A Tribute to the of

I've commented before that I'm very much a creature of habit, but I had to break tradition with the last chapter of The Silver Age Sage and finish up the three-part Jerry Robinson interview before I could get back to my annual habit of reviewing a JLA/JSA crossover.  So, slightly late, I present it to you now:

The first couple of pages of the graphic novel Kingdom Come depict Pastor Norman McCay visiting a dying Wesley Dodds, who, in years long past, had spent some of his time as a costumed crime fighter known as the Sandman.  I thought it was a nice homage to one of the earliest heroes, who in fact first appeared in Adventure Comics with issue #40 in July of 1939. He also had a short stint in World's Finest Comics, issues #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7. There is some speculation that while a Sandman story also appeared in New York World's Fair Comics #1, which came out a few weeks earlier that this debut in Adventure was written first.   In either case, the Sandman has been around, though not continuously, for nearly 70 years, and he was featured prominently in a JLA/JSA crossover in the Bronze Age in a story that was uncharacteristically finished up in just one issue, Justice League of America #113 from September/October of 1974.  This is the issue I've chosen to spotlight this time around for reasons which will become obvious later.  The rest of the credits for this book are as follow:  Cover art by Nick Cardy.  "The Creature in the Velvet Cage!" was written by Len WeinDick Dillin and Dick Giordano did the artwork and Ben Oda lettered while Julie Schwartz took on editorial duties.

This story begins in full action mode on the splash page where the heroes of Earth-One and Earth-Two are mopping up The Horned Owl Gang (I'm sorry, but "The Horned Owl Gang?"  Earth-Two must be hurting for truly menacing villains.)  Present are Superman, Green Lantern, the Elongated Man and Batman from Earth-One and JSA members Wonder Woman, Hourman, Sandman and the Flash.

A short while later as the heroes of two worlds exit the York City Museum, where the caper was aborted, a loud alarm begins to emanate from the Sandman's sleek roadster, and bear in mind, this is the pre car alarm days of the 70's.  The Sandman is very disturbed and leaps into the Sand-Car, muttering that "…it couldn't have happened—it couldn't--!"

With an exit like that, what could his teammates do but follow and they soon find themselves at a plush upper west side townhouse.  Hourman knows the secret to moving the giant hourglass revealing the staircase to a sub-basement and there they find a disconsolate Sandman, who has doffed his fedora and gas mask.  Around him is carnage, including a broken glass chamber.  Batman, ever in detective mode, notes that the chamber was broken from the inside.  Dodds responds that he's kept this secret far too long and reveals that the creature who escaped from the cage was Sandy, his one-time partner.

The flashback begins and Wes describes how Sandy, an orphan who'd helped him, became his ward and partner right around the time he adopted his new costume.  The team of the Sandman and Sandy the Golden Boy became a formidable combination until one day, an experiment with the new Silicoid Gun went awry.  The explosion in the Sandman's lab caused Sandy to mutate into a hulking monstrosity who vowed to crush the Earth and take over when it was seized with pain and collapsed.  Dodds acted quickly, creating what he dubbed the Velvet Cage as a comfortable glass prison for his young protégé, filled with a gas that would also keep him sedated indefinitely.  After the incident Wes destroyed the new uniform, going back to his classic gas mask and double-breasted suit.  The Sandman now bemoans that Sandy has broken free and any harm he does will be his fault, but his comrades volunteer to help him locate and catch the mutated Sandy.  Teams quickly form and depart on their mission.

The hulking Golden figure is first encountered in Gladstone Park, roaring and disrupting a wedding.  Superman, Hourman and the Elongated Man arrive and Superman notes that according to the Sandman, Sandy was capable of speech, but all they hear is his roaring.  A fierce battle ensues and when it seems they have Sandy all wrapped up, he converts his body to sand that slips away from the heroes and ultimately disappears.

Later, Sandy reappears elsewhere in York City at a sandlot baseball field where youths are playing America's favorite pastime.  Also nearby are Wonder Woman, Batman and the Flash and they quickly engage the roaring behemoth, climaxing with Flash using his super speed to surround Sandy in a vortex, but the tables are turned as the creature again converts his body to sand and exits the scene.

Re-forming his gargantuan frame at "Machismo Beach," Sandy finds himself accosted by the local bodybuilders until Green Lantern and the Sandman arrive.  GL realizes a bit too late that the impurity in his ring makes it completely ineffective against Sandy's golden hide.  Sandy even manages to retaliate with some of Hal's own energy, knocking the Emerald Gladiator for a loop.  The Sandman advances, using his gas gun to try and subdue Sandy with the same formula that had held him unconscious for so long, but the breezes thwart the effort.  As the former partners face one another, Sandy is brought down by Hourman, who has arrived in the proverbial nick of time with the rest of the combined forces of the JLA and JSA.

