A Tribute to the of

I guess I've hit a little bump in the road, readers.  After 15 months and the splendid opportunity to interview 22 creators, I'm up against another of my self-imposed deadlines with 3 interviews in the can and two more pending, but I'm waiting out edits by those three interviewees, so I'm going to have to go with a straight review for the first time in a long time, but I've included what I hope will be an interesting discussion at the end.

The interviews have overshadowed the reviews, which is fine, but this feature began as an analysis of stories from the Silver Age and so let's take a look at something pretty well out of the norm.

Shortly before Jack Kirby came to DC to create his Fourth World, his old partner, Joe Simon re-entered the fold and the initial result was the bizarre "Brother Power the Geek."  Issue #1 had a publication date of September/October 1968.  The Grand Comic Book Database describes the genre as "humor," but in my opinion, this book defies categorization.  Cover credits go to Joe Simon for pencils and inks as well as the script.  Interior art was accomplished by Al Bare, though the splash page lists Joe Simon as artist and writer.  Perhaps he did the splash itself as the Geek looks very similar to the cover depiction, i.e. more monster like than in the following pages.  Joe Orlando is our editor.

Chapter I is titled, "A Thing is Born," and the splash itself looks a little like a movie poster or television credits.  A text block says:  "The ages of man have been marked by miracles. Man himself is a miracle…as is life.  Man the miracle has been striving to create life for centuries.  In December of this year he created the spark of life.  It is a first baby step in man's challenge to the mighty forces of nature.  This story is about man and nature.  But mostly it is about the soul of man."

We then see our featured cast of characters, the first being a leather-clad biker with the unlikely name of Percy Chadwick Jr. as HOUND DAWG.  Nick Cranston as Paul and Paul Cymbalist as Nick and finally introducing Cindy as herself.

The next page shows a gathering of hippies who are abruptly invaded by a biker gang, who rough them up and then ride off.  The battered flower children make their way to an abandoned tailor shop where one of them remove their soaked and bloody clothes and place them over a dummy onto a radiator to dry.  While they sleep, a bolt of lightning strikes the radiator and therefore the dummy and soon the figure is animated.  Before the hippies can make sense of things, the bikers return for round two, but the dummy retaliates and runs the ruffians off.  Nick turns to "Brother Paul" and exclaims, "Brother Paul, that's power!  Brother Power!"  He then notes that it doesn't speak and he wonders if it's evil, good or just a geek.

Part Two is called "The Mind Blowers of P.S. 23," and Nick and Paul make it their mission to teach Brother Power how to speak and strum a guitar and soon he's enrolled at the local public school, but is embarrassed to be so different from the children, so he folds his rag-like body into a carrying case so he can attend incognito.  Taking a shine to science, he discovers he is electrically powered, but for how long?

Brother Power and Paul and Nick are later taking in the Psychedelic Circus Parade which is actually a front for the Mongrels, the motorcycle gang that continues to bedevil the hippies.  They abduct Brother Power and leave the hippies to ponder how to liberate their friend.

Soon they've literally taken on the appearance of the Spirit of '76, but with a tune of their own as they approach the Mongrels:  "Sock it to them babies, before they tune out our geekout!  Flex your muscles!  Bang up the Mongrels!  They're our hang-up!  Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea."

The Mongrels, as expected, clean house and deny that they've got Brother Power, so Nick and Paul go to the Psychedelic Circus to seek out their friend.  They locate him at the freak show and in the struggle to free him a spotlight lands in a puddle at the Geek's feet, jolting him with more power, allowing him to snap his chains and escape.

Back at the "pad," Cindy stitches up Brother Power and gives him a cleaner look.  He rejects the shiftless ways of his roommates and decides to run for Congress.

