Thursday, May 21, 2009

Episode #74: Happy Birthday, Gardner Fox!

Note: The basic information was gathered from the Wikipedia page on Gardner Fox, as well as the geocities web page listed below. The information about the Gardner Fox stories in the titles featured in this episode were corroborated by the website . Reprint information, as always, was provided by .

Last episode featured the comic book writer who ended DC Comics' multiverse. This week features the writer who created the multiverse. Gardner Fox, full name Gardner Francis Cooper Fox, was born on May 20, 1911 in Brooklyn, New York, and died on December 24, 1986. He was a prolific writer of comic books, short stories and novels in a variety of genres. He earned a law degree from St. John's College and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1935. Fox began his comic book writing career in 1937 and worked in the comics industry steadily until the end of the 1960's. During this time he also wrote short stories and novels in a variety of genre's, which he did full time after the end of his comic book writing career, and under a number of pseudonyms. This episode will concentrate on his super hero genre stories. While Gardner Fox wrote for a variety of comic book publishers, he is most famously known for his career with DC Comics, for whom he is credited with writing 1,500 stories (according to ). Throughout most of his tenure at DC, Fox would usually have four stories published each month. Some credit him with about 4,000 comic book scripts in total. Whatever the total, Gardner Fox was a very prolific writer by any definition. At the end of this episode I will include links to web sites that list his many publications.

Fox did not write many stories for Superman or the Superman family directly, except for the many stories involving the Justice Society of America and the later Justice League of America. He did write one Superboy script, for Superboy #20, the June/July 1952 issue, published around April 2, 1952. The title was edited by Jack Schiff, pencilled by John Sikela and inked by Ed Dobrokta. Some criminals stole several dragon teeth from a private collection and publicly plant the teeth in the ground. The teeth grow onto soldiers who then attempt to rob a bank. They are stopped by Superboy, who took them to prison. When two groups of these soldiers are in prison, they work together and break out crime boss Big Boy Talbot. Superboy surmises that the teeth growing into soldiers was a hoax and follows the gang to their secret hideout. He captured them as they attempted to recover their hidden loot and returned them to prison, we assume this time for good. It wasn't the greatest golden or silver age story, but involving a Superman story merited mention here.

Gardner Fox wrote for both companies that would eventually combine to become the DC Comics we know today, National Comics and All-American Comics. His first stories predate the first publication of both Superman and Batman. His first DC story was for Detective Comics #4, the July 1937 issue, published around May 25, 1937. It featured the character on the cover, Speed Saunders. Craig Flessel drew both the cover and the story featuring the character, titled The Mystery Of San Jose Island. Saunders was an adventurer and detective. The editor was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who founded what would become DC Comics a few years earlier. Most comics at this time contained about 64 pages, like this Detective Comics and sold for a dime. The characters who also appeared in this issue were:

Cosmo The Phantom Of Disguise

Buck Marshall

Bruce Nelson

Bart Regan, Spy a Siegel and Shuster character

Mr. Chang

Slam Bradley another Siegel and Shuster character.

Speed Saunders and Slam Bradley both premiered in Detective Comics #1, the March 1937 issue, which was published around February 25, 1937. The original wirter of Speed Saunders in Detective #1 was credited as E. C. Stoner, who some conjecture was another name Fox wrote under. But lack of creator credits in this embryonic era of the comic book industry probably makes this improbable to confirm. Gardner Fox would also write stories for characters Steve Malone and Bruce Nelson, who would also appear in Adventure Comics.

Fox also wrote Zatara stories, aobut a magician similar to Lee Falk's Mandrake the Magician, who was the father of present DC character Zatana, for Action Comics. Zatara was created by writer and artist Fred Guardineer and premiered in Action Comics #1 in one of the features behind the main Superman story. Gardner Fox's first Zatara story appeared in Action Comics #8, The Indian Prince, the January 1939 issue, published around December 6, 1938.