Dramatically, an earthquake strikes, opening a yawning chasm that begins to swallow Hourman, Batman and the Sandman.  The Elongated Man quickly snakes his arms down to catch his comrades and the rest of the team goes into action, GL using his power ring to fuse parts of the broken mantle together and Superman borrowing Wonder Woman's indestructible magic lasso to literally thread the earth together.  Green Lantern flies off to check for further damage from the fissure, but when he returns he reports that the fault line requires no further attention and that it also passes directly under the locations where they'd taken on Sandy.  Just then, the monster awakens…and speaks.

Sandy explains that when the first tremor shattered the glass cell, waking him, his body sensed the fault-line beneath York City, so he had to track and absorb the vibrations with his body.  The roaring wasn't rage, but pain and since his vocal cords were temporarily paralyzed from his long sleep, he couldn't explain, nor could he afford to be slowed down, thus his seeming attacks on the heroes.

The Sandman tells Sandy that he had no choice in his actions and Sandy says that the effects of the explosion were temporary and that he regained his senses in hours, but the gas kept him from communicating.

A shattered Wesley Dodds walks off, profoundly sorrowful for the actions that took away so many years of Sandy's life.  Wonder Woman tells Batman that Amazon science may be able to restore Sandy.  The Dark Knight replies that that will be the easy part, but looking at the back of the Sandman, he continues:  "But how do you restore a man's pride…his confidence?  How do you restore a man's soul?"

A rather grim ending to this team-up story.  As usual, I save my ratings for Silver Age stories, but I confess this wasn't one of my favorite offerings.  The historical context of the Sandman and Sandy was worthy of Gardner Fox's best efforts, but beyond that it seemed to be pretty uninspired stuff.  Perhaps it is possible to go to the well too often.

Above I talked about when the Sandman became the first costumed hero to grace the pages of Adventure Comics.  That costume changed awhile later when the purple and yellow togs were donned in December of 1941 with issue #69.  A few issues after that, in #72, their first work for DC, the Simon and Kirby studio took over the Sandman. Their run on the feature ended with #91; #102 tells the Sandman's final tale.

Now, fast forward to 2007 and 2008 when your humble writer has been on a spree of locating and interviewing willing creators.  When I spoke to Carmine Infantino last year, he suggested I also contact Joe Simon.  While I wasn't against the idea, I wondered what in the heck we would talk about, since he did very little in DC's Silver Age.  Nonetheless, I gave Joe a call and we talked for a few minutes (after my faulty tape player began to kick in):

Joe Simon:  A big part of the culture now.  Dick and I did The Fly and The Shield for Archie Comics.

Prof:  Yeah, one of their few adventure stories.

JS:  Yeah, uh-huh.  And I think the Fighting American.  Were they the Silver Age?  That was about 1962 I think, wasn't it?

Prof:  That would have been right in there.

JS:  That's about my experience with the Silver Age.

Prof:  Well, you did a little tiny bit later with Brother Power, The Geek. (#1 & #2)

JS:  Oh, yeah, yeah.  That was about '73 I think, wasn't it?

Prof:  '69, I think.

JS:  '69.  Okay.  Oh, yeah, that was with Carmine [Infantino].

Prof:  Exactly.

JS:  Yeah, we did some very nice things there.  The Prez.  I loved that one.

Prof:  The Green Team. [Note: Carmine also asked Simon & Jack Kirby to join forces once again to produce a one-shot book titled The Sandman, a character completely different from he Golden Age version. The title was placed into regular production lasting six isues.]

JS:  But, that whole period there was not financially successful for practically anybody in the business.

Prof:  No, sadly enough.

JS:  And that wasn't very encouraging.  That's about my whole experience in the Silver Age.  It was quite a bit, I guess.

Prof:  Well, yeah, you were right in there.  Of course the bulk of your work was beforehand and some afterward.

JS:  Yeah.

Prof:  You know one thing I was kind of surprised about when I was researching some of your work in the Grand Comic Book Database, they have all of the work you and Jack did on the early Adventure Comics with Manhunter and Sandman and so forth…

JS:  Yeah, is that Harry Mandrake's site?

Prof:  No, I don't think so.  When you tap it in you just go to comics.org.  They're trying to index every single comic book ever published.

JS:  Great.

Prof:  Anyway, it kind of amused me.  It had Jack down on scripts and pencils on a lot of them and then had your name with a question mark behind it for inks.  Apparently they can't confirm that you inked a lot of those.  I presume you did.

JS:  I'm not going to worry about that now

Prof:  I understand.  You don't have anything to prove at this point.  (Chuckle.)

JS:  They didn't ask me.  Of course I inked most all of it.

