As noted in my recent post regarding Gold Key’s Star Trek, I didn’t get to see the TV series on which that comic was based until it hit my local market in syndicated re-runs, around 1970-71. And since I started consuming licensed Trek tie-in media (what there was of it) almost immediately upon discovering the show, concurrent with my viewing the television episodes for the very first time, my initial encounters with some classic Trek stories ended up being by way of the printed page, rather than the cathode-ray tube. That’s because the earliest licensed prose fiction based on the property, a series of paperback books written by James Blish and published by Bantam Books, were collections of short stories adapted from the TV episodes themselves.
If I recall correctly, this was how I first experienced “The City on the Edge of Forever”, considered by many to be the finest single episode of the entire Star Trek franchise. Blish had adapted the story for his second volume of “novelizations”, Star Trek 2. Unusually for his process, however, he’d combined two distinct versions of the episode’s teleplay to do so: the extensively revised iteration that was actually produced and broadcast, and an earlier one represented by the original draft of the script by its sole credited author, Harlan Ellison. In a footnote to the published adaptation, Blish described both his anxiety that he might have ruined the story by taking that approach, as well as his relief when Ellison subsequently assured him that he had not, in fact, botched the job. That little look behind-the-scenes stuck with me — as did the name of the screenwriter, at a time when I never paid any attention to the credits on television shows beyond the names of the lead actors.
But though I now knew the name Harlan Ellison, other than that one Star Trek credit I knew nothing about him. Which was why I didn’t recognize him when, not very long after I’d read Star Trek 2, I encountered him as the central character in a Justice League of America story, in which he bore the (barely) alternative moniker “Harlequin Ellis”.
The writer of that JLA story, on the other hand — the then 21-year-old Mike Friedrich — knew quite a lot about Ellison. By 1971, the latter author had won two Writers Guild of America Awards, two Nebula Awards, and five Hugo Awards, all within the past six years. In addition, he was an avowed comics fan, who’d written on the subject for the well-known fanzine Xero. I suspect it would have been difficult for a young American comic-book writer of the time not to be at least glancingly familiar with Harlan Ellison.
But Friedrich was more than that, at least when it came to Ellison’s work. As he would tell interviewer Michael Eury many years later (for the latter’s Justice League Companion [TwoMorrows, 2005]), he was impressed enough with the older author’s writing that he came to consider him a role model, and even to identify with him — a feeling that eventually resulted in Justice League of America #89’s “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!”:
I remember it [the story] came out of a very intense realization, but I can’t remember the specific circumstance, that I was now a writer with a capital “W,” and that I attributed this to my reading of Ellison’s work. Ellison wore his heart on his sleeve, and was just as obvious in his biases and social attitudes in his stories as I was in Justice League, although he was a lot more subtle about it and craftier about it than I was. But he was a very real inspiration to me.
Friedrich had even met Ellison — if only briefly, and several years prior to the epiphany described above. As he related to Eury:
I was 18 and in New York for the first time… I had written a couple of stories, and one of them was a Spectre/Wildcat story that Neal Adams was about to start drawing (for The Spectre #3). I’d met Marv Wolfman and Len Wein and Mark Hanerfeld and some related friends of theirs… I went with these friends of mine to the World Con that was held that year at the Statler Hilton Hotel across the street from Penn Station… Anyway, Ellison had been roasting Isaac Asimov at some awards ceremony or banquet…
And I remember very clearly sitting down in the lobby after this, and Mark Hanerfeld brought Ellison over to me and introduced him to me saying, “This is Mike, he’s writing The Spectre.” Now, Harlan Ellison had grown up on the Spectre. (laughs) He was now in his mid-30s, and he’s looking at this 18-year-old kid that looked like he was 12… and his jaw literally dropped. He did one of these comic jaw droppings… And so we were introduced and that was it.
That was it… in 1967. In 1971, Mike Friedrich and Harlan Ellison were about to become rather better acquainted.
The cover of Justice League of America #89, pencilled by Neal Adams and inked by Dick Giordano, does a good job of getting across the idea that this will be a JLA tale of a different kind — even if the promise of reader wish-fulfillment will ultimately prove somewhat misleading (with the notable exception of one particular reader, as we’ll see).
The splash page continues with the cover’s conceit of directly addressing the reader, as Friedrich and his usual artistic collaborators, Dick Dillin (penciller) and Joe Giella (inker), invite us to join the Justice League for their regular meeting:
The story’s title contains Friedrich’s first nod to Ellison and his work — though, of course, there’s as yet no reason for us to recognize it as such.
Dangerous Visions was a groundbreaking (and massive) anthology of original science fiction stories edited by Ellison; published in 1967, it would soon come to be seen as a milestone in the ’60s “New Wave” movement in SF, with several of its stories going on to win awards. (It would be followed by a second, even larger volume, Again, Dangerous Visions, in 1972; a projected third volume, to be entitled The Last Dangerous Visions, was promised for decades, but remained unfinished at the time of Ellison’s death in 2018.)
