Justice League of America #65 (September, 1968)

When last we left the non-costumed, non-codenamed, but nonetheless quite formidable supervillain T.O. Morrow — at the conclusion of the first half of 1968’s Justice League of America-Justice Society of America summer team-up extravaganza — he’d just managed to kill all the current members of Earth-Two’s JSA (some of them for the second time that issue), and was preparing to head back to his home world of Earth-One to similarly wipe out the JLA — secure in the knowledge provided by his future-predicting computer that the only way he could be stopped was if the Red Tornado intervened; and since the Red Tornado was 1) his own android creation, and 2) also dead, he was sitting in clover, as the saying goes. 

“Kill” might not be quite the right word, however, since that issue had also established that the various fatal-seeming defeats of the Justice Society had actually filled their bodies with “futurenergy” — placing them in a deathlike state which could be reversed, should the futurenergy be removed from them.

Which is a good thing to keep in mind as we open up on the first scene of our story’s second half — produced, like the previous one, by the creative team of Gardner Fox (writer), Dick Dillin (penciler), Sid Greene (inker), and Julius Schwartz (editor):

When I originally read this story in July, 1968, I was familiar with all of the heroes’ Significant Others that appear in that second panel, with the notable exception of Snapper Carr’s “chick” Midge (no last name).  Midge had been introduced way back in Justice League of America #7, and had shown up several times since then; but she hadn’t made an appearance since my own first issue of JLA (#40), nor had any of her previous outings been reprinted in any of DC’s”80-Page Giants” that I’d read.  As it turned out, this would prove to be her final appearance (and, alas, as many of you will already know, Snapper himself wouldn’t be too far behind her in making his own departure.)

Also worth noting here: Jean Loring says she’s “all set for the Atom“; but at this time, Ms. Loring was actually the fiancée of physics prof Ray Palmer, whom she didn’t yet know was really the Atom.  That should have sent up a red flag for my eleven-year-old self, a semi-regular reader of the Atom’s own book, though I can’t recall that it actually did.  It’s most likely that I didn’t think about it very much before turning the page to see what would happen next:

This mysterious voice — which belongs to T.O. Morrow, of course, though he’s not ready to reveal his identity to the JLA just yet — goes on to cockily tell the five surviving heroes that he himself will take them on (and do them in) in their HQ’s Souvenir Room, after they’ve finished saving Earth.  But, not seeing that they have much, if any, choice in the matter, the Leaguers take to the sky to meet the space invaders:

Wow, it looks bad for the home team right off the bat, what with Superman in the grip of kryptonite dragon-teeth, Green Lantern stymied by a yellow-hued griffin, and the remaining, non-flying heroes knocked off their perch at a high altitude!  But, as should come to no surprise to a regular reader of the Silver Age Justice League, the heroes immediately deploy their greatest asset — i.e., nigh-flawless teamwork, what else? — and a mere three action-packed pages later, they’ve fully triumphed over their monstrous adversaries:

Racing to the Souvenir Room, the Justice Leaguers finally come face to face with their nefarious foe — though he’s only recognized by Flash and Green Lantern (who fought him in Flash #143, Morrow’s only appearance prior to JLA #64:

Setting this big battle in the Souvenir Room had the obvious advantage of providing Fox and his collaborators with a ready-made set of menaces pulled from past adventures — though, with the exception of Doctor Light (whom I’d met in JLA #61), they were all new to me in July, 1968, since (like Midge) none of them had appeared in the few reprinted JLA stories I’d read thus far.

Flash is matched up against Amazo, one of the JLA’s earliest foes (first seen in The Brave and the Bold #30 [Jun.-Jul., 1960])).  Amazo, an android who can mimic the powers of the whole JLA, has been cooling his heels in the Souvenir Room since his last defeat, until being reactivated by T.O. Morrow and imbued with futurenergy.  At first, Amazo is only using Flash’s own super-speed, allowing the Fastest Man Alive to hold his own…

That one wallop appears to have packed enough futurenergy to “kill” Flash, since the Scarlet Speedster doesn’t get back up.  One down, four to go…

Superman manages to shatter the Diamond Creature (first and last seen in JLA #9 [Feb., 1962]) before he can use the magic bell of the evil sorcerer Felix Faust (who was introduced in #10 [Mar., 1962]) — but, wouldn’t you know it, the bell bounces, and…

