Direct Current 2.0

Week of August 10, 2013

Where the author comes back from the missing and talks about a Fox.

By Jim Durdan

So something funny happened on the way to the creation of this column, I got a new job. Sometimes things are just meant to happen and this was one of those times. I was called in for an interview on a Monday, and by 5 PM on that Tuesday I had a new job in an industry I have worked in and loved. I am currently an assistant director at a large publishing company that specializes in trade publications, indeed I am now working on the largest trade publication of its kind in the US.

Because of my suddenly found and renewed career I found myself with way too much to do this week and not enough time to do it. So, unfortunately, the column was pushed back till this weekend.  In the future Direct Currents 2.0 will be moving from a Tuesday publication date to a Saturday/Sunday date. This will also allow me to take a look at what was published during the week and comment on it. So, that you for the patience, and a huge thank you to Sean and Jim for understating about the lateness of the project.  Saluda to all of you!

One of the reasons I wanted to do a weekly gig involving DC Comics was that on occasion I wanted to take a look back at the past and help “flesh out” some of the creative genius that has gone before the modern era.  But, and this was very important to me, I didn’t want to do the usual articles that pop up all the time talking about Siegel and Shuster or Bob Kane, or Jack “The King” Kirby, I wanted to take a look at some of the creative forces that have so shaped the modern era, but have, by and large, been forgotten by modern fans.  This article is the first of those that will look back and throw a spotlight and forgotten genius.

Quiz time, I am going to give you a list and I want you to figure out what they all have in common, except for the most obvious attribute, they all being DC Comics characters. Hawkman, The Flash, Amazon, Ray Plamer, The Crime Syndicate of America, Doctor Fate, Felix Faust, Barbara Gordon,  Hawkgirl, Hawkwoman, Professor Ivo, The Justice League of America, The Justice Society of America, Doctor Light, Johnny Quick, The Red Tornado, The Sandman, Starman, Zatanna, and finally Martha and Thomas Wayne

To really get a feel for who we are talking about we need to go to 1930’s New York, a city ravaged by the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression that followed.  Then, like now, New York was a city for dreamers, and one of her native sons, from Brooklyn, was to become a huge dreamer.  A devote to early science fiction, and an avid reader, he would begin to write what today would be called fanfic. Being an avid reader, and having a remarkable memory, he was a expert in numerous fields, but had a deep love of history.

The depression being what it was, he sought out work that would allow him to use his natural talents as a writer, and would pay enough to put food on the table. Like today, that was a hard combination to come by, but he did indeed find employ in the offices of DC Comics.

So, let’s go back to that list for a second, what DO those characters and organizations all have in common? They were all created or co-created by one man. His name was Gardner Fox and the modern DC universe owes more to him that you probably even know. .

Back in the early days of comic’s team ups seldom occurred. The reasoning was that these heroes all existed in separate universes. For example the first Batman/Superman team up wasn’t until 1952. In our modern era when it’s rare for heroes not to team up, that seems pretty odd. It’s even more odd when you consider that both heroes were auxiliary members of the granddaddy of all comic book groups The Justice Society of America.

The first true superhero group, the JSA premiered in All Star Comics #3, in the Winter-Spring 1940-41 issue. The writer at the helm for this historic moment was Gardner Fox, who had the unique task of taking 9 heroes, who had never crossed paths before, and forging them into a team. Well, sort of a team. The first few issues, read from the modern perspective, are just strange. The JSA is used as little more than a framing piece, so that at the beginning of the story the heroes find out what the problem is, and then go off individually to take care of part of the trouble on hand. Then at the end they all gather again at the JSA’s headquarters and discuss what has happened. So, the only time the heroes appeared together were at the beginning and end.

Fox was further handcuffed because DC would not allow him to use the 2 big guns in the JSA. Because Batman and Superman had their own titles they were not allowed to be part of the team. The editorial edict was just plain weird, if a character was the star of his own book, then they were “reserve” members of the JSA. During the course of the run both Green Lantern and Flash became reserves because they were given their own titles. Imagine a modern team book where you were told you couldn’t use the most popular characters. Just weird.

