World’s Greatest Superheroes and DC Comics weekly series Countdown. Imagi is best known to comics fans for its recent CGI TMNT film.
Living Between Wednesdayshas discovered some very weird Marvel toys, and documents them for our amusement. (That one there makes me want to sing: "Macho, Macho Spider! I’ve got to be a macho spider!…"
Chris Sims (of Invincible Super-Blog fame) has been annotating all of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter comics so far, and he continues his streak with the new nine-page story in the hardcover collection of the Guilty Pleasures adaptation. Thrill to the snark about Sausage-on-a-Stick! Witness a whole string of eyball-closeup panels! Meet the man known as…Dolph!
The Charleston GazettereviewsDMZ: Body of a Journalist, the second collection of the DC Comics series written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Riccardo Burchielli.
In the first part of our extensive interview with publisher Anthony Tollin (yesterday), we learned how a story that apepared in The Shadow Magazine some two and a half years prior to Batman’s debut, proved to me the template for the Cpaed Crusader’s debut in Detective Comics #27. This is fodder for the historians who have studied what Bob Kane and Bill Finger each brought to the table during the creation of DC’s second successful super-hero. The story will be publsihed this summer in the ninth volume of Shadwo facsimiles being publsihed by Tollin.
Greenberger: How will you celebrate this discovery in volume nine?
Tollin: By pairing it with Doc Savage #8, which showcases Doc’s utility belt (which Bill Finger acknowledged was the inspiration for Batman’s).By the way, Doc’s utility belt was introduced by ghostwriter Harold A. Davis, Newsday‘s first Managing Editor. (Davis ran the paper through its first four years, and was succeeded by Alan Hathway, another Doc Savage ghost, who headed the paper for 30 years. Will Murray also provides a dynamite article on the real-life inspiration for both Doc Savage and The Avenger—Richard Henry Savage. The real Savage was a fascinating, larger-than-life American hero, a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. and Egyptian armies before joining the diplomatic corps. In his later years, he wrote more than 40 novels, many of which were based on his own adventurous life. Street & Smith published one of them in 1898, and Henry William Ralston, a recent addition to the Street & Smith staff, never forgot the charismatic Savage. Decades later, as S&S’ circulation manager, he launched The Shadow Magazine and developed the characters for Doc Savage and the Avenger, basing elements of all three pulp superheroes on Richard Henry Savage’s adventurous life.
And The Shadow #10 will be a super-villains issue, featuring The City of Doom (the second Voodoo Master story which inspired Batman’s Doctor Death storyline), The Fifth Face (featuring a master of disguise called Five-Face) and "The Immortal Murderer," a 1944 Alfred Bester Shadow radio script which pits The Shadow against an immortal Neanderthal (and yes, it was a rewrite of Alfie’s earlier Vandal Savage story from Green Lantern #10). Along with Sax Rohmer, Walter Gibson pretty much originated the concept of super-crime, and the villains he called super-crooks. In 1933, Gibson introduced a slew of super-villains including The Red Blot, The Wealth Seeker, The Black Falcon and Gray Fist. Others soon followed including The Cobra and Dr, Rodil Mocquino, the Voodoo Master; and years later, Shiwan Khan. Early on, Gibson realized that a superhero like The Shadow needed something more than garden-variety crooks and gangsters to test his mettle, just as Jerry Robinson would later realize that Batman needed his own Moriarty when he created The Joker. In fact, The Shadow’s Dr. Mocquino appears to have inspired Batman’s first recurring villain, Doctor Death.
Greenberger: What else will be in the book?
