A Tribute to the of

I seem to be getting a bit bolder in my old age.  After narrowly missing out on the opportunity to interview Arnold Drake I decided not to let timidity get in my way again.  I'm pleased to report that I managed a brief e-mail interview with the great Joe Kubert, which will follow this review of a story that, of course, he helped produce.

The story chosen is "Menace of the Matter Master!" from Brave and the Bold #35 from April/May of 1961.  Our writer is Gardner Fox with Joe Kubert on pencils and inks with Julius Schwartz handling editorial duties.  This is the second Silver Age outing of Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  On to the story:

An armored car is seen driving along a tree-lined and moonlit road.  We're advised it carries half a million dollars in cash.  (Somehow that doesn't sound like all that much nearly five decades later.)  The next thing you know the truck isn't moving, despite the driver's best attempts at acceleration.  He and the guard exit the vehicle and in a scene reminiscent of "The Wizard of Oz" gone very, very bad discover the trees have gripped and suspended the car above the road.  In frustration they open fire on the trees, but soon find themselves entangled in them as a bizarre figure swoops down on a large stone.  He looks a little like a medieval magician in his flowing crimson cape that matches his eyebrows and chin growth, and green uniform with a pointy cap bearing stars and planets as embellishments.  He makes his intentions for the half million evident, but the guard protests that they don't have a key.  Not a problem for the wand wielding figure, whose diamond tipped instrument, opens the car like a knife through hot butter.  He ascends with the loot, explaining they'll be free in approximately 10 minutes and by the way, the police can do nothing against the Matter Master.

Back at the Midway City Museum, Carter and Shayera Hall, the curator and his lovely wife, are replacing the ancient weaponry they lost while fighting Blyth in their last adventure.  Thanks to Thanagarian technology they were able to successfully duplicate them on their orbiting spaceship.  A pigeon then arrives, signaling that Commissioner Emmett needs to speak with Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  Upon reading the message, the duo soon transform themselves into their alter egos and armed with hand cannons from the middle ages, fly off into the night via a secret trapdoor in the office ceiling.  A short recap of their origin and last adventure is given and they then arrive at Commissioner Emmett's office.

He tells the winged crime fighters about the weird robbery that took place earlier and then beckons them to the radio to listen in on another fantastic occurrence.  It seems an isolated meteor shower is happening at the Midway Art Center and upon impact the flaming spheres are turning into man-like figures of smoking black metal.  These "meteor-men" are then proceeding to take the rare rings on display.

That's enough for the Thanagarians as they take flight to try and intervene.  Shayera wonders what sort of power could draw meteors to Earth and cause trees to be manipulated.

Upon arrival they employ the hand cannons, but they have no effect on the strange beings.  Hawkman comments that he's not sure even their Thanagarian ray guns would be effective, but in any case, they've resolved not to use them for fear they'd fall into the wrong hands.  Furthermore, their mission is to study and use the police methods of Earth.

Soon yet another bizarre event as the metal men fuse themselves together into one giant meteor man.  He stands towering above much of the city skyline with the stolen rings in his upheld palm when a helicopter appears and lands in it.  At the controls we see the Matter Master.  Having collected the valuables and re-entering the whirly-bird, the thief notes the presence of the winged wonders and thinks to himself that his propeller blades are made of pure aluminum, which gives him mental control over them.  With that he issues a mental command to the rotating blades to detach and attack our heroes while he floats downward with the aid of a parachute.

The aerial aces maneuver and fly for their very lives, utilizing every ability and device, including their anti-gravity belts, but the razor-sharp blades are relentless.  Then, Carter has an idea and directs his wife to follow him in his power dive toward a pair of wells below.  Folding their wings they submerse themselves into the rock-lined wells as the propellers are destroyed on impact.

Elsewhere, in a massive cavern complex that would make Bruce Wayne feel at home, the Matter Master enjoys displaying his latest ill-gotten gains in this combination hide-out, home and laboratory.  He muses that he spent years trying to crack the secrets of alchemy, the so-called ability to convert base metals to gold, but one day a vial of chemicals in his lab exploded.  In terror he shouted for the potentially lethal combination of chemicals to stay away and to his amazement it stopped in mid-air.  He soon came to realize he'd stumbled across something significant, which he dubbed Mentachem, which allowed him to mentally control any material in its natural state, be it vegetation, metals or minerals.  Forming the Mentachem into a wand allowed him to further focus the power.

Later, donning street clothes and visiting a newsstand, he learns to his chagrin that his nemeses have survived.  He vows he'll be prepared for his next encounter with them.

The next day we join Carter Hall at the museum where he is surprised to be accosted by his employee, artist-naturalist Mavis Trent, who is convinced he sent her a bouquet of fresh flowers.  Carter's wife is much less enthusiastic about this and insists her husband set the "minx" straight.  Carter wonders aloud who did send the flowers when they suddenly seem to have disappeared.  Additionally one of the security guards notes that a rare Egyptian parchment has also vanished.  Hall's keen sense of smell, seemingly restored after vanishing upon arriving on Earth, is able to track the path of the flowers through the museum.  He later tells his wife that he thinks the flowers stole the parchment.  Shayera suggests more shenanigans by the Matter Master.  They've driven to the sea shore and under cover of darkness change into their uniforms.  Carter has also brought more weapons and using his bloodhound-like abilities, they track the path of the flowers.