Starro the Conqueror is, of course, the Justice League’s oldest villain, publication date-wise, having gone up against the team in their first appearance in Brave and the Bold #28 (Feb.-Mar., 1960) — and he’s one that’s proven to have quite durable legs (rays?), showing up as recently as 2018, in the Justice League: No Justice miniseries (where he appeared to die, but who’s buying that?).  At the conclusion of their premiere adventure, the JLA defeated the malevolent alien starfish by coating him in lime.  Going by this issue, they stored him in their Souvenir Room afterwards — and now, after being de-limed and imbued with futurenergy by T.O. Morrow, he’s as good as new.  Which is not good news for poor Green Arrow:

Next up is Green Lantern, facing Dr. Light’s “light machine”.  Light’s personal appearance on page 9 is rather problematic, considering that as a convicted criminal (and human being), he should be in a jail, rather than the JLA’s trophy room — but, hey, he doesn’t show up again after that, so if it bothers you, you can just scrub that bit from page 9 out of your head canon — or, if that’s too disagreeable, you can imagine that he’s a life size model the League had constructed for display purposes, temporarily animated by futurenergy.  Or, y’know, whatever.

Batman’s foe, “Super-Duper”, is (or was) an energy construct that had appeared just once before, in JLA #31 (Nov., 1964).  He/she/they/it seemingly faded into nonexistence at the end of that issue, but appears to have been reconstituted since then, just for the purpose of being displayed in the Souvenir Room — a decision likely regretted by Batman in the moments before he buys the futurenergized farm.

Having successfully “slain” every official Justice League member (with the exception of the Martian Manhunter), the triumphant T.O. Morrow hauls them all off to display in his own souvenir room — where he already has ten hero-sized nooks built (including one especially sized for the Atom!), ready to display them, because of course he does:

He even brings Amazo and Starro along, because, hey, why not?

Thirteen pages in on the second half of what’s supposed to be a JLA-JSA team-up, it does seem past time to check back in on Earth-Two.  Unfortunately, all the JSAers are still “dead” (i.e., nigh-fatally futurenergized) — although it appears their would-be member and inadvertent betrayer, the new Red Tornado, isn’t quite so “dead” as Morrow assumes:

It’s very convenient that Reddy’s powers include the ability to vibrate across the interdimensional barrier separating Earths One and Two — although, if they didn’t, the story would end right here, so…

If I was reading this tale for the first time in 2018 (and if I wasn’t as familiar with Gardner Fox’s writing as I most definitely am), I might wonder whether some residual futurenergy was still affecting the workings of Reddy’s artificial intelligence in this scene, since both his assumption that he can’t use Morrow’s gun to restore life to the Leaguers “because that wasn’t how they were overcome”, and his notion that the “real” lovers of the five heroes killed with a kiss should be able to smooch their beaus back to life both seem like remarkably unjustified leaps of logic, to put it mildly.  But since I have read it before, I’ll follow the lead of my eleven-year-old self fifty years ago, and simply shrug and turn to the “2nd page following!”

Reddy’s explication of the “kiss of life” premise on this page doesn’t do much to clarify matters, with its talk of the heroes’ loved ones counteracting the futurenergy by filling themselves “with that energy — in reverse!”  Um, how does that work, exactly?  But the final panel, with the innocent android wondering about “this thing called ‘love'”, remains rather poignant, even a half century later.

In the second panel above, Fox gives Jean Loring some explanatory dialogue to let us know that he hasn’t completely forgotten that the Ivy Town lawyer isn’t supposed to know her beloved is the Atom — though it’s not especially convincing as a rationale for why she’s breezily accepted being roped in to kiss-cure the Tiny Titan, whom she presumably barely knows.  It also doesn’t make much sense that the super-powered Hawkgirl and Mera don’t accompany their hubbies on the mission to Earth-Two — seems the JLA, still down five members, could use the help — but it’s just the sort of thoughtlessly sexist storytelling that, unfortunately, is pretty much par for the course in Silver Age comics.

Whoa!  I gotta say, the total destruction of two planets is a pretty damn ambitious plan for an evil genius who, unlike most of his fellow future residents of Oolong Island, doesn’t even have a “Doctor” or “Professor” in front of his name.