Gardner Fox did not just write stories using characters created by others, which he always did very well, but also created his own characters in the golden age, some of whom he would write for again for their silver age incarnations. His first creation was Sandman, Wesley Dodd, with artist Bert Christman. The Sandman's original costume was a suit and tie with a cloak, and a gas mask worn under his fedora to hide his identity and protect himself from the sleeping gas he would use on the villains. Sandman first appeared in New York World's Fair Comics, 1939, published on April 30, 1939, in a Fox / Christman story. Zatara also appeared in this issue in a story created by Fox and creator Guardineer. New York World's Fair Comics would become the precursor to the monthly World's Finest Comics which would run from the golden age to the 1980's. Sandman's first monthly appearance would be in Adventure Comics #40, July 1939, published around June 15, 1939 in a story written by Fox and drawn by Christman. The editor was Vin Sullivan. These stories were reprinted in DC Comics Rarities and Golden Age Sandman Archives each comprised of one volume.

The next highlight of Gardner Fox's career was not on his own creation, but another character, in this case Batman. After Batman co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger (whatever DC Comics may say officially about Bob Kane being his sole creator) and early artist Jerry Robinson, Fox made some important additions to Batman lore. In Detective Comics #29, July 1939, published around June 15, 1939, Fox wrote the untitled story The Batman Meets Doctor Death, with art credited to Bob Kane. In the story, Batman was first shown using "choking gas capsules" from his utility belt. Fox also made some other major contriboutions to Batman lore in Detective Comics #31, September 1939, published around August 10, 1939. In the untitled story Batman Vs. The Vampire, Batman first used a batarang and a bat autogyro, an early version of the Batplane. (An autogyro was an actual flying machine that was a plane with what we would now call helicopter baldes on top of it. It was an early design in the development of the helicopter.) This second story was reprinted in the trade paperback The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Both stories have been reprinted in the Batman Archives and the Batman Chronicles, both comprising seven volumes.

During the rest of the golden age, Gardner co-created many other characters that are part of DC continuity even today.

The next Fox co-creation was The Flash, with artist Harry Lampert, in Flash Comics #1, January 1940, published on November 10, 1939. The editor was M. C. Gaines, founder of Educational Comics (EC), and father of Bill Gaines, who changed the company to Entertaining Comics and would publish Mad, co-founded with Harvey Kurtzman. The first cover to Flash Comics was drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. The original Flash was Jay Garrick, whose costume resembled the Greek god Mercury. The golden age Flash stories were reprinted in the two volumes of The Golden Age Flash Archives.

Hawkman also premiered in Flash Comics #1, created by Fox and artist Dennis Neville. Carter Hall was the reincarnation of Egyptian Prince Khufu, and Hawkgirl, Shiera Samders, was the reincarnation of Egyptian Princess Shiera. These stories were reprinted in the one volume of The Golden Age Hawkman Archives.

Dr. Fate, Kent Nelson began his career in More Fun Comics #55, May 1940, published around April 2, 1940. Fox created him with artist Howard Sherman. Whitney Ellsworth was the editor. You can read these stories in the one volume of The Golden Age Dr. Fate Archives.

Starman, Ted Knight began in Adventure Comics #61, April 1941, published on March 5, 1941. Fox's co-creator on Starman was artist Jack Burnley. These stories were reprinted in both volumes of The Golden Age Starman Archives.

Gardner Fox's biggest contribution during the golden age of comic books was the introduction of the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #3, Winter 1941 issue, published around November 22, 1940. In the first issue Fox worked with artists Everett E. Hubbard, Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Bailey, Sheldon Mayer, Chad Grothkopf, Howard Sherman, Ben Fluton and Mart Nodell. The roster in the first issue was Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Atom, Sandman, Hourman, Spectre, Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder and Thunderbolt. The membership changed to feature heroes that did not have their own title. When they did earn their own title the became "honorary" members. The earliest issues had an introductory story showing all of the heroes together, with each character then recounting their individual adventures that somehow tied together in some way. Later issues had stories with the heroes working together. The last JSA issue was All-Star Comics #57, February/March 1951, published around December 20, 1950.

In the 1950's Gardner Fox played an equally large role in the silver age, writing a lot of stories for DC editor Julius Schwartz. Fox wrote stories for Schwartz's science fiction anthology titles Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space. Schwartz described working with Fox in his autobiography Man Of Two Worlds: My Life In Science Fiction And Comics. Julius said that Gardner would go to his office on plotting days, usually Monday, at 10:00 a.m. sharp. They would hash out the very detailed plot through the afternoon, breaking for lunch. Then Fox would leave for home to write the story. Julius said that Gardner would never miss a deadline, a reputation shared by my favorite comic book artist, Curt Swan.

