A Tribute to the of

What do you do with a dead man?

If you're Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino of DC Comics, you use him as an unlikely yet intriguing new kind of hero.  You create Deadman, who became a card-carrying member of the DC Universe, smack in the latter days of the Silver Age in Strange Adventures #205, the October 1967 issue (on sale 08/29/67).  The cover is by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos.  The script for "Who Has Been Lying in my Grave?" came courtesy of Arnold Drake and Carmine did the internal pencils with George on inks.  As a quick side-note, this was Carmine's first and last effort on Deadman as he was about to be promoted into an editorial position at DC.  The youthful Neal Adams was given the task of drawing Deadman from that point forward and began to carve out an impressive array of credentials.  Join me now as we investigate the beginnings of Deadman:

The eerie figure himself narrates the splash page, showing a gathering by a casket.  "I'm 'Boston' Brand…or I was, until one of these people—one pure and noble soul—killed me!  But Rama Kushna has given me the power to move among the living—until I find my murderer!  And I will find him—if it takes until eternity!"

Fade now to a short while before Mr. Brand ends up in his pine box and we find him talking with the majority owner of the small, struggling circus where Boston is employed as an aerialist.  Brand is a tough-talking trapeze artist who takes on the persona of Deadman when he performs, donning a chalk-white full head mask with dark socketed eyes.  He claims to Lorna that his interest in keeping the outfit going is the 20% interest he received from her father, but she knows under the steely exterior, beats a heart of gold.  She objects to the eerie costume, but the hard-bitten Brand insists that the audience is here to see one thing, the death of the man on the flying trapeze.  That line reminds me of a similar statement by Evel Kneivel.  No one wanted to see successful jumps, he claimed.  They wanted to see him crash.

So, as Boston heads for the big top he manages to systematically offend a few folk on the way, including Tiny, the strong man; a badge-heavy Constable who threatens to bust Vashnu, the Eastern Mystic of the troupe; a lion-tamer he catches drinking on the job and a crooked ticket-taker who takes more than a few of the proceeds for himself.  When Brand pauses to speak with Vashnu, the turbaned man tells him that his fate is being watched over by Rama Kushna:  "So—you have been chosen!  Rama Kushna has some special gift waiting for you alone!  And one day, when you least expect it—it shall be yours!"  Dismissively, Boston suggests that Vashnu save the routine for the marks at the circus and heads for his platform, 40 feet above the crowd as his act begins.  Unfortunately it ends moments later with the crack of a high-powered rifle.  Boston Brand falls to the ground, dead.

At the funeral, mention is made that the police have a lead on the gunman.  He had a steel claw in place of his right hand.

The next panel fades back to the fateful moment when Brand was shot.  He feels the fire of the bullet's impact, but on the ground he is incredulous to discover he's very much alive.  He watches helplessly as his cape is pulled over him and his friends grieve.  He insists he is well, but soon a voice comes to him, apparently from Dora, the baby elephant:  "No, you're not, my son!  You died three minutes ago!"  Figuring he's rattled, Brand runs out into the rainy night to clear his head.  He then sees one of Professor Quigley's trained mice, but as he tries to capture it, his hand goes right through the creature and the strange voice now seems to emanate from the mouse:  "I told you, my son—you are not alive!  There is no more substance to your body than there is to the west wind—or the April mist!  Listen well—for I, Rama Kushna, speak but once!  Boston Brand—you shall have the power to walk among men until you have found the one who killed you!"

So it is a confused Boston Brand who comes upon Tiny, grieving alone at his grave.  When he approaches the strong man he is surprised yet again when Tiny stiffens at his touch.  Thinking Rama Kushna has given him the touch of death, he then feels a sort of pulling from Tiny until he literally enters his body, taking control of it like a hand in a glove.  He realizes that this must be the gift from Rama Kushna, but he's troubled by the aura that surrounds Tiny's body.  He soon discovers that it's visible only to him and he decides to immediately start the hunt for his killer. 

The fist stop is the trailer of Heldrich, the lion-tamer.  When Brand arrives at the window, he is surprised to see the Constable there and a load of Opium changing hands between the circus man and the crooked cop.  Fisticuffs ensue, but the pistol of the policeman soon KO's Tiny.  As Boston regains consciousness he realizes the slug merely grazed his skull and he tries merging with the cop's body.  To his delight he is successful and he knocks Heldrich silly before returning to Tiny's body.  "Tiny" then explains what had happened to Lorna as far as the illegal drug trade.  She implores him to stay with her now that Boston is gone.  Brand assures her he'll stand by her, but thinks, "Tiny won't leave you, but I'll have to…the day I find my killer!"  The short, introductory story ends with this text in the final panel:  "This is Deadman—the spirit of one man in the bodies of others—moving from life to life, to find the man who brought him—death!  Follow him in the strangest adventure series of them all!"