Prof:  I kind of figured.  I didn't realize how you had worn nearly every single hat, Mr. Simon, from editor, to scripter to letterer to penciler.  You did it all.

JS:  (coughing.)  Too many cigars.

Prof:  Would it be easier if I e-mailed my questions?

JS:  I think so, but so many questions come up over and over and over again.  I'll do my best.  I respect your efforts.  You said you spoke to Carmine recently?

Prof:  I sure did.

JS:  How's he doing?

Prof:  He sounded good.  Of course he just turned 82.

JS:  82?

Prof:  Yeah.  Still kind of a youngster to you, I suppose.

JS:  (Chuckle.)  I'm 93.

Prof:  You're doing well, then.

JS:  It's all right.  At least it beats the other.  (chuckle.)

So, I went ahead and came up with a few questions and sent them to Joe, and he answered a few of them:

Prof: You've worked for many, many companies to include Timely, DC, Archie, Hillman, Harvey, Novelty Press, Fox and Charlton.  Was there much difference between how the companies operated?  Was there one you preferred over another?

JS: You left out the biggest...PRIZE including Crestwood and a few other corporate names. Also our own company, Mainline.

Prof: I understand you worked under Mort Weisinger for awhile.  His reputation as an editor was somewhat notorious.  Were you able to work well with him?

JS: Mort Wesinger was not involved with Simon and Kirby. I did not like him. Will get back to you later.

Later, he addressed this question again:

JS: Never worked under Mort. Simon and Kirby had a contract with DC Comics to package books under a pay and royalty system. Mort, Jack Schiff and a few other guys were editors for DC, not for Simon and Kirby. They each had equal levels of authority.

Well, I followed up a couple of times and Joe abruptly told me he didn't have time for this any longer, which was certainly his right, but I was surprised and a little disappointed, especially since I didn't have a whole lot to work with.  So, I put the tape aside and sort of forgot about it.  Then, earlier this year, I contacted Creig Flessel, and we talked for a short while about his career:

Creig Flessel:  I started the Berndt Toast gang with Walter Berndt.

Prof:  Yeah, in fact Frank Springer told me he thought you were the one that named it.

CF:  Yes.  I named it.  I did, along with Lee Ames.  He and Frank…Frank did the design and I will take credit for naming it.  It was a natural.

Prof:  Okay, and you've been actively involved for all those years, right?

CF:  Oh, yeah.  We started way back during the war.  We used to go to the hospitals, Veteran's hospitals, and do a stand-up show or do drawings of the wounded G.I.'s, and that was how the Berndt Toast really started.  That was our social work.

Prof:  That's wonderful.  I know when I've talked with some of the other creators, like Al Plastino, they got involved in some of those trips and events both locally and overseas like what you've just described.

CF:  Al?

Prof:  Al Plastino, who did Superman for many years.

CF:  Oh, yeah.  You're going way back.

Prof:  Yes.  And of course Irwin Hasen and Lew Sayre Schwartz.

CF:  Yeah.  Well, the Berndt Toast basically went around Long Island, New York, Queens, New Jersey, and New York State hospitals.

Prof:  Oh, fantastic.  That must have been satisfying work to do.

CF:  Yeah.  We had a good time.

Prof:  Good for you.  Now back when you started, Mr. Flessel, what sort of training did you have in art?

CF:  Well, I got a couple of years of art school.  Grand Central.  I studied with Harvey Dunn, Charles DeFao.  That was during the Depression times.  1930.

Prof:  You actually started your career before anybody heard of Superman or Batman.

CF:  I started in the comics in '35.  So if you can top that, well, that's it.

Prof:  Can't beat it.  It can't be done.

CF:  No, that's true.

Prof:  They assembled the comic books very differently back then, didn't they?

CF:  Well, yeah, you did the whole thing.  There was no production line.  It was the Henry Ford's of the business and we didn't think it was going anywhere.  It was just a chance to make a few bucks.

Prof:  Did you have to do your own lettering at that time?

CF:  My own lettering, penciling, inking, color guides, the whole schmear.

Prof:  Holy cow.  That must have been quite an interesting jump into the deep end of the pool.

CF:  Well, it was five dollars a page.  That was a lot of money.

Prof:  (Chuckle.)  So you were able to keep body and soul together.

CF:  Yeah.

Prof:  I read where you did a lot of work on Sandman and that you actually created The Shining Knight.  Is that true?

CF:  That's true.  Yeah, that's way back.

Prof:  What sort of characters did you like working on the best do you think?

CF:  Well, I really didn't think too much about it.  I like semi-comic, but any chance to draw a picture, you know at that time, was welcome.  And the fact that I could do most everything made me invaluable.  In fact, just the other day I met Major Nicholson's grandson.  He was out here in California.  The Major, you know, he was the one who started the whole business.