Tollin: The Shadow #9 , our special "Foreshadowing The Batman" volume, reprints "Lingo," one of Walter Gibson’s all-time classics which inspired the Batarang, Theodore Tinsley’s "Partners of Peril" (the novel that inspired Detective Comics #27’s "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," plus a bonus Tinsley novelette: "The Grim Joker" (featuring a murderous, white-faced crime clown). Next spring, we’ll be releasing a special "Foreshadowing The Joker" volume that will reprint Ted Tinsley’s "Death’s Harlequin" and the 1940 Shadow radio script, "The Laughing Corpse." The latter, broadcast six weeks before Batman #1 debuted, featured a chemical that caused victims to laugh themselves to death, quite similar to The Joker’s original M.O. "Death’s Harlequin" was on sale the same month as Detective Comics#27 (when we can be pretty sure that Bill Finger was paying close attention to The Shadow Magazine) and pitted The Shadow against a murderous clown who like The Joker was a vision of madness: "The thin lips were drawn away from skull-like teeth. The cheeks were sunken and leathery. Dank black hair lay matted thinly on a baldish scalp the color of old parchment. A living corpse in the costume of a gay Harlequin! With a wide-muzzled gun. And a jeering laugh that made the silence in the room crawl with menace."
Greenberger: Any idea what DC’s reaction was when you made them aware of this?
Tollin: Actually, Paul Levitz was quite interested and very cooperative with my request to reprint panels from Detective Comics #27 in the historical articles. Paul recognized that his story was part of Batman’s history, and basically just wanted some copies for DC’s library.
Greenberger: Do you think this will change people’s perceptions of Batman’s origins?
Tollin: Actually, my hope is that it alters people’s perceptions of The Shadow. Finger and Kane As I observe in my supporting historical article: "The Shadow was a master of disguise. Perhaps his greatest masquerade was transforming himself into Batman, and in that guise continuing his reign as the world’s greatest detective superhero into the twenty-first century."
I find it quite interesting that at nearly the same time that DC Comics was taking legal action to eliminate Victor Fox’s Wonderman because it was an imitation of Superman, they were about to launch a new character who was a far more blatant imitation of The Shadow, right down to the plots, bat-motif, surroundings, villains and supporting players. At that time, The Shadow was still far more prominent than the recently-launched Superman, since he was featured in the only twice-monthly hero pulp as well as the weekly radio thriller, which was the #1 daytime series in the radio ratings. As pulp publishers of the Spicy line, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz and their editors had to realize that Batman was based on The Shadow, even if they didn’t know that the plot of the first Batman story was a recycled Shadow novel.
While I want to give proper credit to Walter Gibson and Theodore Tinsley for their part in inspiring Batman, I’m certainly not out to tarnish Batman or Bill Finger. I have no animosity towards Batman. I’m actually very fond of the character, and Adrienne [Roy] and I used to jokingly refer to our New Jersey home as "the house that Batman bought." While Batman started out as a clone of The Shadow, the feature came into its own with the introduction of Robin, which added a touch of humanity to the formerly grim Batman that was lacking in The Shadow. Robin was almost certainly inspired by Junior Tracy, but it was just what the feature needed at the time. And of course, the succession of wonderful villains that began with The Joker and Catwoman in Batman #1 and continued with The Penguin, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Clayface and The Riddler made Batman a very special feature. While Finger’s first Batman story was a blatant swipe of a Shadow novel, he quickly developed into one of comics’ greatest and most-innovative scriptwriters.
Greenberger: Are there other parallels between The Shadow and Batman?
Tollin: Certainly. I’ve recently spotted several more early Bat-stories that were lifted from Shadow novels. Readers will be able to compare for themselves when I reprint "Serpents of Siva" in The Shadow Volume 12. The Golden-Age Batman lifted The Shadow’s suction cup climbing device, autogiro, and "yellow boomerang," along with the friendship with the Gotham police commissioner. But the most lasting influence is to be found in Batman’s talent for escaping deathtraps, which started in his debut story when he escaped from the same glass gas chamber that The Shadow escaped from in "Partners of Peril." This mastery of escape was The Shadow’s most lasting legacy to Batman, a legacy from Houdini to his biographer/ghostwriter Walter Gibson and on to Bill Finger’s Batman via The Shadow.