Gardner Fox wrote two stories for the first issue of Strange Adventures, August/September 1950, published around June 30, 1950, The Second Deluge, pencilled by Jim Mooney and inked by Sy Barry (who would have a long career on The Phantom comic strip), and Destination Moon, drawn by Curt Swan and inked by John Fischetti. This story was an adaption of the science fiction movie by the same name, according to . There is one volume of the reprint edition Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures.

Fox also contributed two stories for Mystery In Space #1, the April/May 1951 issue, published around February 9, 1951. The first was The Mind Robbers, pencilled by Howard Purcell and inked by Joe Giella, and Spores From Space drawn by Frank Frazetta, who was credited with eighteen stories for DC Comics on .

A sicence fiction hero, Adam Strange, premiered in Showcase #17, November/December 1958, published around September 23, 1958. The Gardner Fox story was pencilled by Mike Sekowski and inked by Fraank Giacola and Joe Giella. Adam Strange would become a regular feature in Mystery In Space #53, August 1959, published around June 4, 1959. This Fox story was pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Bernard Sachs. Adam Strange stories have been collected in the three volumes of The Adam Strange Archives and one volume of Showcase Presents: Adam Strange.

A new team up of the DC Comics super heroes premiered in The Brave And The Bold #28, February/March 1960, published on December 29, 1959, featuring the Justice League of America. The heroes featured were Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman, with the annoying teen sidekick Snapper Carr. Starro The Conquerer was written by Fox, pencilled by Mike Sekowski and inked by Murphy Anderson. The JLA received their own title with Justice League Of America #1, October/November 1960, published on August 25, 1960. The issue itself was not numbered, and the iconic cover was drawn by Murphy Anderson. It featured the villain Despero playing the Flash in chess, with the chess pieces being duplicates of the JLA. Green Lantern was disappearing as the Flash moved his piece. Mike Sekowski drew the Fox written story, which was inked by Bernard Sachs.

Julius Schwartz recounted a story about the origin of Superman's and Batman's involvement with the Justice League, in his book. Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger, editors of Batman and Superman respectively, did not want them used in the JLA title. They thought their characters would be overexposed. One day Schwartz went to the publisher (Jack Liebowitz?) to ask permission to use Superman and Batman on JLA covers. When the publisher asked Schwartz why he wasn't using them already, Julius answered that Weisinger and Schiff didn't want them in the JLA. The publisher was furious and said to tell them that Superman and Batman belong to DC Comics, not Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff!

Fox's first silver age Flash story was in Flash #117, December 1960, published on October 20, 1960. The Madcap Inventors Of Central City was pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. The multiverse first appeared in Flash #123, September 1961, published on July 20, 1961. Flash Of Two Worlds, teaming the Barry Allen Flash with Fox's co-creation Jay Garrick Flash was drawn by the Infantino - Giella team. The multiverse would grow to become the foundation of the DC Universe until the mini-series Crisis On Infinite Earths.

Gardner Fox was also involved with Julius Schwartz's silver age resurection of super heroes. He introduced the silver age Hawkman in The Brave And The Bold #34, February/March 1961, published on December 29, 1960, with cover and story drawn by the great Joe Kubert. In keeping with the science fiction interest of issue editor Julius Schwartz, the silver age Hawkman was from the planet Thanagar. His Thangarian name wsa Katar Hol, Carter Hall on Earth, with his wife Shayera Thal, Shiera Hall on Earth. Hawkman received his own title with the April/May 1964 issue, published on February 20, 1964, in two stories written by Fox and illustrated by Murphy Anderson. His first series lasted 27 issues. There are two volumes each of the reprint editions The Silver Age Hawkman Archives and Showcase Presents:Hawkman.

The silver age Atom was also more of a science fiction character than his golden age predecessor. Ray Palmer, the silver age Atom, was a physicist who could shrink to almost any size with the help of the white dwarf star fragment in his special belt. He premiered in Showcase #34 September/October 1961, published around July 27, 1961. He received his own title with the June/July 1962 issue, published on April 24, 1962, written by Fox and art by penciller Gil Kane and inker Murphy Anderson. With issue #39 it became Atom & Hawkman. The Atom stories have been reprinted in the two volumes of both The Atom Archives and Showcase Presents: The Atom.