But then, while Mr. Morrow is still in mid-gloat, the five JLAers pllus Red Tornado arrive on the scene — and the villain, mindful of his computer’s prophecy, realizes the jig is up, and makes a break for it:

Meanwhile, the Leaguers make short work of Morrow’s minions, as well as his “war fever” machine.  Being unaware of Reddy’s concurrent actions, however, Wonder Woman frets that Morrow himself is still on the loose…

Well, as an actual Justice League-Justice Society team-up, my eleven-year-old self found this conclusion a bit of a bust.  The two teams never even met!  (And yes, I know that DC had done something similar back in in 1964, when the “real” JLA didn’t show up for the entire two-parter — but I wasn’t yet reading comic books at that time.)  That fact alone relegated the story to last place among the three JLA-JSA summer events I’d thus far enjoyed.

But I was intrigued by the Red Tornado — this lonely, yearning, eloquent android wasn’t like any superhero I’d ever read about before.  And lots of readers, including some future comics writers, appear to have felt the same way, since the character would go on to a long, relatively successful career as a second-tier hero over the next half-century.

Of course, in July, 1968, all that lay well ahead in the future.  Within just a couple of months of JLA #65’s publication, however, comic book readers would be introduced to another red-faced android superhero inspired by a Golden Age character who would be manipulated by a villain into attacking a superhero team.  Our discussion of that rather remarkable coincidence of comics history will be coming up in September — so stay tuned.

As noted above, the comics fans of 1968 could look forward to a lot more Red Tornado stories in their future, the majority of which would appear in the pages of Justice League of America.  But none of those stories would be written by the new hero’s co-creator, Gardner Fox.  As a point of fact, no further JLA tales would be coming from Fox, per an announcement on JLA #65’s “JLA Mail Room” page, offered in an editorial response to a fan’s letter praising a recent issue:

I honestly can’t recall my reaction to this news back in 1968, but that’s probably telling in itself.  I already knew that artists, and by extension, writers, left comic book series and were replaced by others, on a fairly frequent basis.  And while I didn’t consider artists to be interchangeable — I knew that I preferred Carmine Infantino to Ross Andru on Flash, and John Buscema to Don Heck on Avengers, just to cite a couple or examples — I didn’t yet have much of a sense of the individual styles of different writers.  And, in any case, I didn’t have any notion of such a change meaning that a writer, or an artist, was out of a job.  So I probably read that announcement and just thought, “Huh, new writer.  That’s interesting,” and went on to the next letter.

Portrait of Gardner F. Fox by Gil Kane, from The Amazing World of DC Comics #3 (Nov, 1974).

I didn’t realize that this marked the end of an era, in more ways than one; that Gardner Francis Fox, the writer of every Justice League of America story published to date — and, for that matter, the writer of the first thirty or so adventures of the JLA’s Golden Age predecessors, the Justice Society of America, in All-Star Comics — was leaving not only JLA, but DC Comics as a whole; and, by all accounts, not of his own accord.

The tale has been often told, in various places (though probably most comprehensively in Mike W. Barr’s article “The Madames & the Girls: The DC Writers Purge of 1968”, published in Comic Book Artist #5), of how a group of DC freelancers — mostly writers — approached the company’s upper management, asking for such benefits as medical insurance and a pension plan.  Fifty years later, the details of events, as well as their sequence, remain less than crystal clear; but this much is irrefutable fact: when the dust settled, the one DC editor sympathetic to the freelancers’ cause, George Kashdan, had been terminated from his position; and a handful of writers, Fox among them, were no longer receiving assignments from the publisher.

Panel from All-Flash #14 (Spring, 1944). Text by Gardner Fox; art by E. E. Hibbard.