The “certain celebrated publishing firm” mentioned in the last panel above, is, of course, DC Comics. (This had been an ongoing gag since the introduction of the JLA’s satellite HQ in issue #78; although, to the best of my knowledge, the identification was never stated overtly within any story. Maybe on a letters page?)
Another aspect of the League’s satellite set-up in its early days, and one which seems awfully inconvenient in retrospect, is that it apparently only had one planet-side transporter station. So once the teleportation system deposited you on a rooftop in ““a very large city on the eastern seaboard”, as it was called in issue #78 (i.e., New York City), you still had to make the trip the rest of the way home. Which was no big deal if you were Superman or Flash, maybe, but sort of a pain for the Atom (did Ray Palmer look for the nearest telephone booth so he could he could zip back to Ivy Town via the phone lines?) or Aquaman, who’d have a long swim back to Atlantis ahead of him. Granted, these same problems had existed with the JLA’s old Secret Sanctuary — a hidden cave outside the small town of Happy Harbor, RI — but the addition of Thanagarian transporter technology to the team’s milieu underscored the awkwardness of the set-up.
The other thing notable about this panel, of course, is that it gives us the rare chance to see a group of Leaguers together in their civvies. Interestingly, about the only hero we see here whose look now seems conspicuously outdated is Aquaman — who, ironically, virtually never wore “surface-dweller” duds in his own series during this era, no matter how much time he spent on land.
Mike Friedrich’s turning up at the top of page 3 was hardly the first time a DC creator had broken the fourth wall an appeared on-panel to directly address the reader. But it was still pretty unusual.
Even more unusual is Friedrich’s use of second-person narration to invite his readers — who in 1971 could safely be presumed to be overwhelmingly male — to identify with a female protagonist, Black Canary.
The name “Harlequin” is an obvious derivation from “Harlan” — but I think it’s worth noting here, for any readers who may not be all that familiar with Ellison’s oeuvre, that’s it’s one the author had already made himself, several years prior to Friedrich’s knowing appropriation of it for this story.
“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”, published in 1965, is probably Ellison’s best-known short story. A winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, it tells the story of a dystopian future in which a trickster character, the Harlequin, rebels against the strictures of an extremely time-regimented society, represented by the Ticktockman. It’s not an autobiographical story, obviously, but it has been widely interpreted as at least partly inspired by its author’s own struggles with meeting deadlines. In other words, on one allegorical level, the Harlequin was Harlan Ellison.
“Three times have I lost a wife — always a warm and beautiful woman!” Ellison had indeed been married (and divorced) three times as of 1971; however, he had not always been quite so gracious in describing his exes as his comic-book surrogate is here, having referred to his first marriage in 1961’s Gentleman Junkie as “four years of hell as sustained as the whine of a generator”.
Jeez, GA, possessive much? Actually, the extreme territoriality of Green Arrow in regards to “his” woman was a fairly consistent aspect of Friedrich’s characterization of Oliver Queen during his stint on JLA.*
After Ellis stomps upstairs, we get a brief scene with the two unnamed folks glimpsed in the last panel above (presumably they’re both his employees, though only the woman is given a defined job; she’s his secretary), as they wonder aloud what’s put a bug up the boss’ ass. The secretary ultimately decides to go up and confront Harlequin before things get altogether out of hand:
The scene now shifts back to Black Canary and Green Arrow, as we get a reference to a JLA meeting — presumably, the same one we saw on the first two pages, where these two members were conspicuous by their absence — which only serves to point out the absurdity of the satellite/transporter set-up as currently established. If GA and BC are already late, and they still have to travel from Los Angeles to New York before they can beam up to JLA HQ… then I’m not sure it’s really worth them even making the effort, y’know?
The preceding scene is an odd one. Its only purpose seems to be to insert the two JLAers into Ellis’ “current story” — but since they’re almost immediately transported to a completely different, seemingly unrelated locale (as we’re about to see), and since the little curio shop is never seen again afterwards, it ultimately feels entirely superfluous.
As the story shifts to assume the perspective of Harlequin Ellis, the second-person narration is resumed — though this time “you” are Ellis, rather than Black Canary.
Taking his cue from the Canary, “Superman” quickly (if reluctantly) locates the other Justice Leaguers with his telescopic vision:
Ellis-as-Superman flies to face the Cyclops in battle — but, despite his best efforts…
“…I’m shattered… like a glass goblet…” Poetic phrasing, even if slightly more prosaic than its inspiration — the title of another Ellison short story.
“Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” was originally published in 1968; a horror tale dealing with drug abuse, it was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1069, but didn’t win. (Another Ellison work nominated that same year, however — “A Boy and His Dog” — won in the Best Novella category.) While it admittedly has nothing to do with Friedrich’s JLA story, thematically speaking, the reference would have been easily recognizable to the young writer’s fellow Ellison-heads.
Again, a shift in the focus of the second-person narration, as “you” once more become Dinah Drake Lance, aka Black Canary:
What, you thought Ellis would have learned his lesson after what happened to “Aquaman”? Pshaw. We’ve still got seven pages of story left to fill, folks. Not to mention a certain cover-made promise about the reader getting a turn being Batman…
Green Arrow quickly fires off a shot, but his arrow harmlessly bounces off the Minotaur’s super-tough hide. Black Canary is about to rush to his aid, but then…
“Batman” first staggers the mythological creature with a blow, then, when it charges, plays toreador:
I suppose that Ellis’ imagination is so terrific, he can precisely emulate Batman’s learned skills just as well as he can Superman’s innate super-powers. Or something like that.
Um, I don’t have to tell you what tune from a classic 1969 rock opera the Derrick’s house band is covering here, do I? I didn’t think so.
If memory serves, my younger self had ambivalent feelings about “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!” when I finished reading it for the first time. On the one hand, I tended not to like stories where most of the action wasn’t “real”, and this was certainly such a story. Most of the “real” JLA didn’t even appear following page 2, after all. On the other hand, I was also beginning to appreciate it when creators pushed the envelope and did something I’d never seen before in a comic book — and this story was very much an example of that, as well. I liked that Mike Friedrich was addressing “me” directly, even if I wasn’t 100% sure what his message to “me” was. (I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all Harlequin Ellis?)
Fifty years later, I’m rather less inclined to worry about the “reality” of an individual superhero comic book story than I was then. But I’m also considerably more likely to cringe at phrases like “the crash-pounding of his creative soul” and “the soul-shatter of the nova-awareness”. So painfully earnest, so self-important. But pretentious? That, I’m not so sure about. I’d prefer to call Friedrich’s efforts ambitious, myself — and if he doesn’t quite fully achieve the object of his ambition, well, there’s a Robert Browning quote for that, y’know? No, I wouldn’t want every Justice League of America story, then or now, to be like “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!”; nevertheless. I’m glad that Mike Friedrich’s creative soul crash-pounded this particular one out, a half-century ago.
At the very end of Friedrich’s script for JLA #89 is an epigraph: “To H.E., that you might understand, brother…” The words imply a familiarity between the two writers that might seem more than a little presumptuous, considering that at this point the two men had met only once, briefly, at a con. But as things turned out, they were actually rather predictive.
Let’s let Friedrich himself tell the tale:
After I wrote the story and Julie [Schwartz, JLA editor] accepted it, I kept a carbon (copy) of it, and somehow or other, I made another copy. Somehow I had Harlan’s address and I mailed the script to him. And I was short on the postage, so he refused it (laughs)—he didn’t know who I was. I mean, he actually knew who I was, but he was making a point. And the package comes back, so I’m embarrassed and a little pissed off… But I put enough postage on it and sent it again to him. I get this incredible letter back from Harlan telling me that he was completely overwhelmed. It was like we were now blood brothers, that he was just so completely entranced. He was so flattered that I had written this story because he was a big comics fan himself and now he’d become a comic character. To him, that was like, wow, being on television, being in the movies. You know, he’s in a comic…
It was like, “My house is your house,” which I took him up on — once. (chuckles) And then apparently, he calls New York, and tells Julie he wants the character to be called “Harlan Ellison.” Julie kept it the way it was written [Harlequin Ellis”], and I wish he’d made it “Harlan Ellison.”
Schwartz confirmed the latter part of Friedrich’s anecdote in the letters column of JLA #89 itself, where he wrote:
Ellison later did get his wish, however, after a fashion, when Schwartz gave him Adams and Giordano’s original art for #89’s cover. Along with adding a handwritten inscription at the top of the piece (“To Harlan Ellison — the all-time comics [sic] book fan”), Schwartz also had one of the Flash’s word balloons re-lettered…
…finally making the promised wish-fulfillment of becoming Superman and Batman accurate, by name-checking the only reader it was ever literally true for.
As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, though I knew Harlan Ellison’s name from his single Star Trek episode before I picked up JLA #89 — or, at least, I think I did — I didn’t make the connection with “Harlequin Ellis” until after I’d read the story. Presumably, though, I “got” it once I’d read the letters column and seen Schwartz’s note.
But if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m having a little trouble trusting my admittedly vague memory regarding this timeline — in part because I don’t remember at all that the appearance of Harlan Ellison in a DC comic in March, 1971, happened concurrently with his appearance that same month in not one, but two Marvel comics — though as a creator, this time, rather than a character.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened. And you’ll be able to read all about it in the next two installments of this blog, the first of which will be coming your way in just three days. I hope to see you then.