Greenberger: How is this line performing and what’s coming after this?
Tollin: Each Shadow and Doc Savage volume has outsold the previous, and sales are still building. This is most unusual within the Diamond and comic collectors market, where sales usually drop after the first issue. This seems to indicate that our sales are actually generated by people who are actually reading and enjoying the books, and encouraging others to do the same.
The Shadow and Doc Savage reprints are available from most full-service comic stores, and also Borders and some Barnes & Noble stores. They are also being tested in double-packs at a small number of Costco and Sam’s Club outlets. They’re also available directly from me (firstname.lastname@example.org or www.shadowsanctum.com), with six-issue subscriptions available within the USA for $72 via first class or $66 via media mail. They’re also available in Manhattan at The Mysterious Bookshop, and in Minneapolis at Dreamhaven Books and Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction, The books are also available individually via mail order from me, and from Bud Plant, Vintage Library, Adventure House, Mike Chomko, and in Canada from Girasol Collectables,
Greenberger: Beyond Doc Savage and The Shadow, are there any other pulp figures you’re looking to resurrect?
Tollin: The Avenger and Nick Carter, and hopefully The Whisperer as well. Do you think readers would like to discover the secret life of Police Commissioner James Gordon, aka The Whisperer?
Greenberger: With Moonstone’s recently announced Spider anthology and your facsimile reprints, why do you think people remain interested in the pulp heroes?
Tollin: Hopefully.It definitely seems to be the case.But there are many pulp heroes that always seem to be with us.Don’t forget that Zorro, Tarzan and Conan all originated in the pulps, as well as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
Greenberger: Anything else you’re working on?
Tollin: Well, two double-novel pulp reprints a month is keeping me pretty busy, and this will only increase when The Avenger and some of the other S&S characters are added as quarterlies. I am expanding a Shadow coffee table history that I wrote a few months back. And at this year’s Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention, I’ll be directing an X-Minus One cast reunion. We’re thrilled that this year we’ll be reuniting the series’ scriptwriters, Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts, who haven’t seen each other in 40 years. Kinoy of course went on to win an Emmy for his screenplay for the landmark TV miniseries Roots.
It’s the start of a new week and The Big ComicMix Broadcast is more than loaded up with Pop Culture goodness! We start our week-long visit with Quantum Leap actress & head writer, Deborah Pratt, on the verge of a major new sci-fi venture, and we cover buckets o’ news, this week’s latest comics & DVDs, chat with Omega Flight’s Mike Oeming & Wayne Faucher from Detective Comics, and then take a minute for a song that EPSN just loves!!!
Mr. Robert Joy, of DC Comics, informs me that Green Arrow and Black Canary are getting married this summer. Allow me to assume a Victorian mien and sniff, “About time.”
How long have they been “going together” anyway? I guess that depends on whether we’re talking about the first Black Canary, Dinah Lance, or her daughter, Dinah Laurel. I confess: I’m no longer sure who was involved with whom, or when, which may mean that senility is knocking at my door, or that the continuity has become a tad confusing.
Well, I am sure of one bit of Black Canariana, and that’s that the hot mama, Dinah Lance, the original Canary, was an alien – even more alien than Superman or the Martian Manhunter. At least The Man of Steel and the green detective from the red planet were of this universe. Not so, Dinah: In one of Julius Schwartz’s annual teamings of the forties superheroes, whose club was called the Justice Society, and the new superheroes, whose club was The Justice League, we saw Dinah’s husband, Larry Lance, die. So grief-stricken was the Canary that she followed the Leaguers into another dimension to insure that she would be free of anything that could remind her of her late spouse. I mean, think about it: another dimension! That makes Superman’s migration from (I guess) another galaxy seem pretty paltry. And the Manhunter’s trip from Mars? Another planet, not only in the same solar system, but one of Earth’s nearest neighbors? Pah! Hardly worth mentioning.