Fox had been working for DC pretty much continuously (though not exclusively), since 1938, when, as a freshly-degreed lawyer, he’d accepted an invitation from a pal, Vincent Sullivan, to try his hand at writing comic book stories.  As he would later put it (in an interview conducted in the Seventies, and published in Amazing Heroes #113 [March 15, 1987]), “I was writing for them [DC] before Superman and Batman came along!”  Starting out on detective stories and the like, Fox quickly made the transition to superheroes when that nascent genre took off.  He became one of Batman’s earliest scripters, albeit briefly (though he was around long enough to write the stories that introduced the Caped Crusader’s utility belt, his Batarang, and his first flying transport, the Batgyro).  Soon afterwards, he co-created such classic Golden Age heroes as the original Flash, Hawkman, Sandman, Starman, and Doctor Fate — and then went on to help originate the entire concept of the superhero team, working with editor Sheldon Mayer to create and develop the Justice Society of America in the pages of All-Star Comics.

Detail of panel from Strange Adventures #140 (May, 1962). Text by Gardner Fox; art by Sid Greene.

When the popularity of superheroes waned in the late Forties, Fox quickly made the adjustment, and began turning out scripts for DC’s Western, funny animal, and science fiction comics without missing a beat.  The latter, in particular, would, about a decade later lead naturally into the last phase of his career at DC — working with editor Julius Schwartz, as well as a variety of artists, to create and develop many of the characters and concepts at the vanguard of a revival of the superhero genre.

During the early years of what would come to be called the Silver Age of Comics, Fox co-created the new versions of Hawkman and the Atom, and also wrote stories for Schwartz’s other two revamped superheroes, the Flash and Green Lantern.  He also co-created the science-fiction adventurer Adam Strange (whom he’d identify as his favorite character, in later years), and, of course, helped revive the superhero group he’d helped create in 1940, the Justice Society, in a new incarnation, the Justice League.  When Schwartz took over the Batman books in 1964, bringing in a “New Look”, Fox came with him, and upon his return to the Darknight Detective helped reintroduce villains such as the Riddler and the Scarecrow, while also co-creating the new Batgirl.

Detail of panel from Strange Adventures #140 (May, 1962). Text by Gardner Fox; art by Sid Greene.

It’s frankly difficult to assess how much of the content of Fox’s Silver Age stories actually originated with him; Julius Schwartz was a very hands-on editor, heavily involved in the plotting of the books under his supervision.  But we can make some reasonable deductions about the nature and extent of Fox’s unique contributions when comparing his stories to those of the other writers who worked for Schwartz, the most prominent of whom was John Broome.

Fox’s stories are particularly notable for their inclusion of odd but interesting “factoids”, apparently drawn from a remarkably eclectic personal reference library, which range from Interpol’s “Beaulieu system” of facial reconstruction, to the legendary subterranean realm known as “Saint Martin’s Land”, to American folklore’s “Jersey Devil”.  And if one of Schwartz’s books featured a serious social theme, the odds were good that Fox was the writer; he’d penned anti-prejudice stories back in his All-Star Comics days, and he continued in that tradition with tales like those in JLA #40 and #57 (the former of which I sincerely believe played a significant role in my own personal moral development, as I’ve discussed previously on this blog).

Panel from Strange Adventures #140 (May, 1962). Text by Gardner Fox; art by Sid Greene.

And while both Fox and Broome wrote stories in which the Golden Age versions of Green Lantern and the Flash guest-starred with their “modern” counterparts, it was Fox who wrote the story in Flash #123 that established the “Earth-Two” concept (as the writer later recollected for the Amazing Heroes interview mentioned earlier, Schwartz wanted the two Flashes to meet, and Fox came up with the rationale for their co-existence).  It was also Fox who wrote all of the Silver Age stories which reintroduced the Justice Society heroes as headliners in their own right, penning the first five of the new Spectre stories as well as Brave and the Bold and Showcase tryout issues for the duos of Black Canary and Starman, and Doctor Fate and Hourman.  It seems fair to say that Gardner Fox was Julius Schwartz’s “go to” guy when it came to crises (and most other doings) on multiple earths.

At the end of the day, when all of his achievements are tallied — including his collaborative, as well as unique contributions — it doesn’t seem at all like hyperbole to call Gardner Fox still, in 2018, “the most significant [DC writer] ever in terms of the quantity of his work and the significance of the characters and concepts he created”, just as Richard Morrissey called him back in 1987, in Amazing Heroes #113.

Certainly, he was the most significant up to 1968 — when, as we’ve already noted, everything changed.  Following the release of JLA #65, the man who’d written almost 1,500 stories for DC would have his work appear in a mere twelve more issues of the publisher’s books.  On January 9, 1969, in Green Lantern #67, DC would publish a new Gardner Fox comics story for the very last time.