*Here’s another good example of Friedrich’s Green Arrow demonstrating an egregious amount of possessiveness, via a 2-page scene from the issue just prior to this one, JLA #88. (The more astute readers out there will doubtless realize that my sharing this now also fulfills a promise I made in an earlier post — namely, to let everyone know how the Batman-Black Canary “romance” plot element rather bizarrely introduced by writer Robert Kanigher in issue #84 was ultimately resolved. Since I ended up not doing a whole post on #88, this looks like my best shot.)
Of course, Black Canary herself doesn’t come off too great, here — first, by choosing to completely ignore what had happened earlier between her and Batman, in what one presumes is their first real moment alone together since That Night, just so that she can hit him up for “brotherly” advice — and then by standing by passively when her boyfriend unjustifiably goes off on their teammate.
Still, Green Arrow is such an insufferable ass in this scene that someone who read this story back in January, 1971, and then “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!” in March, might wonder if the Canary actually would be better off with Harlequin Ellis. (For the record, my thirteen-year-old self wasn’t one of those “someones”; in 1971, I thought GA was the coolest superhero on DC’s roster, and didn’t recognize his attitudes as being toxic in the slightest. I’ve progressed a bit since then, thankfully; at least, I’d like to think so.)
As for the last panel’s ominous reference to a “seed of bitterness” being planted within Batman due to the incident — to the best of my knowledge, neither Friedrich nor any of his successors on Justice League of America ever picked up on this notion in any way. If you ask me, that’s probably for the best.
I have to admit I despise Friedrich on JLA as the ultimate example of a 70s cohort of new young comics writers far too much in love with their own tortured prose. With Friedrich that usually takes the form of preachy progressive ideals so ham-fisted as to make O’Neil’s GL/GA seem the height of subtlety, but here it devolves into what’s essentially a mash letter to Ellison, so it’s not just painful but also embarassing, like we’re reading his personal mail. When Len Wein shows up a few issues later, it’s one of the most dramatic rescues of a comics title in memory.I
Which leads to a question: how do the “rate” votes work on your posts? I always enjoy your articles, so if like to rate them highly. But I often have a less generous opinion of the issue profiled, and on occasion a very negative one, so what to do?
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lordsinclair, good question! The star-rating system is a built-in WordPress feature that you can turn on or off, but can’t modify or tweak, as best as I’ve been able to tell (though I’ll check further). As far as I’m concerned, however, it’s a rating of how much you enjoyed or appreciated the post, rather than a rating of the comic the post is about. (Though the thought that the two-star ratings that a few posts have gotten were actually judgements of the comic books I covered, and not my own work, is comforting to me, I gotta admit. 🙂 )
“When the slightest hint of rejection lasts forever.” So Ellison is a thirteen year old boy, huh? No wonder I loved this story! And I did love this story when it came out. I was a little more familar with Ellison than you were in 1971, Alan (though I’m not sure why) and knew immediately who Harlequin Ellis was supposed to be, though some of the references to his stories did go over my head. I loved that Friedrich was talking right to the reader and pouring his heart into the “pit of your soul, looking into the blackness beneath you.” However, today, with the hindsight of fifty years, I’m embarrassed to say that this is one of the most over-wrought pieces of toxic masculinity masquerading as enlightened social commentary I’ve ever seen. Which is why I read this story today, my mind bridging the fifty year old gap of my experiences, I find myself both overjoyed and disappointed by this story, which is obviously nowhere near as great as I remembered.
A couple of things about the story itself. Why does Aquaman not also tell Flash to forward the minutes of the meeting to Wonder Woman? It’s a small thing and I have no real idea what was going on in WW’s continuity in those days, but was there ever a time in JLA history that she wasn’t a member and not due a copy of the minutes? I know, I’m nit-picking, but it stuck out to me. Also, I believe this is the only time in over eighty years of character history that Bruce Wayne has ever worn a sixties-style silk scarf. It’s not a good look, unless somehow it converts into his bat-cape. And why did GA come to pick Canary up in costume? Because they were headed to a JLA meeting? Maybe, but if so, a west coast coffee shop seems a strange place for two heroes to rendevous, I’m just saying.
Finally, we’ve all heard and read the horror stories of what Ellison was like as a person (and a husband) Ellison was an angry, frustrated, haunted soul who poured everything into his work and what he believed was right, no matter what anyone else thought and to say that he didn’t “suffer fools gladly” was a serious understatement. In other words, Black Canary has a “type.” As someone who spent ten years with someone who was also “always angry and on the attack,” let me just say there’s nothing romantic about it. I always thought the dichotomy of GA’s role as DC’s original social justice warrior on one side and his sexist jealousy and possessiveness on the other was difficult to reconcile and Ellison’s toxic masculinity as opposed to his neediness and deep-seated insecurity is just as difficult.