Be that as it may, Fox took what he had and ran with it, within a matter of months the heroes of the JSA started going out to solve the issue at hand in groups of 2 or 3. Much like current team dynamics certain heroes seemed to gravitate naturally towards each other, and became mini teams within the larger team.

It is assured that if Fox hadn’t been the first to write a super team book, someone else would have eventually. But it was Fox and he created the pattern that all teams have followed. Indeed in 1960, when the great Julius Schwartz wanted to recapture the feel of the JSA for a new generation he turned to Gardner Fox who created The Justice League of America. So Fox is responsible for creating the two of the most influential super hero teams in comicdom.

The creation of super teams is not the only debt we owe to Fox. In 1961 Schwartz once again went to his go to guy, Gardner Fox and asked him to do something that must have seemed improbable, If not impossible. Julie, as his friends called him, wanted to reintroduce the Golden Age Flash to the modern era. DC had a huge hit on its hands with the current Flash title that featured a young police scientist as the current fastest man alive, Barry Allen. Schwartz, however, wanted to bring back Jay Garrick as “a” Flash and reintroduce him to the silver age audience.

I’m not really sure how a lesser talent would have handled this assignment. It would have been so easy to take the safe route and do something where the old Flash came out a retirement and bumped into the new Flash. Gardner Fox did not play it safe, not even close. Being a very learned man, and a lover of science fiction he went down a story path that still has major ramifications for the DC Universe. He created the DC Multiverse. The Golden Age Flash lived on a parallel world that Barry Allen “discovered” using his super speed. The twin scarlet speedsters teamed up and set a precedent that is still followed to this day. The story “The Flash of Two Worlds” by Gardner Fox has set the tone of the DCU for the last 50+ years.  Love it, hate it, or confused by it, Fox was the master of the Multiverse.

With the success of the Flash tale, some of the best storytelling that DC has ever done grew out of this. The annual JLA/JSA crossovers became huge hits with fans. But the multiverse had other ramifications. DC had a large library of heroes that it had acquired from other defunct publishers, most noteworthy being the Shazam family. The problem was that characters like Captain Marvel would not easily translate into the Silver/Bronze age of comics. Neither did DC want these properties sitting on the shelf generating no revenue. The Multiverse came to the rescue. The Marvel family was given its own world, Earth S, and they were not alone in having a universe unto themselves. The Quality Comics characters (The Freedom Fighters) we placed on Earth X, the Charlton Heroes had Earth 4, The Crime Syndicate ruled Earth 3. .

Even when DC tried to streamline the comics and do away with the multiverse, they still created parallel universes. Today, post New 52, the multiverse is alive and well, and it was and always will be the creation of Gardner Fox, the man who created the template that all other authors in and out of the DC universe have learned to follow. .

Gardener Fox has always been a personal hero of mine, his creativity flourishes to this day.  His legacy is incredible, and I always have wished that I could have met him. Fox passed away in 1985 at the age of 75. He, like Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson have left an indelible imprint on the comics industry, and like the other two greats I have mentioned, he in many ways is an unknown to modern readers.

Item 1: Justice League Beyond 2.0 – One of DC’s direct to digital titles, the first issue was released today.  Like it’s predecessor it is a joy to read. I am always sucked into stories that take place slightly ahead of the main DC timeline. The JLB books have always been fun to read and if you are a fan of the JLA/JLU/JLD you NEED to read this. Its fun and a fast read, and it the literal descendant of the great Justice League cartoon series.

Item 2: How can I talk about the multiverse without mentioning James Robinson’s stellar work on Earth 2. There is little doubt that whichever week this title comes out it is a must read. Watching the embryonic formation of the Justice Society is hugely entertaining, and knowing that a crossover with Earth 1 is soon in the offing just makes it more spectacular. I will miss Robinson on this title, and I can only hope that where it goes from here is as creative and fun. There is not better testament to the longevity of Gardner Fox’s’ work then Robinsons’ Earth 2!


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