Meanwhile the disgruntled circus owners are out for revenge and they enlist the aid of the police, who begin a "Dragnet in Hippieland."  As Brother Power flees, he's soon being chased through a tunnel by the Mongrels.  At the other end of the tunnel a television camera man is recording the happenings for the evening news broadcast and catches Brother Power overcoming his assailant and taking the motorcycle to aid in his escape.  A short cameo by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley show the National Guard being called out to take in the Geek.  Soon Brother Power is surrounded by armed men on motorcycles and he's cornered on a suspension bridge.  He follows his only option, taking the bike over the edge and into the river.  His horrified and tearful companions look over the rail and mourn the apparently short life of their friend and his short-circuited potential.  The final text block states:  Is Brother Power dead?  Maybe, maybe not…  Will he lie forever at the bottom of the bay…to become part of the sludge…  And finally fade away?  Find out in the next swinging issue!  THE BITTER END."

Directly below the cliffhanger ending is an introduction and mini-biography of Joe Simon:

Meet Joe Simon

With this issue, Joe Simon returns to D.C. Comics after a long absence. "I knew they couldn't get along without me," he grinned with pride.  Regarded as "the Dean of Storytellers," this book marks his return to a field he helped create.  JOE SIMON was IN on the GROUND FLOOR of comics.  "I used to work in a BASEMENT," he insists.  To show you how far back Joe really goes, he proclaims that, "I was around when all these long-underwear super-heroes were wearing jockey shorts!"

Perennial comic book fans will remember Joe for the many super-heroes he created, among them CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE BOY COMMANDOS, MANHUNTER and THE FLY.  He also wrote the first full book on CAPTAIN MARVEL, establishing the format for one of the great episodes in the GOLDEN AGE OF COMICS.  "Then one day I shouted "SHAZAM!" and found myself turned into a sailor in WORLD WAR TWO," he recalls.

After that, Joe discovered YOUNG ROMANCE. "Not the real thing," he moans, "the publication."  This book was a huge financial success and created a new bonanza in comics, yet Joe had to give it up.  "I found I used to stop young girls on the street and give them advice."

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Joe started out by working for various daily newspapers as a sports-political cartoonist and feature writer.  This career ended when William Randolph Hearst started dissolving his newspaper empire.  As he closed one paper, Joe got shipped to another, then another, and so on.  "I would have held out," says Joe, "but Hearst ran out of newspapers."

It was then that Joe Simon discovered comics.  Here he could be creative and didn't have to live out of a suitcase. 

The rest is history.

A prodigious worker, Joe works from midnight to 4 A.M.  His daylight hours are occupied with a kennel of Great Danes, five young Simons and a wife who, incidentally, "never read a comic book," as Joe puts it, "Now you know why I have to work nights!"

In recent years, Joe's creative work has been sorely missed by comic book fans.  His hectic schedule today allows for only an occasional foray into the field.  At present he divides his time between being the editor of a humor magazine, producing advertising supplements for the New York Sunday Times, and art directing political campaigns.

As far as his political creations are concerned, Joe produced three comic books for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller when he was a big winner.  "I was hoping some of that 'winner' would rub off on me," he admits.

"I wanted to do another comic book, but there were enough of the traditional super heroes.  The hippie scene fascinated me.  I mean the peace movement, the love-your-neighbor, flower-power part, the student movement.  I felt this should be the background for a contemporary story.  The hero would have to be a version of the ultimate hippie," and so the GEEK was born.

This was one of the weirdest comics I've ever read in my life.  Beyond the fact that it was a flagrant attempt to tap into the psychedelic culture and that the main character was a take on the Frankenstein monster, but not a sinister being, it was random, confusing and just…bizarre.  I can't seem to come up with enough adjectives to make even an attempt to tell you what this thing was like and again, to call it a humor book sure doesn't seem accurate, but what would be accurate?  I haven't the faintest idea.

Someone, perhaps Carmine Infantino told me that Mort Weisinger hated the book and blackballed it.  I don't know the veracity of the story, but in any case it went only one more issue and it certainly desperately needed to be canceled.  This thing was a turkey with a capital T and despite the fact that the Geek has even been resurrected at least once in a horror genre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Power_the_Geek

I cannot find anything redeeming about the character or this book.  I rate it with a big fat goose egg.  Do not waste your time with the Geek.