This is a hard story to read fifty years after the fact when the passion of the sixties is now seen through much older, more cynical eyes. Are all of us Harlequin Ellison here? I know I was. Did we deserve to have an entire issue of JLA devoted to the fragility of our tragic thirteen-year-old hearts? Probably not. Still, my inner thirteen-year-old will always love this story and thank you for bringing it back for us to talk about.
Oh, and as for the Batman/Black Canary romance? The less said the better. Green Arrow as an angst-filled, love-sick thirteen-year-old I can deal with, but Batman? No. Just…no.
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“… was there ever a time in JLA history that she [Wonder Woman] wasn’t a member and not due a copy of the minutes?” Well, yes, in fact, there was, and this was it. Diana had taken a formal leave of absence from the League in issue #69 (after losing her powers in her own book), and didn’t return to active duty until #128 (1976, if you can believe it). So Aquaman, and Friedrich, are on solid ground here.
As for “the dichotomy of GA’s role as DC’s original social justice warrior on one side and his sexist jealousy and possessiveness on the other” — well, I think that for some writers (such as Denny O’Neil, at least on his more enlightened days), that inconsistency was part of the point — though I’m not certain that’s true in Friedrich’s case. It wasn’t an unrealistic dichotomy, in any event — feminists of the late Sixties-early Seventies era, such as cartoonist Trina Robbins, have often remarked on how men who were fervently left-wing on issues like the Vietnam War, civil rights, the environment, etc., could also be knuckle-dragging sexists.
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Frodo and Alan, it is worth pointing out (and I *really* hope I am not getting too far off-topic here) that even in the 21st Century there are a number of men who identify as left-wing or liberal who are nevertheless sexist / misogynist. During the 2016 Presidential campaign there were, unfortunately, a number of “progressive” men who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. Now, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Clinton. Nevertheless, the tone that many of these men took towards her made it apparent that at least one significant issue they had with her was that she was a woman, and that she somehow “stole” the Democratic nomination from a more qualified man, Bernie Sanders, and that the only reason other women were supporting the supposedly less-qualified Clinton was because they were “voting with their vaginas” or words to that effect.
I had not read JLA #88 or #89, but I was aware of the general tone of Green Arrow’s behavior during the Bronze Age when I read the Black Canary: New Wings miniseries written by Sarah Byam that was published in 1991. I do not know if Byam had these two specific JLA issues in mind when she wrote the scene in the first issue of the miniseries of Dinah reading Ollie the riot act, but it certainly provides a much more specific context to her criticisms of GA. In any case, I think Byam was one of the writers who did a good job of running with the progressive, activist approach that Mike Friedrich and Denny O’Neil and other had brought to superhero comic books, adding to it an insightful feminist perspective….
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Good points, Ben. And thanks for sharing the link to your piece about that BC mini. I remember thinking when you first posted it in ’18 that I really ought to read that book one of these days, and I still think so. 🙂
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Reading how GA acted back then when I was just starting to read comics is key to why I intensely dislike the character and the way Black Canary is trapped forever with him. I’m also amazed you managed to find positives in this story, made worse by the inker who clashed the most with Dillin’s art.
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“…made worse by the inker who clashed the most with Dillin’s art.” Meanwhile, over in one of my Facebook groups, a commenter has noted: “Was never a Dick Dillin fan, but Joe Giella’s inks are exceptional.”
As far as I’m concerned, you’re both right — by which I mean simply that however objective we may try to be in our critical judgements, at some point there’s an element of subjective, personal taste that comes into the mix. And that’s fine.
(Just for the record, though — as far as Dillin’s inkers are concerned, I’m a Sid Greene man, through and through. 🙂 )
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My favorite inker over Dick Dillin on JLA was Frank McLaughlin, and Joe Giella comes in a close second. As Alan likes to say, that’s what makes a horse race!
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For me the golden age of Dillin’s run on JLA came with Giordano’s inks, which is funny because for me there’s a certain “stiffness” to both artists’ work, but together they were dynamite. Personally I think things went way down hill with the arrival of Frank McLaughlin on inks, and though I stayed on for quite a while afterward, it definitely wasn’t because of the art. I will always remember feeling great joy when George Perez showed up to finally end the seemingly interminable Dillin era, followed by profound guilt on learning just *why* it ended. I was sure I was going to Hell. 🙂
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The word was that Joe Villa used to lightly erase the pencils before he inked them. Which is why his inking bore such a strong look.