Since the book I'm taking this review from is a collection, it contains only the lead story with the first appearance of Deadman.  There was apparently one other story ("War of the Mind Readers!" reprinted from Strange Adventures #65, 02/56) in there as well, but obviously I don't have access to it.  So that the feature isn't too abbreviated this time, I'll reproduce the short text feature by Nicola Cuti that follows this story.  It's called Behind the Scenes and it discusses how Arnold Drake came up with Deadman:

"I asked Arnold Drake what inspired him to create Deadman and he said:  "Deadlines!"  Actually he was only half joking because one Friday the late Jack Miller called Drake into his office.  Miller told Drake that the book he had just inherited (from fellow editor Julius Schwartz), Strange Adventures, was in trouble and he needed a continuing feature to bring in readers.  And he needed it by Monday!

As most comic book historians know, Strange Adventures was an anthology book, which meant it contained three or so unrelated short stories—each story beginning and ending in the same issue.  The sales of an issue, therefore, rested on the whims of the "casual" reader.  But the comic book industry was changing and if Strange Adventures was to survive it had to find a hero strong enough to attract a regular following.  The character also was supposed to capture the flavor of the book.  With those simple givens to ponder, Drake went home to work and rework several ideas.

The period was the late sixties, which was noted for a dynamic rise in interest in the occult and especially Eastern Mysticism.  During the fifties the attitude of the people had been:  "Aw, c'mon!  You know there ain't no such thing as ghosts!"  But the coming of the Hippies brought about a rejection of the pragmatic way of life and a return to what was natural.  Form nature it was only a small step to super nature, more commonly known as the supernatural.  Most of the young people of that era were into Astrology and the most popular singing group of the period, the Beatles, was deep into Eastern religious teachings.  Such teachings included the transmigration of the soul, astral projection and reincarnation.

Drake admits to being influenced by the state of mind of the sixties when he came up with Deadman.  Deadman is granted the power to enter other men's bodies by Rama Kushna, an East Indian deity.  Drake does not explain exactly why Boston Brand is singled out by Kushna to roam the Earth in search of his murderer, but we may assume that his act of kindness toward the Indian fortune-teller, Vashnu, may have endeared him toward Kushna.

Drake pointed out that the theme of the spirit of a dead person taking over a living body with the aid of an Indian mystic has been used recently in the movie All of Me and was also the theme of the well-known thriller Audrey Rose.  Although in the East this concept is an old one, here in the West it is fairly new and exciting and we probably will be seeing it used more often.

Come Monday Drake brought in the finished script to Jack Miller.  Miller liked it immediately but was unsure that the Comic Book Code would approve the title of "Deadman."  Drake contended it was worth fighting for, assuring Miller that the Code would not give them any trouble.  At the time, Carmine Infantino was working in the same office and said to Miller:  "He's (Drake) right!  Fight for that title!"  Miller relented and the title remained as dubbed by Drake.

When Infantino showed Drake the splash page of the first story, Drake was delighted.  Infantino had truly caught the spirit of the character, but Drake did ask for one change:  "Boston Brand is supposed to be an ex-fighter.  Bust his nose!"

Strange Adventures as mentioned above, was an anthology, meaning the series had no main character.  After Boston Brand came along, however, it had one strong enough to carry the title for quite awhile, even though Deadman never was given a title all his own.  Just the same, the writing and probably at least as important, the splendid art of Neal Adams led this creature to a place all his own in the DC mythos.  He survived the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, if a dead man can "survive," and he had a spooky appearance in that other landmark effort, Kingdom Come, though Alex Ross took some interesting artistic license with him by keeping the classic scarlet costume, but removing all his flesh and leaving a wise-cracking skeleton in a decaying uniform to give a little brief counsel to Norman McCay.

I like Deadman and I think it was a masterstroke that they were able to find a place for him even after bringing his killer to a grim sort of justice later in continuity so that he didn't fall into an endless loop of frustrated hunter, like a "Fugitive" episode that just won't end.  His earthiness and humanity have always appealed to me and I think it's telling that he was able to survive and thrive all this time despite the fact that he exists on the fringes.  For this classic debut of an equally classic character, I grant a rating of 9.  Stay tuned.  I have the luxury of the entire Deadman Collection and there are plenty of worthy efforts between the covers of that tome (thanks again to the generous webmaster) to grace future editions of the Silver Age Sage.

The next installment of this feature will be posted on the worldwide web in about two weeks and it will mark our third anniversary, so please c'mon back.  Also, my mailbox has been a little lonely lately, so send your comments, questions or requests to: professor_the@hotmail.com.  In the meantime:

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2003 by B.D.S.

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


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