A Tribute to the of

As the character of Deadman began to gain some steam, his mission to find his murderer became ever more important. Indeed it drove the entire plotline for several issues. In Strange Adventures #208 from January of 1968 (containing Boston Brand, aka Deadman's 4th appearance) our scripter/editor Jack Miller poses the rhetorical question as the title with: "How Many Times Can a Guy Die?" The plotting for this issue was provided by then art director Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams handled art duties for both the cover and the story.

We find our hero hanging out in a graveyard, keeping company with his thoughts and growing anger and frustration over his fate. The overriding question, beyond the obvious "who?" is the even more insidious "why?" Boston's mind recounts his origin when he was shot and killed by a rifle wielding member of the circus audience as he went into his aerialist routine and how his soul lived on, courtesy of the mysterious Rama Kushna, so that he can find his murderer. Brand is now invisible to the world of mortals, but has the ability to inhabit their bodies and control them as he continues his search.

Now Brand does a mental inventory of likely suspects of which there are not just a few. He then pauses at Eagle and begins to remember…

The flashback unfolds as an incredulous Boston Brand discovers that Miss Lorna, the circus owner and his love interest has hired another acrobat for the St. Louis show who goes by Eagle, complete with a bird-like costume. Apparently this aerialist is a big name in the area and she believes he'll help the gate by teaming with Deadman. Boston is less than impressed and suggests to the cocky Eagle that he's more like a sparrow.

Later, both in full costume, Eagle and Deadman go through the routine in an empty big top to practice and their mutual loathing immediately comes to the fore, with Eagle drawing back from catching Brand after a triple somersault. Boston manages to catch a piece of Eagle and vault himself to safety on a nearby perch just below his sneering counterpart's platform and then launches himself into a perfect backward and upside down posture to snap Eagle's head back with his heels. The fisticuffs inevitably follow until Deadman is knocked back onto the tightrope. With great skill and care he works his way back to the taunting Eagle, then knocking him from the platform. Eagle manages to catch the trapeze and an enraged Brand quickly follows on another, hurling his body at that of Eagle, who screams that they'll miss the net and both be killed.

Below, some of the other members of the circus are horrified to note what's going on above and Tiny the strongman throws an empty crate into their path of descent as the only available object to absorb some of the impact. The two trapeze artists crash into it and lie silent for a time until Boston stirs and rises, demanding Eagle do the same and declare that he's only a sparrow. Eagle grips a broken plank and smashes it over Brand's head, beginning round two of the battle. Boston lands blow after punishing blow, talking as he removes the cowl of the Eagle: "Tell them you're not an Eagle! Tell everyone that the eagle is a sparrow! And a coward! TELL 'EM!" Under the relentless onslaught, Eagle does just that, but as he skulks away he vows to get Brand for his insults.

Deadman returns to the present, knowing that the motive was there, but the steel claw of his assailant doesn't fit into the mix. Soon he comes upon a billboard for his old outfit, trumpeting their featured performer, the Eagle. He soon enters the place where Lorna is set up and Eagle is there, trying to make time. An angry Deadman rails at him, but quickly sees the futility in his efforts, but takes heart when Lorna rejects Eagle's advances. He continues to press her, though, reminding her that he is her meal ticket. Just then Tiny enters to see if Miss Lorna is okay. Eagle cracks a blow to Tiny's jaw and Deadman sees his opening, taking over Tiny's body to land a powerful blow of his own and to lecture Eagle that he's not man enough to take the place of Boston Brand. Then Eagle makes a statement that stuns Deadman: "I ain't, ain't I? Well think it over, lunkhead—Boston's dead—and I'm alive! Just like I warned him he'd be dead!" The story ends with that little cliffhanger until the next issue of Strange Adventures.

I love these original Deadman stories. Even though the chase got a little old after awhile, the entire premise was quick-paced and contained plenty of dynamic action. It was an ideal showcase for the formidable artistic talents of Neal Adams as the lithe form of Deadman was put through graceful maneuvers that were, to use the old cliché, poetry in motion. The fight scenes were spectacular and in large measure required no dialogue whatsoever as the panels truly told the story. Adding in Boston Brand's supernatural status only increased the possibilities, such as the times when he is shown hovering just above the action from a myriad number of angles and points of view. His impotent rage is apparent, too, as he struggles against the nearly unbearable scenario of being trapped between worlds and dealing with the daunting task of finding his killer and simply coming to grips with his fate. Truly great stuff that really made the Silver Age great. I give this one a full 10 on the 10 point rating scale. These stories really had it all.

The reason I chose this story to spotlight is because the webmaster and I recently had a rare opportunity, which we gleefully seized, taking a road trip to the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene where the "Faster than a Speeding Bullet" display is on hand through the first of the year.