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I meant Joe Giella. Autocorrect always gets me. Lol
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I nodded when I read Lord Sinclair rate Mike Friedrich as one of DC’s Young Turk comics writers of the early ’70’s who were “far too much in love with their own tortured prose.” With regard to “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All” specifically, I definitely agree with our pal Osgood Peabody when he commented, over at the DC Time Capsule site, that the story’s “whole premise ridiculous, and the purple prose comical. It still remains in my opinion one of the worst JLA tales of all time. Totally irredeemable.”
As to frodo628’s remark about Harlan Ellison, that “we’ve all heard and read the horror stories of what Ellison was like as a person (and a husband) Ellison was an angry, frustrated, haunted soul . . . and what he believed was right, no matter what anyone else thought and to say that he didn’t ‘suffer fools gladly’ was a serious understatement.”, I had always heard the same thing. And the few times I had seen him in a television interviewed supported that evaluation of his personality. That was all I had to go on—until I had a personal encounter with the legend himself.
And that leads to my Harlan Ellison story:
Twenty-one years ago, one of Peter David’s “But I Digress” articles included a panel of the fictional President of the U.S. Lex Luthor unveiling his nominees for the Cabinet (from SUPERMAN # 166 [Mar., 2001]). Included in the panel was the character Major Sam Lane, as “Secretary of Defense”. This was like nails on a chalkboard to my sense of military propriety. Foremost, because it violates federal law for an active-duty serviceman to serve in a Cabinet post. (The one exception in America’s history was General of the Army George Marshall, when he served as Truman’s Secretary of State; Marshall was an exception because of a technicality, but it still required an act of Congress to waive the federal law in Marshall’s case.)
Second, because the “Army” uniform that Major Lane (all of the search engine entries insist he was an Army officer, even though his uniform in the panel was coloured Air Force blue) was wearing in no way resembled any Army uniform ever worn (and was off, as far as Air Force uniforms go, too). Obviously, the artist used no references; he had just drawn something he thought looked like an Army uniform.
I was pretty sure I could guess the writer’s thinking on this matter: “Hey, we need someone to be Luthor’s secretary of defense. That’s military, right? Why don’t we use Lois Lane’s father? That would give us some good sub-plots and Lane’s a major—that’s a pretty high rank, isn’t it?” In other words, that was probably the extent of the writer’s research into the military and key government posts. And the artist had even less of an excuse for drawing it wrong; on-line and off, there are multiple, and easily consulted, sources which display the correct Army uniforms.
I sent Peter David an e-mail. I didn’t hold him responsible for that panel, of course. But he was in position to address my question: why don’t writers get these sort of details correct, when they’re so easily researched?
Now, from what I’ve gleaned of Mr. David from reading his column, I’m pretty sure that, ideologically, we are on opposite sides. But I also noticed that when he addresses an issue in his column, he displays logical thought and applies a reasonable rationale. That was what mattered to me, along with the fact that he was a comics writer himself and, therefore, was able to speak to the subject with reasonable authority.
Mr. David replied by e-mail and asked for my permission to run my e-mail in one of his column articles. Sure, I replied, and in a month or two, it appeared. Mr. David had used my e-mail as a springboard to address the greater topic of why writers and artists get things wrong about a great many professions and fields of endeavour—the miltitary, medicine, the law, and so forth. His explanation in his column was pretty much what he had told me in his e-mail response: that largely, writers didn’t know what they didn’t know. The writers thought they had it right, at least were sure enough to run with it, but would get bitten by things they didn’t know about.
It was a cordial, reasonable, articulate article, but not really satisfying, because his answer left me right back where I started.
—Thanks for being patient. This is where the Harlan Ellison part comes in—
Within a few days after that article appeared, I happened to be back in the States. That was during the time I was assigned to the staff of Commander, SEVENTH Fleet in Japan, and I was home for a couple of weeks’ leave. Toward the end of that two weeks, I got another e-mail from Peter David, asking me if I would mind receiving a telephone call from Harlan Ellison in reference to my question.
Now that puzzled me. First, because, while I really didn’t know any more than I did before, I considered my question asked and answered. And second, why would Harlan Ellison even care? I replied that Mr. Ellison could call me, with my blessing. I informed Mr. David that there were some logistic problems; Mr. Ellison wanted to call me sometime in the following week and that was after my leave had ended. Fortunately, I had some Navy business at Naval Station Jacksonville, Florida, that week, before I flew back to Japan. I provided Mr. David with a telephone number and the best time to call me in Jacksonville.
The idea that Harlan Ellison wanted to call me preoccupied my thoughts my entire week in Jacksonville. Like most of us, I knew him only by reputation. I had heard that he did not suffer gladly those whom he considered to be fools, and could be, shall we say, assertive towards them. Now, my e-mails to Peter David had been cordial and temperate, so I couldn’t imagine that Ellison would want to jump down my throat. But, in terms of world view, we were probably even farther apart than Peter David and myself. I couldn’t imagine any reason why he would want to call me at all.