Those annual teamings of the superdoers of different eras is what’s really interesting (and, incidentally, the point of this blather, if it has one.) The reason is this: the stories ran over two issues. If you were born before, oh, say, 1966, you might be asking, so what? Because if you’re that young, you don’t remember a time when continued stories were rare. But until Stan Lee made them standard procedure at Marvel in the 1960s, they were next to unheard-of. The reason, someone back then told me, was that publishers couldn’t be sure that just because a certain newsstand had this month’s issue of Detective Comics, there was no assurance that it would carry next month’s. Comic book distribution was a hit-or-miss affair in which those involved paid attention to the number of comics entrusted to a given retailer, but none at all to individual titles. Funny animals, superheroes, wacky teenagers – made no difference. It was all just product.
How, then, was Mr. Schwartz able to perpetrate his annual continued stories? I once asked him this and his answer was that he just did it, and no one ever complained. Stan’s answer would be different. I remember that he said somewhere – in his autobiography? – that doing continued stories saved him the trouble of having to think of so many plots – and there, my friends, speaks a true professional!
I don’t think we’ve exhausted this subject so – you guessed it! – you can consider what you’ve just read as Part One, to be continued…
The “air” here is metaphorical and if you’d allow me to fully ripen the trope, possibly to the point where it emits a faint odor, it might read, The air of popular culture in the 30s and 40s was full of bats.
Let’s see. There was a Mary Roberts Rheinhart novel and an early talkie adapted from it, both called The Bat, and there was a pulp hero also called The Bat and, a bit later, another pulp do-gooder who labeled himself The Black Bat. Am I forgetting anyone…? Oh yeah. A comic book character that was introduced in Detective Comics #27, dated May 1939, as Batman. Like an estimated eighty percent of your fellow earthlings, you may have heard of him.
And, again metaphorically, standing behind the Batman and maybe some of the others was one of the greatest pulp heroes, The Shadow. The writer of the early Batman stories, Bill Finger, made no secret of his admiration for the Shadow novels. He went so far as to admit that the Shadow’s influence on his batwork was extremely direct when he told historian (and author and artist and publisher) Jim Steranko, “I patterned my style of writing Batman after the Shadow.” And: “My first script was a take-off on a Shadow story.”
Which brings us to Anthony Tollin. Remember him? I introduced the two of you a couple of weeks ago in this very feature. I told you that a company Anthony owns has been issuing reprints of the Shadow books. Recently, he sent me an early copy of one of those books, titled Partners of Peril, and suggested that I might want to compare it to the first Batman adventure, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.
Of course there are differences. After all, the Shadow novel is probably around 50,000 words long and Batman’s debut is six comic book pages. But there are also similarities. I won’t even try to describe them all – see Robert Greenberger’s ComicMix article, or Anthony’s text piece in the book itself – but they are manifold. In a phone conversation a few hours ago, Anthony mentioned the most obvious, among which are:
Both are about a – yes! – chemical syndicate.
The heroes of both get involved in the proceedings while visiting a law-enforcing friend.
Both feature virtually identical death traps, which each hero beats in the same way.
Both heroes offer the same whodunit-type explanation at the adventure’s end.
Both heroes spend a lot of time on a rooftop after a safe robbery.
The denouements of both stories are, again, virtually identical.
As I wrote in the earlier column, anyone with even the dimmest interest in pop culture or comics history, or who just wants to sample the kind of entertainment that kept pops or granddad reading by flashlight under the covers, or who’s just in the mood for capital-M Melodrama combined with capital-H Heroics, might want to see if the Shadow has anything for them.
For me, the stuff has another aspect, one which is as modern as hip-hop. But that’s for next week.
RECOMMENDED READING: Awww…you know.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.
The untimely passing of Marshall Rogers has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream media, as there have been obituaries from both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Both laud his landmark work on Detective Comics as being a touchstone for many later artists’ interpretation of the Batman.