Panel from Strange Adventures #140 (May, 1962). Text by Gardner Fox; art by Sid Greene.

As mentioned earlier, there’s not a clear consensus about exactly what happened between DC management and its most unhappy (and vocal) freelancers in 1968.  Some have suggested that Schwartz had been growing more unhappy with Fox’s work anyway.  In Mike Barr’s Comic Book Artist article, fan-turned-writer Mike Friedrich is quoted as saying: “I saw Gardner Fox scripts — typical scripts — they were literally 90% copywritten by the editor.  So there is some validity in my mind, to my mind, to Schwartz’s perception that Fox was not producing adequately…”  On the other hand, Fox himself seemed to bear Schwartz no ill will in later years — in his Amazing Heroes interview, he lauded the latter as “the finest editor in the business… We always got along fine together.”  Rather, he laid the responsibility for his ouster — as well as those of Arnold Drake, Bill Finger, and France “Ed” Herron — on DC’s upper management, specifically Jack Liebowitz, who “just told Julie not to buy any more stories from me…”  And Schwartz would, indeed, purchase one last piece from Fox, months after the dust had settled on the so-called “writers purge” (and Liebowitz was no longer involved with the day-to-day running of the company) — an illustrated text story featuring Adam Strange, which ran in Strange Adventures #226 (Sept.-Oct., 1970).

On the other other hand — things were changing drastically at DC Comics in the late Sixties, irregardless of any agitation for improved benefits from specific freelancers.  Artist-turned-executive Carmine Infantino was bringing on new editors — mostly from the ranks of his fellow artists — such as Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando, who were in turn hiring new writers, such as Denny O’Neil (who would become the writer of JLA with issue #66), Steve Skeates, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman.  And even before relieving Gardner Fox of his JLA assignment, Schwartz — who for the last decade had relied so heavily on Fox and John Broome (the latter of whom had by now moved overseas, largely taking himself out of the comics-writing business) — was beginning to make more frequent use of younger writers, including Mike Friedrich, Cary Bates, and E. Nelson Bridwell.  All of this was in response to changing tastes in readership, as most clearly exemplified by the decline in DC’s market share in comparison with their greatest rival, the upstart Marvel Comics.

Panel from Detective Comics #347 (Jan., 1966). Text by Gardner Fox, art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

So, would Gardner Fox have continued writing for DC for years to come had he, Drake, and the others not aggravated upper management in seeking to improve their situation?  Or would he have been phased out soon regardless, to be replaced by a writer with a more contemporary voice and approach, such as O’Neil?  It’s ultimately an unanswerable, “what if?” sort of question — but perhaps some indication of what might have been can be gleaned by taking a brief look at what did happen.

Because the end of his tenure at DC wasn’t the end of Gardner Fox’s comics writing career — not quite.  As long as he’d worked at DC, and as productive as he’d been there, Fox — whether out of a prudent concern for not keeping all of his eggs in one basket, or simply because he was just so damn prolific a writer that DC couldn’t afford to purchase all of his output — had never written exclusively for that company.  As early as 1941, Fox was selling scripts to something called the Columbia Comics Corporation; in the 1950s, he he did some work for the somewhat better known Avon Comics (“Crom the Barbarian”) and Magazine Enterprises (includingThun-da, with artist Frank Frazetta, and The Avenger), as well as for EC Comics’ beloved “New Trend” horror comics, such as The Haunt of Fear.  (He also wrote a whole lot of straight prose fiction over the decades, but we’ll get to that a bit later.)  So it was hardly a stretch for Fox, following the loss of his main market for his comic book work, to start pitching scripts to other publishers — which indeed he did, soon landing several tales in the black-and-white horror anthologies produced by Warren Publishing and Skywald Publications.  Around the same time (1971-2), Marvel writer and associate editor Roy Thomas — a huge fan of Fox’s work going back to his All-Star Comics days — offered the older author some writing gigs at DC’s number one competitor.