So, in the darkness of the wee hours on the 29th of October, I banged on his door and we hit the road. Fueled by an egg McMuffin and Diet Coke I began the drive. We giggled and guffawed about this and that for the few hours it took to get there and then discovered that the University seems to be against the idea of road signs on the campus. We parked and started hoofing it around in the drizzling rain. I got some insight as to why the mascot is a duck. I finally broke the cardinal rule of guyhood, swinging into the student rec center to find out where the blazes The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art was located. We weren't off by much and then reached the exhibit at last.

The first item spotted was an original Sunday Prince Valiant by the immortal Hal Foster accompanied to its immediate right by a Tarzan strip, which I seem to recall was done by the great Burne Hogarth; and lastly a 1936 Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Sunday page. From that point forward it was treasure after treasure on display, broken down by decade beginning with the 1940's. There were examples of the old Fawcett books, an original Joe Schuster Superman from the collection of Milton Caniff showing the Man of Steel leaping with Terry of Terry and the Pirates held in his arm and an inscription to Milt. Speaking of such, there was also a Bob Kane Batman inscribed to Caniff as well, which was another highlight, particularly since there's so little of Bob's actual work to be found out there what with his extensive use of the talents of Jerry Robinson, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Shelly Moldoff, Dick Sprang and others who toiled under the signature of Bob Kane. Two comic books were on display as well. An issue of Famous Funnies #1 and Superman #1. I tried my best to pause and appreciate each era and there were many examples from the various decades, but I was champing at the bit to get to the Silver Age section, for obvious reasons. I wasn't disappointed. While I'm not a rabid Jack Kirby fan there were some splendid examples of The King's work, to include an X-Men splash and the pages that brought the world the origin of Captain America. Fantastic Four examples (a page from #73 among them) were on hand as well. While there was a disappointment to be had in that the Amazing Spider-Man complete book (#26) had been retrieved by its owner, along with Will Eisner's Spirit pages, an original Steve Ditko Spidey featuring Kraven the Hunter was there as well as a Doctor Strange pin-up. A C.C. Beck Captain Marvel was displayed as was Kurt Schaffenberger's Lois Lane #42 cover and a Gil Kane Green Lantern #70 page. Another great piece was a Ramona Fradon page from her Metamorpho run and in fact there was a commission type piece by Ramona that was owned by the University itself featuring many classic superheroes. Just some wonderful treasures. I knew, though, that somewhere in this quiet hallway was…yes! There! Perhaps the pinnacle of DC's Silver Age for your viewing pleasure. The cover to Flash #123 by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson heralding "The Flash of Two Worlds!" I swear I heard the angels sing when I saw it. One of my all-time favorite covers and here it was in all its original black and white glory. Really a thrill. Right about the time I decided to put the camera phone into play a group of students began to infiltrate the hall and since it was posted that there was to be no photography, well, I fell into line, just trying to absorb everything I could (some brave souls ignored the dire warnings and snapped away; see the results here and here). There were some fine examples of Neal Adams' craft, to include a Batman #251 page, the cover to Action Comics #419, which has a Jack Adler provided photograph in the background and maybe best of all, page 11 from the Strange Adventures tale I just reviewed above. Simply superb stuff across the board.

It seemed a little anti-climactic after that, even though the other eras were also well-represented with some work by Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller's Dardevil, two pages from Brian Bolland's landmark "Killing Joke" and two Alex Ross originals among many others, but those were the highest of the highlights for yours truly. It was even more special for me because I'd had the honor of speaking to some of the men who brought these images to reality. Gene Colan's cover to Iron Man #1 was a little more significant to me than it otherwise might have been, and I was able to discuss with Carmine a little bit about his pencil work on the Flash cover. It was just one terrific way to spend a few hours, particularly in the company of my lifelong best friend, who has shared this hobby and passion with me for literally decades now.

I'm not sure how much longer this display is going on after it leaves Eugene or if in fact that's the final stop, but thanks to the generosity of those private collectors who own these magnificent pieces of art (one guy in particular seemed to own half the collection including some of the really rare 40's and 50's vintage pieces) it's a stunning, wonderful journey through the medium that should not be missed. If you can manage it, by all means GO SEE IT! You won't be sorry, even if you have to navigate a confusing campus in the rain.

As I look around at the small handful of original art adorning the walls of my workspace here, by Dick Giordano, Ernie Chan, Lew Sayre Schwartz and Al Plastino, I have an even greater appreciation for the craft of making comic book art and the enjoyment it brings to so many.

Thanks as always for spending some of your valuable web time here at the Silver Lantern. Your questions and comments are something we seek, so if anything is on your mind, you are encouraged to click here and send it my way: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Be sure to check in again in the requisite two weeks for the latest edition of this ongoing feature, which should contain my latest interview effort.

See you then and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2009 by B.D.S.

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