The day before I was due to ship back to SEVENTH Fleet, the telephone in my quarters rang. I answered.
“Commander Benson, please.”
“Speaking,” I said.
“This is Harlan Ellison.”
It was him. I recognised the voice. As I said, I had seen Ellison in television interviews, and his was a pretty distinctive voice.
I was battened down for a storm, just in case a Hurricane Harlan was blowing my way. For no reasons other than his reputation and the mystery over why he was calling and our no-doubt opposed ideologies, I was half-expecting the worst.
What I got was far from it.
Harlan Ellison’s courtesy was impeccable. He was cordial, polite, informing, and we chatted for a few moments about small matters first, and we discovered that we have some personality traits in common (and that both of our wives suffer for it). We talked for only about ten minutes or so, but it was one of the most pleasant conversations I’ve ever had, and I was left with the sense of mutual respect.
As to the point of his talk, Mr. Ellison stated that Peter David had shown him the first e-mail I had sent, asking about the comics writers’ constant mistakes in displaying the military. They acknowledged that my missive had been objective and non-accusatory, but they both agreed that my sub-text, what I was really saying, was that comics writers were lazy in doing their research. That’s why he wanted to call me.
“To be honest,” I told him, “yes, that was my major suspicion, but I might have been wrong. Besides, I wasn’t about to attack anybody in Mr. David’s profession, since I was an outsider.”
Ellison chuckled and said, “Well, you are right. Many comics writers are lazy.”
“Well, I couldn’t come right out and say that.”
“That’s your answer. They’re lazy.”
I thanked him for the courtesy of his call and he wished me well in my career, and that was that.
To this day, my major memory of Harlan Ellison was that he was cordial, polite, and professional in dealing with me.
The only comics-fan-related thing I’ve ever attended was the annual Heroes Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ellison had attended that convention a few times, and I always hoped he’d attend one more time so I could visit him personally and thank him for his graciousness in speaking with me. Unfortunately, his death will prevent me from ever doing that. So, the best I can do is tell my Harlan Ellison story whenever it’s appropriate to do so—to show that, while he’s no doubt earned his hellfire reputation, he could be a decent fellow, too.
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That’s a great story, Commander. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to share it with us.
When I saw the book that you were reviewing here, I got very excited. I remembered it vaguely for a good reason and I hadn’t read the book in at least 49 years and hadn’t thought about it for nearly as long. I didn’t know who Harlan Ellison was other than based on this book and the Avengers and Hulk books that came out this month, he seemed to be a real big deal writer. I also liked the name Harlequin Ellis and the cover of the JLA book led me to expect (and receive) the kind of off-beat tales I liked to see in comics every now and then in 1971.
Times change. To be honest, I’m not going to even try to figure out why I liked the book so much when I read it in 1971 because in this case I can’t be objective. First of all, “Ellis” is a dangerous, controlling, manipulative, creepy, needy and insecure stalker. How can Black Canary actually feel sorry for him after what he tries to do to her, let alone Green Arrow (although if it were to see Green Arrow get a taste of his own controlling, possessive medicine, I could understand that). How can Black Canary let him kiss her and promise him to be there if he needs her? You do that to someone who doesn’t have a special power and the person will likely be on the phone to you in an hour. Why is Ellis interested in Black Canary anyway? It appears to be “love at first sight”. This person appears to be a dangerous psychopath and emotionally ill. Yet somehow Ellison found this portrayal of him to be flattering. I’ve read the stories about Ellison too. Even if all of the stories are true, Harlan Ellison wasn’t as bad as Harlequin Ellis on a good day.
I am surprised Alan that you made a flip comment about Green Arrow’s attitude early in this blog post and noted that GA acted this way in JLA books. As you well know from your excellent blog posts on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow books of the period, Green Arrow acted excessively possessive, controlling and obsessive all the time regarding Black Canary there as well. It wasn’t just in JLA. I honestly don’t recall after 50 years–was Larry Lance this obnoxiously possessive and controlling? Half the time Black Canary acts as if it bothers her, but she still doesn’t seriously object to be a, um, caged Canary.
I loved your comment about the JLA’s Thanagarian transporter system. As a kid, I never thought of how inconvenient it was to those that couldn’t fly or run fast, but you are absolutely right. 😀
One thing that I found to be surprisingly NOT annoying was the second person narration which I normally hate and you would think I would really hate in this story. However, I actually found it less obtrusive than when, say Rascally Roy Thomas uses it where it sounds like he’s shouting commands all the time (e,g., “Run Hulk! Run as if your life depended on it! Run as if etc.)