I read a number of Fox’s Marvel stories as a teenager when they first came out — and I can remember being vaguely disappointed by most of them.  It seems like Fox’s “Doctor Strange”, in particular, should have worked.  Fox started his run in the midst of a storyline that had been begun by Thomas, involving Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts going up against cosmic horrors drawn from pulp author Robert E. Howard’s contributions to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu mythos”.  That should have been right in the wheelhouse of the man who had co-created Doctor Fate, and who wrote the classic ’60s Spectre stories in which the Ghostly Guardian fought such eldritch menaces as Azmodus and Shathan.  But, as Thomas would later write in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks – Doctor Strange, Vol. 4, “his style of writing, honed in a different age and place, wasn’t quite right for Marvel.”  Fox himself seems to have largely concurred; when asked about this era in the Amazing Heroes interview, he first noted, accurately, that “they used a different method of writing — instead of writing a complete script, the writer does a plot synopsis and then dialogues the finished art”; and then added: “They seemed to be doing everything backwards!”

Of course, there was more to it than the technical differences between Marvel and DC’s production methods.  The Marvel brand was built as much on characterization as on anything, and whatever else you might say about them, Fox’s classic Silver Age tales were not what you’d call characterization-rich.  As he told his Amazing Heroes interviewers, “I always figured that there were so few pages available that I had to concentrate on plot and action.”  Of course, Marvel’s writers got around that by continuing storylines from issue to issue, whereas DC — its annual two-part JLA-JSA teamups notwithstanding — rarely let a plotline run for more than a single issue (and, indeed, were quite comfortable stuffing two complete stories into a single twelve-cent comic book).  The younger writers who came into the business in the late Sixties and Seventies, who’d come of age with Marvel’s comics as much as with DC’s, would eventually make the Marvel approach to comics storytelling the de facto standard at DC, as well; but by that time, Gardner Fox was out of the comics biz.

Gardner Fox wrote four issues of Marvel Premiere featuring Doctor Strange, and, concurrently, two issues of Tomb of Dracula.  (He was succeeded on the former by Steve Englehart, and by Marv Wolfman on the latter; I don’t regret either of those changes, and I don’t imagine that many of my fellow fans of great Bronze Age Marvel comics do, either.)  He also wrote some Doc Savage, Red Wolf, and Gunhawks issues for the publisher, and some horror shorts for their anthology titles, of both the color and black-and-white varieties.  His last Marvel story to be published (according to Mike’s Amazing World) — a chapter in an ongoing serial adapting Lin Carter‘s first “Thongor of Lemuria” novel, in Creatures on the Loose #27 — came out in October, 1973.  And as best as I can determine, that was Gardner Fox’s last comic book story, save for one more short tale that would appear, rather unexpectedly, over a decade later, in Eclipse Comics’ Alien Encounters #4 (Dec., 1985).

Panel from Detective Comics #347 (Jan., 1966). Text by Gardner Fox, art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

But don’t feel too sorry for Gardner Fox.  As mentioned earlier, for most of the time he was writing comic books, he was also writing — and selling — prose fiction.  Beginning with a sale to the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1944, and working under a host of pseudonyms as well as his own name, Fox would eventually have over 100 novels published, in a variety of genres.*  In the early Seventies, when the comics side of his writing career was no longer going as well as it had been, he simply shifted his time and energies to the prose fiction side — and afterwards, he seems to have been pretty content with how everything ultimately worked out.  “Frankly, I’m happier with the way things are now than I ever was,” he told his Amazing Heroes interviewers.  “I used to work pretty hard in the ‘old days’.  A comic book a week, four or five novels a year.  I’ve cut out the comic book, and concentrate on writing more novels.  The pay is just the same or even better, over the years.  Let the comics go their own way, I’ll go mine.”

After having saved the Earth who knows how many times on paper, Gardner Francis Fox died on December 24, 1986, at the age of seventy-five.

I’ve devoted a lot of time and space to this valedictory salute to Gardner Fox for a couple of reasons.  One is that I believe his departure from DC Comics is historically significant as a signpost of the impending end of what we call the Silver Age of Comics.  But a more important reason is Fox’s significance to me, personally, as my favorite writer of the years 1965 to 1968, the first three years of my comic book buying and reading experience.  That significance can be visualized via Fox’s current prominence in the tag cloud for this blog, whose first three years correspond to those first three years of comics from a half-century ago.

