A Tribute to the of





Welcome to the latest edition of the Silver Age Sage: #479. If you're looking for a previous interview, please scroll down to the bottom of this page to the Special Features header. There you will find a list of links to all the creators who have been interviewed in the past.

Our reverence for the formidable talents of the great Alex Ross are well known to our readers here at the Silver Lantern. This time around, by way of tribute to the wonderful Allen Bellman, who we lost on March 9th at the age of 96, will be one of Alex’s breakout works, the fabulous “Marvels#1 from 1994, written by Kurt Busiek, wherein he chronicles life in the big city beginning in 1939 when heroes and less heroic meta-humans began to appear, all told from the point of view of an everyman, Phil Sheldon. A journalist and photographer from Brooklyn trying to make sense of a world on the brink of war with further fantastic things going on around them.

Since this feat is 45 pages in length, I’m going to try and hit the high notes rather than the more exhaustive synopses I often provide. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words and words alone cannot begin to convey the visual treat that comes with every product from the studio of Alex Ross.

One of the first things Sheldon encounters in his travels in New York City is a presentation by Phineas T. Horton. On a stage he produces what is referred to as a synthetic man in a dome-like chamber who, promptly ignites after a lever is pulled, demonstrating to those in attendance the creature called the Human Torch. Those with sharp eyes will notice on the page portraying the group of stunned newsies, two familiar faces in period gear. A bespectacled and fedora wearing Clark Kent accompanied by another behatted ink-stained wretch named Lois Lane.

Ultimately, while the Torch made the headlines of at least the Daily Bugle, the press was skeptical and malevolent and forced Phineas to bury his new creation, but later when Phil is out and about with his girlfriend, Doris, he hears screams in a nearby alleyway. The Torch was on the loose and flew off, leaving incredulous spectators in its wake.

Soon afterward, another fantastic sighting, this time of a naked man on the waterfront with a bandaged girl allegedly kidnaped from the hospital. Police fired upon the man with pointed ears and winged feet to accompany a prominent widow’s peak, but he was impervious to the lead projectiles, heaved a patrol car at them and slipped away into the water with disdain on his visage. Still, Phil and others remained unconvinced of the validity of a “sub-mareener.”

News and rumors continue throughout Manhattan, some stoked by a youthful J. Jonah Jameson about these “freaks” and their exploits. Some claim they’re helping, others hurting, but the Torch and the Sub-Mariner appear to be here to stay.

Phil is so concerned, as are his fellow denizens of the Big Apple, that he turns down an assignment to go to Europe by his boss, a familiar looking Mr. Goodman, to stay in the city, but he remains nervous. These newly dubbed “Marvels” are still an unknown quantity, and he and Doris are planning to wed, but what sort of world are they inhabiting with these super-powered beings seemingly everywhere?

We get another glimpse of a familiar figure during Phil’s internal monologue. A blue and red clad one, to be precise. It’s been said that the early leotard uniforms of the heroes were inspired by the circus and Superman’s outfit certainly fits the bill, right down to the crisscross lacing on his aerialist-style shoes. He also appears to be leaping across, rather than flying over the rooftops, just like those heady days of the late 30’s. Go get ‘em, Superman!

Perhaps inevitably, the elements of fire and water would clash and soon, that’s exactly what happened as a grandiose battle ensued between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, high over the city. Unfortunately, the battle was leaving carnage in its wake and the mere mortals observing were by turns fascinated and terrified at the spectacle.

More details gradually emerge. According to policewoman Betty Dean, Namor, the actual name of the man from Atlantis is only trying to get justice for his people, but the citizens of New York are not terribly sympathetic when they learn that part of his effort included flooding the Holland Tunnel. Meanwhile, the press continued to do their job by documenting events and that crush of newsies include Phil Sheldon. Even television media is getting involved, though perhaps not willingly, when Prince Namor identifies himself on a brief broadcast in a hijacked studio ordering the Torch to leave him alone or suffer the consequences.

The eager press members continue to follow the action, piling into a sedan and heading for the latest fracas. They include Phil, Jameson and a young kid sporting a bowtie. Jimmy (Olsen), is that you?

They come upon what appears to be a truce brokered by Betty Dean. While there is palpable relief, there is also resentment. The feeling of powerlessness and the unchecked destruction bothers the men, but after all, what can they do?

Soon, though, others began to emerge and one in particular was bringing a great deal of hope. Maybe it was his star-spangled gear, or his patriotic moniker. More likely it was his heroic exploits, but Captain America was making himself known and he was a strong counter-argument to the turmoil in war-torn Europe and he and his young protégé Bucky seemed to be an unstoppable juggernaut, bringing encouragement to a weary and wary populace.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner had joined forces to tackle the threat of Imperial Japan’s efforts to sabotage the U.S.A. Suddenly the attitude toward these bizarre creatures was shifting. They were helping. They were garnering the cheers of the American people.

Later, however, Prince Namor’s activities began to be more questionable. It appeared once again that he and the Torch were on opposite sides as the fight raged on in Europe and they were in the thick of things.