Prof:  He sure did.  Did you know him very well?

CF:  Well, (chuckle) as well as you can know a man who was being chased by process servers and who didn't have any money.  You know, he was running all the time.

Prof:  He tried to stay low profile, huh?

CF:  Yeah.

Prof:  I can well imagine.  Do you know Ramona Fradon?

CF:  She's a Silver Age artist.  I know her work, but I don't know her personally.  I was just there in the beginning and that's when I got out.  I got into advertising and had a checkered career.  I did this and I did that.  But I had a good time and here I am.

Prof:  And you did very well.  The thing I was going to mention about Ramona, just in case you didn't know it, when I talked to her she said the first comic book assignment she ever had was doing a Shining Knight story.

CF:  Is that right?

Prof:  Yeah.  I didn't know if you knew that or not.

CF:  No, I never knew that.

Prof:  I see where you did a little writing for awhile.  Did you like doing that or did you prefer doing the art?

CF:  Well, the writing was non-essential.  It was just something to hold the story, the thing together.  They were pretty bad.  I didn't take much time with my writing.  I didn't think about it.  I just wanted a chance to draw a picture.

Prof:  Did you have a favorite writer that you worked from?

CF:  Well, you can go back to Joseph Conrad and all the others on Adventure Comics.  I came out of the pulps, you know.  So I probably had the best of writers and the worst of writers as I went along.  But I really didn't know what I was doing in the beginning.  It was just a place to sit down and draw.

Prof:  Everybody was learning at that point, so you're a pioneer of the whole genre.

CF:  That's right.  I try to tell them I was a pioneer, but they bring up other guys and a lot of other guys get the credit.

Prof:  That doesn't make any sense to me.  Do you remember which editors you worked with?

CF: [Vincent] Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth were the only two I worked with, really.

Prof:  Did you work pretty well with them?

CF:  Oh, yeah.  They were no problem.  I wasn't a problem.  That was before we had problems.  Everybody loved everybody and you'd do your job and shut up and go home.  You'd take your five dollars and blow it.  Buy a hamburger or whatever.

Prof:  Yep.  Just pull together and get it done.  Which other artist's work did you like at the time?

CF:  I didn't really have any of the other old-timer's work to judge by.  I was there in the beginning, and what I did was my own.  So really, except for the old masters like Howard Pyle.  The illustrators, there was nothing to base it on, so I was on the cutting edge.  Matt Clark was there, of course, but who did I have to look at?

Prof:  That's true.  You were out there creating it on your own.

CF:  Well, yeah.  As much as I could.

Prof:  You did a whole lot of covers on the old comic books.  Did you like doing those better than the interiors or did it make any difference to you?

CF:  Well, there again, you know, I was there, they said to me, "We need the cover," and I did the cover.  It wasn't a case of likes or dislikes.  Just sit down and do it and shut up.

Prof:  (Laughter.)  Did they pay more for a cover at that time?

CF:  They paid ten dollars.

Prof:  Okay, so I guess in some ways it was a little better. 

CF:  Yeah, ten dollars is better than five.

Prof:  (Laughter.)  Did you know Fred Guardineer?

CF:  Yeah, very well.  Freddie was a great draftsman, but there again he realized he couldn't make a good living at it, so he became a mailman.  He ended up with the post office department.

Prof:  I'll be darned.  I guess it offered a better benefit package anyway.

CF:  (Chuckle.)  Yeah.  He retired out here in San Ramon.  Well, it was nice talking to you.

Prof:  Well Mr. Flessel, I certainly appreciate your time and I wanted to wish you an early happy birthday and to congratulate you on the exhibit they're doing on your work and career.

CF:  Thank you.  I hope to see it. 

Prof:  I'm sure you will.

I don't know for sure if I was boring Creig or if it was just due to the fact that I'd caught him shortly after he'd already done another interview, but it was brief, though not as brief as my chat with Joe.  It occurred to me later, though, that both Joe and Creig shared a couple of common characteristics.  Both are part of what I call the "Over 90 Club" of comic book creators (Joe being 94 and Creig being 96 as of this writing) and both did work on the Sandman, Creig in the classic double-breasted suit and gas mask persona (an example of which you can see on the letterhead of Robin Snyder's newsletter, "The Comics,") and Joe with the purple and yellow leotard, both incarnations of which were contained in this story, so I thought it might be appropriate to combine the two discussions here.

So, in the words of Paul Harvey, now you know the rest of the story.  I'm thankful for the time these two pioneers gave me and their lasting contribution to the medium of comic books.

Thanks for joining us on this ride, readers and be sure to join us again in about two weeks for the next installment.  My personal hotline is open at: professor_the@hotmail.com

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2008 by B.D.S.

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