As this blog continues, and its fifty-years-old point of reference inexorably moves forward, Gardner Fox’s name will, inevitably, become less and less prominent in its tag cloud; so I’m offering the screenshot shown below as documentation of how prominent is is, “now”, in July, 2018:

I can’t, and won’t, deny that Gardner Fox’s work has, like that of virtually every other comic book writer of the Silver Age, dated badly in a number of ways.  To begin with, there’s the language, which can come off as stilted to the modern reader.  And, of course, there’s the straightforward willingness to move a story forward by any means necessary, regardless of the amount of handwaving or pheblotinum required (for a great example, see “futurenenergy” in the story discussed just above).**  Fox’s writing, like most of his peers at DC, can also be faulted for pancake-flat characterization; his heroes all had pretty much the same personality, just as they (the male ones, anyway) all had pretty much the same chin.  And, of course, there’s the sexism, already noted in my comments on JLA #65 — thought I don’t think that Fox was any worse than most of his peers in this regard, and was perhaps even just a tad better.

But, at his best, Gardner Fox could create suspense, appeal to one’s sense of wonder, and even expand one’s moral horizons with the greatest of them, throughout the whole history of American comic books.  My opinion of his work is doubtlessly colored by fond nostalgia, but that’s OK, as far as I’m concerned.  The stuff still brings me joy, fifty years down the road, and what’s wrong with that?

Thank you for all the stories, Mr. Fox.

*Out of those hundred-plus novels, I’ve only ever picked up one, Kothar and the Wizard Slayer, which I got at a secondhand paperback shop sometime in the mid-Seventies; it’s probably still around the house here, some place.  Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I should own up to the fact that my then-teenage self was drawn more to the Jeffrey Catherine Jones cover (which prominently featured a scantily-clad young woman, in addition to the titular mighty-thewed barbarian hero)  than to the fact of it having been written by one of my favorite Silver Age comics writers.  (Sorry about that, Mr. Fox.)

**In their defense, the comics writers of the Silver Age knew they were writing primarily for an audience of unsophisticated kids, and could probably get away with it; and, as I’ve indicated in this as well as many other posts over the last few years, they were generally correct, at least as far as my younger self was concerned.  From the vantage point of today’s comics landscape, where the best writers have the opportunity, at least, to become rich and famous, it’s easy to say that those old guys should have been more conscientious, or taken more pride in their work — but in the context of the 1960s, when writers were all but anonymous and worked from job to job for a modest page rate, it’s hard to fault them for not trying much harder than they had to to get the job done.  (It is for me, at any rate.)



  1. *Sigh!* I am happy to learn that after Gardner Fox was no longer receiving work from National / DC he still had regular work at other comic book publishers, and as a prose writer. Nevertheless, what happened to Fox and his colleagues in 1968 is just one example of the *many* occasions when creators were ill-treated or taken for granted by DC… or by Marvel, whose owners also engaged in such practices.

    Like yourself, when I was younger I loved the DC and Marvel heroes. Then, when I got older, I learned about the behind-the-scenes stories, of all the writers & artists who were not treated fairly by the big two. It was very depressing to find out about this aspect of the industry.

    Also, as you yourself observe, originally superheroes were for kids. These JLA stories were for readers in grade school. Marvel was geared towards slightly older readers, i.e. teenagers. In either case, it is a genre that is really for younger readers. It took some time, but I came to realize it was unfair for me as a reader to expect Marvel and DC to try to make their characters into something my now-adult self would still enjoy. I think that’s the reason why both companies have had so many problems over the past 30 years: they have been trying to accommodate the readers who were once kids but who are now adults, and that has resulted in the characters and stories often being changed into unworkable forms.

    For both of these reasons I now have a really genuine appreciation for independent and creator-owned comic books. This is an area where creators can hopefully get better financial deals than at the Big Two, often retaining some form of ownership, and they can also create stories that appeal to me as an adult fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joseph Conteky · August 5, 2018

    I got this issue on the way to the park and read it in the shade of a tree. All my friends were fervent Marvel fans but DC was a guilty pleasure for me. As such I really enjoyed your article about Gardner Fox. While the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are rightly viewed as giants of the silver age I do feel their DC counterparts deserve more acclaim too.

    Liked by 1 person

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