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Stu, you’re right of course that Green Arrow is obnoxiously possessive, etc., of Black Canary in the O’Neil/Adams GL/GA, too. However, I feel like Friedrich’s take ramps it up to another level; plus, I cut O’Neil a bit of slack for calling out the character on his sexism, at least occasionally, such as in GL #82.
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So DC issued two comic books in the same month that both featured thinly disguised characterizations of [then] living individuals. In Green Lantern #83, it’s Spiro Agnew, the Vice President of the United States, and in Justice League of America #89, it’s Harlan Ellison, at the time a semi-famous writer. Looked like comic books, at least DC Comic Books, were getting away from purely superhero stuff into social commentary in 1971.
In 1971, I had a very good idea of who Harlan Ellison was, but I knew him for his non-fiction writing, not his fiction writing. To this day I haven’t read any of his fiction, but I have seen a few of his teleplays.
He had been writing a column on Television for a couple of years in a local Los Angeles alternative or underground weekly newspaper called the Los Angeles Free Press or “Freep” (not to be confused with the Detroit Free Press). He named his weekly column “The Glass Teat”. I read his column every chance I got.
It was not the usual Television stuff you find in a daily newspaper. Ellison had been working in television for several years at that point in his life and he had a lot to say about the industry. The most vivid writing he did in the column that I still recall was a critique of an episode of a series called “The Young Lawyers” that was running on one of the Networks. He had written the original teleplay for the episode. He was outraged after it was broadcast for all the changes that were made to his original teleplay and how the episode was finally done. He savaged the episode in his column and published the entire original teleplay as he had written it in the FREEP. I admired his guts because he was biting the hand that was feeding him. As was written in the comic book, “He writes for television and he is paid well — very well.” For most writers, television writing was probably just a nice paycheck. I doubt many cared what was done with what they wrote. Ellison was just not that way.
These weekly columns have been gathered together into two volumes: “The Glass Teat” and “The Other Glass Teat”. I think they can be bought on Amazon.
Mike Friedrich: “I get this incredible letter back from Harlan telling me that he was completely overwhelmed. It was like we were now blood brothers, that he was just so completely entranced. He was so flattered that I had written this story because he was a big comics fan himself and now he’d become a comic character. To him, that was like, wow, being on television, being in the movies.”
Really? Could be that Ellison was being very charitable with the young writer.
For one thing, I doubt the real Harlan Ellison would have allowed someone to grab him like Green Arrow grabbed Harlequin Ellis on page 5, given his history and reputation.
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Several decades ago I bought a paperback copy of The Glass Teat (or was it The Other Glass Teat?) which, I must confess, I’ve never gotten around to actually reading. But, just based on the nonfiction of his that I have read, I imagine that watching him eviscerate the film and TV industry in real time, in their home town, was quite the experience back in the day.
On another topic: Julius Schwartz confirmed twice that, after reading the script for JLA #89, Ellison asked for DC to use his own name. It seems pretty clear that he didn’t have any trouble identifying with “Harlequin Ellis”.
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I knew about Ellison from his short stories – his 1962 collection ELLISON WONDERLAND, and “‘Repent, Harlequin’ Said the Ticktockman”. Over the years, what I knew about Harlan’s personality was mostly based on what Isaac Asimov wrote about him, such as:
“Harlan is not the kind of person he seems to be. He takes a
perverse pleasure in showing the worst side of himself, but if you ignore
that and work your way past his porcupine spines (even though it leaves
you bleeding) you will find underneath a warm, loving guy who would give
you the blood out of his veins if the thought that would help.
“I have a fairly good gift for invective myself and I am the only person
I know who could stand up to him on a public platform for more than half
a minute without being eradicated. (I think I can last as long as five
“I enjoy a public set-to with him, as I enjoy it with Lester del Rey and
Arthur Clarke. It’s a game with us. In private, though, there is never
a cross word between Harlan and me, and if I tell you he is warm and
loving, pay no mind to anything else you’ve heard. I know better and I
By the way, I was a little puzzled as to how Mike Friedrich could be 18 years old in 1967, and a twenty-year-old in 1971. Wikipedia says he was born March 27, 1949, making him not quite 22 when this issue was published.
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Whoops! My arithmetic was off a year. Thanks for the correction, Pat.
My father corresponded with Harlan Ellison for a while. When describing my father’s column in Comics Buyer’s Guide, he wrote, “He has a mind like a demented cuckoo clock.”
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Whoops, looks like I misspelled cuckoo.
I fixed it, Cornelius. 😉
Wow! As a longtime CBG reader, Cornelius, do you mind if I ask who your father is?
Is there a way to send you a private message? I have used this name for some accounts on other sites and I don’t want everyone and their mother to know who I am.
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Understood. 😉 You can send me a comment via the form on the About This Blog page (https://50yearoldcomics.com/about/) — I’ll receive it by email, and it won’t show up on the blog site.