Soon enough, it came back to Manhattan and Phil Sheldon was on the job, photographing the carnage as the aerial battle began anew between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. Unfortunately for Sheldon, he was a little too close to the action and a stray piece of flying debris caught him in the face, and leaving him with a lasting scar and an eye-patch for the rest of his days. In the end, things were again put to rights and Prince Namor was returned to the ranks of ally.

Despite it all, Phil and Doris were wed and while being classified 4-F because of his eye injury, Phil was able to serve as a war correspondent in the European Theater. In a fitting conclusion, Phil is writing to his sweetheart the following words:

The Marvels are here to stay. And there’s more of them all the time – Citizen V, the Whizzer, the Blue Diamond – I could wait forever if I wanted, but that would just stop me, not them.

And the thing I didn’t see until I was up on that building and the wave was crashing around me – It isn’t going to be them that adapts to us. The world is different now. The rules have changed. Forever. And nobody has any idea what the future’s going to bring. But do you know what? It’s going to be one heck of a ride, finding out!

Allen Bellman liked to say, “I was there!” He was, too and while he became known primarily for his work on Captain America, he also had turns drawing Subby, the Torch and the Whizzer, among others. I dedicate this entry to Allen, along with the tribute write-up that follows. He was one of a kind.

These just never get any easier, but while it’s hard to say goodbye, it’s wonderful that I got the chance to get to know them. This is my tribute to Allen Bellman.

I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly how I learned of Allen. Anyone familiar with his story knows that he was a lesser known artist for Timely Comics, Marvel’s predecessor, back in the Golden Age, though of course no one knew it was the Golden Age at the time. Most were just trying to eke out a living in a medium that was often looked down upon. I still chuckle when I think of Jim Mooney’s observation to me that back in the day, you’d sooner tell people you were a pornographer as that you worked in comic books.

Anyway, at the time I was still living in Oregon when Allen hit my radar and I happened to have a friend suffering a similar affliction to mine in his reverence for comic books, but he was more of a Marvel guy. Specifically, he was nuts about Captain America, the character with which Allen came to be most closely identified. To his everlasting credit, he was quick to tell people it wasn’t his creation, but that of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. He merely got the opportunity to work on it. He also did some work on the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and others, including features like “Let’s Play Detective,” romance titles and so on. Whatever they needed illustrated; Allen stood at the ready.

So, I got in touch with him through his website, AllenBellman.com to see about getting a commission for my friend. He couldn’t have been more kind or easy to work with and his rate for a penciled commission was quite reasonable. He was quick, too. My friend Mark was over the moon with it and soon friended Allen on Facebook and kept up with him.

Here was the thing about Allen, (which I would soon find out for myself), he treated everyone he met like they were his friend and so, they quickly became his friend. The man was a dynamo, seemingly always on the road for the convention circuit. This was fortuitous for me, because when I found out he was to appear in Denver, that sealed the deal. I simply had to shake the hand of this man. Just as I described, he acted like we were old friends and his delightful wife, Roz, was right by his side all the way. Thus, began my long-distance friendship with the great Allen Bellman.

Now that I had his mailing address, I began to send him Christmas cards and the occasional note through the mail. He replied in kind, even though he was of Jewish tradition. During one telephone conversation I mentioned my friendship with Al Plastino and he told me about their “feud” at the Supercon in Florida. It was a hoot to watch!

Allen also told me that he’d like to send me a little gift. It arrived very shortly after we spoke and I was thunderstruck at his generosity. As you can see, it’s inscribed to yours truly and includes three gentlemen I had the privilege to get acquainted with through this wonderful comic book journey the last many years. Nick Cardy, Al Plastino and of course, Allen Bellman. I don’t know if you can make it out, but Allen scratched into the upper left hand corner of the photo “3 Wise Men.” It’s a gift I treasure.

The last time I got to see Allen and Roz was in Colorado Springs in 2018 at yet another convention. I was anxious to get my own copy of his autobiography, “Timely Confidential.” I made a beeline for his table and he was embarrassed when I asked about his book. There had been some kind of mix-up and they’d not sent enough, so he’d already sold out. He apologized up and down and said if I still wanted it, he’d give me a receipt and the minute he got back home to Florida, would ship it to me. I told him that would be great and to please not apologize, but he did and insisted I take an inscribed print he had on hand, gratis, as a temporary consolation. The man’s generosity knew no bounds.

Once again, as good as his word, the book arrived at my doorstep within a few days and he inscribed it to me on the first page. I re-read it after I learned of his passing, to reacquaint myself with some of my friend’s delightful stories. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the story of a fascinating man who “was there,” and was also one of the last living links to the Timely Comics era.

I’ll miss Allen, but again, I am far richer for having made his acquaintance. Rest in Peace and Godspeed to one of the good guys.

Hang in there, readers. This pandemic is something none of us could have foreseen, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get through it. Look after your family, your neighbors and yourselves and we’ll keep cranking out these little pieces to help you pass the time in what we hope will be a pleasant way. Until then, direct comments or queries to my handy e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you again on the 15th of April and…

Long live the Silver Age!



© 2000-2020 by Bryan D. Stroud


This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by

Bryan D. Stroud

 

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Nick Cardy Interview (Pt. 2)

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Liz Berube Interview

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Paul Kirchner Interview

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Mike Royer Interview (Pt. 2)

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Alex Ross Interview

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