Gardner Fox returned to Batman in 1964 with Batman #165, August 1964, published around June 4, 1964. The Man Who Quit The Human Race was pencilled by Sheldon Modoff and inked by Joe Giella. Continuing his reputation of resurrecting golden age characters for the silver age, Fox brought back two minor golden age Batman villains and made them permanent fixtures of Batman's modern rogues gallery.

The first Batman villain Fox reintroduced was the Riddler. He had made only two golden age appearances. the first was in Detective Comics #140, October 1948, published around August 20, 1948. The Riddler, Edward Nigma, was created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang. J. Winslow Mortimer drew the cover. The Riddler was written by Finger, drawn by Sprang and inked by Charles Paris. Riddler's second and last golden age appearance was in Detective Comics #142, December 1948, published around October 22, 1948. The cover and story for Crimes Puzzle were drawn by Dick Sprang and inked by Charles Paris.

Fox brought back Edward Nigma in Batman #171, May 1965, published on March 4, 1965, again under the editorship of Julius Schwartz. The cover was pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. Sheldon Moldoff drew The Remarkable Ruse Of The Riddler which was inked by Giella.

Scarecrow, Dr. Jonathan Crane premiered in World's Finest Comics #3, Fall 1941, published around August 15, 1941, edited by Whitney Ellsworth. The cover artist was Fred Ray. It showed Batman at bat, Robin as the catcher and Superman as the umpire. Scarecrow appeared in the eleventh and final story The Riddle Of The Human Scarecrow, created by writer Bill Finger and credited artist Bob Kane. The story was inked by Jerry Robinson. Crane's second and last golden age appearance was in Detective Comics #73, March 1943, published around January 26, 1943. The cover pencils were credited to Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson. The Scarecrow Returns was written by Don Cameron, pencilled by credited artist Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson.

The silver age Scarecrow first appeared in Batman #189, February 1967, published on December 6, 1966 and edited by Julius Schwartz. The cover and story for Fright Of The Scarecrow were pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella.

These silver age stories have been collected in the two volumes of Batman: The Dynamic Duo Archives and the four volumes of Showcase Presents: Batman.

Gardner Fox's last regular DC stories were two for Green Lantern #67, March 1969, Green Lantern Does His Ring Thing and The First Green Lantern. He wrote an Adam Strange story for Strange Adventures #226, September/October 1970 The Magic Maker Of Rann and The Day The Earth Screams in Justice League Of America #97, March 1972. Back in 1968, Fox, along with other long time creators including Bill Finger, Arnold Drake and John Broome asked DC for better benefits. They were turned down. Work slowly dried up for them. They felt DC cut them off because of their request. DC editors, including Julius Schwartz, denied it of course. They claimed the older talent weren't as sharp as they had been, and the younger upcoming talent were better. DC at that time wasn't known for the greatest treatment of their talent, but it's probably impossible to confirm which was the case. I do find it hard to believe, just by the later production of Fox alone, that some or most of the older writers couldn't adapt to the changing style of comic book stories. Gardner Fox, with his 1,500 DC stories, is second to Robert Kanigher's 2,645 writer credits.

Fox would do some stories for other comic book publishers, including Marvel, Warren's Creepy and Eerie and Eclipse. He concentrated on his variety of novels and short stories in a variety of genres and under a number of pseudonyms.

He donated a large portion of his personal papers to the University of Oregon, which served as the foundation of their Gardner Fox Collection. Fox belonged to a number of literary organizations. His favorite pro sports teams were the Mets and the Jets, and he had season tickets to St. John's games.

Gardner Fox died on Christmas Eve in 1986. He was survived by his wife Lynda, children Jeffrey and Lynda and four grandchildren.

In 2007 he was one of two recepients of the Bill Finger Award for comic book writing.

The Justice League animated sereis dedicated the two-part episode Legends to Gardner Fox. Three DC characters carry Gardner's name: the Atomic Knight Gardner Gayle, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, and Watchmen character Nelson Gardner, aka Captain Metroplois, was named after DC editor and writer E. Nelson Bridwell and Gardner Fox.

For more about Gardner Fox's comic book career:

To learn more about Gardner Fox's novels:

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at . Send e-mail to . The theme music is Plans In Motion composed by Kevin MacLeod, part of the royalty free music library found at .

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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