Soon they're drawn to a high mountain cave.  Upon entrance, huge metal doors close behind them.  They have entered the lair of the Matter Master, who is wearing a sort of space helmet and promptly throws a lever that draws all the air from the cave, creating a lethal vacuum for his opponents while he enjoys his own air supply.  Relying on their anti-gravity belts and their limited ability to withstand airlessness, the duo fires their crossbows at the criminal, hitting only the cavern walls.  Hawkman increases the power of his anti-gravity belt and begins caroming off the walls, searching for the angle that will propel him into his foe.  The Matter Master begins firing a weapon at him, but soon the Flying Fury makes contact, shattering the helmet of his adversary.  The terrified thief blacks out from his abrupt loss of oxygen and Hawkman then throws the lever, restoring air to the cavern.  They later revive and deliver the crook to police HQ, but our writer notes that he didn't know anything about the Matter Master's "wand" and that perhaps one day it will plague him again.  This short 12-page story then concludes.

My DC Comics Encyclopedia contains no mention of the Matter Master, but some of my other reference material shows that he did reappear on at least three occasions, in Hawkman #9 and interestingly enough in the pages of Justice League of America.  The issues were #28 and #116 respectively.  Despite the goofy uniform, he did have some potential and of course his powers were formidable.  As usual it was a fast-paced, satisfying effort by one of my favorites, Gardner FoxJoe Kubert's artwork was a fine compliment to a good story and I'll give this one a rating of 9 on the 10-point scale.  An enjoyable little adventure all the way around.

And now, without further ado, here is the interview I enjoyed with Joe Kubert

Prof:  You enjoyed a long and productive partnership with Bob Kanigher at DC, clear back to that first Silver Age story of the Flash in Showcase #4.  How was he to work with?  Which titles were the most fun to work on? Joe Kubert:  It was a great experience and I enjoyed illustrating all his stories.

Prof:  Did you have any trouble navigating the Comics Code?  JK:  No.

Prof:  What were things like in the DC bullpen?  Who were your friends? JK:  Busy.  Jack Adler and all the guys in production.

Prof:  You worked on virtually every major character in the DC catalog at one time or another, going back to 1944.  Are there any you enjoyed working on more than others?  JK:  I enjoyed them all – in retrospect.

Prof:  You are particularly identified with the war titles such as Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace.  Was any of your inspiration from your own time in the service overseas?  JK:  No.

Prof:  Your sons have followed you into the illustration business.  Does it feel satisfying to watch them develop their talents?  JK:  I feel it's a miracle.

Prof:  You operate the only accredited school devoted entirely to cartooning and have an impressive list of alumni.  Has this "second career" been as good as or better than your first?  JK:  This (the school) is not my career.  I am a cartoonist – first, last and always.

Prof:  Are there any Golden Age characters you wish had survived into the Silver Age?  JK:  None come to mind.

Prof:  Did you have any concerns about the super-heroes disappearing in the 40's?  Did it look like your work might evaporate?  JK:  No.

Prof:  What sort of research did you do for the Viking Prince title?  JK:  Books, illustrations, Prince Valiant.

Prof:  Your inking style was unique.  How did you choose to render form at a time when the DC house style was to mostly just indicate stuff with a simple outline?  JK:  Purely intuitive and never questioned by DC or anyone else.

Prof:  Do you think inking with a brush, as opposed to inking with a pen, is becoming a lost art? It seems few people do it anymore, but it is essential to your style.  JK:  I don't think so.

Prof:  Your knowledge of military gear is legendary.  How did this come about? Through references, or is it all in your head?  JK:  Reference.  ALWAYS reference.

Prof:  Who were your influences? Hal Foster maybe?  JK:  Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff.

Prof:  Whose idea was Jackie Johnson, and was there any opposition to having a black soldier in Easy Company?  JK:  Bob Kanigher (the writer/editor.)  No.

Prof:  Did you enjoy working with Brian Azzarello on "Between Hell and a Hard Place"?  JK:  Yes, very much.

Prof:  Do you think Brian stewarded these characters well?  JK:  Yes.

Prof:  How long did it take to pencil and ink a typical page?  JK:  One day.

Prof:  You recently produced a new Sgt. Rock story (The Prophecy.)  What sort of differences did you encounter in how it was done today as opposed to the Frank Rock of the 60's?  JK:  The use of computers for lettering, color and reproduction.

As you can see, Joe is a man of few words who seems to prefer to let his work speak for itself, and speak it has for several decades now.  If you want to know more about Mr. Kubert, I humbly suggest you lay your hands on a copy of "The Greatest 1950's Stories Ever Told"; Joe wrote the foreword. In it he recalls some wonderful stories of his early days as a cartoonist.

Do not miss the next installment of this feature.  Not only will we be bringing you another first class review, but I've been incredibly fortunate in speaking with yet another creator from the era and have a great interview to share.  Meanwhile, drop me a line and let me know what's on your mind:  professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2007 by B.D.S.

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