You know, if I were ever fortunate enough to create a truly iconic character, like, say, Captain America, in the case of Joe Simon, I could be content with that legacy, not to mention the other characters he's been associated with over a long and successful career, but did you know that Joe also claims creation of Spider-Man?

If you visit his official website at www.simoncomics.com and click on "The World of Simon Comics" in the left hand column you'll see an excerpt where Joe describes his creation of "Spiderman" in 1953, which he later renamed "The Silver Spider."  I was going to cut and paste it in here, but Joe's webpage has a rather intimidating notation:

"We have many properties available for licensing. These are just a few. All our properties, including properties not displayed here are copyrighted by Joe Simon and/or Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and/or by other arrangement. We have renewed and continue to vigorously renew copyrights as well as maintain current copyrights. Any unauthorized publication, distribution or other use of our properties is a violation of the federal laws governing copyright and trademark protections."

Anyhow, Joe says that his story idea got to Jack Kirby and through Kirby to Stan Lee and therefore the concept was originally his.

Steve Ditko, of course, has something to say about the whole situation.  His new "Avenging Mind" book, which consists primarily of essays spends a lot of time explaining just what a creator is and is not and he makes no less than ten references to the 5 pages of penciled art by Kirby of the "failed S-M" idea by he (Kirby) and Stan Lee that has never seen publication.  In an earlier essay, Steve even illustrates the Jack Kirby Spider-Man concept. Note the holster on the Kirby concept hero which held the web gun.

The above can keep people arguing for ages all by themselves, but I recently discovered something in one of my Silver Age comics that puts an entirely new twist on the debate.  Anybody out there ever hear of Tarantula?  It was a new one on me, and see if you detect some interesting similarities between Tarantula and Joe Simon's Spiderman:

Fact File #1 December 1968

TARANTULA appeared in Star-Spangled Comics from issue No. 1 (October, 1941) through issue No. 19 (April, 1943).

Although the adventures of Tarantula appeared in only nineteen stories, all of which were eight pages in length, he nevertheless remains one of the most fondly remembered costumed crime-fighters of the Golden Age of Comics.  It is hard to explain exactly why Tarantula is so well remembered by the fans, because he certainly wasn't one of the major characters of the day.  Perhaps it is because the readers recognized a potential in the character that was never allowed to reach fruition for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the War-time paper shortage.  But idle speculation is not what this article is supposed to be about.  Rather than trying to guess what might have been, we're here to tell you what kind of comic strip character Tarantula was.

Tarantula's origin story, which appeared in Star-Spangled Comics No. 1, was written by Mort Weisinger (now editor of Superman), and the art was by Hal Sharpe, the artist who was to illustrate the majority of the Tarantula strips.  The origin tale's opening scene finds gang-leader Ace-Deuce and his criminal cohorts in the process of holding up a premiere-night theater crowd.  As the crooks are busily engaged in robbing both the cash receipts and the customers, a weirdly costumed character, descending from the ceiling on a thin silken strand, swoops down upon the felons.  After a short and furious battle, the costumed newcomer has all the criminals ensnared in silken webs he has created with the strange gun he carries at his side.  When the police arrive and start asking questions, the web-spinner rushes off without answering their queries, thereby leaving the police to wonder whether or not he is a crime-fighter, or merely a crook working for some rival criminal gang.

Once alone, the masked man dons the everyday garb of John Law, a writer of detective fiction.  Returning home, he is met by his housekeeper, Olga, who excitedly shouts, "Mr. Law!  You did it.  The news came over the radio.  "Spider-Man", the announcer said, and "Tarantula"—the name you picked yourself!"  Olga is the only other person to know that John Law is Tarantula.

After the initial outburst, Olga quiets down somewhat and asks if the mystery writer is finished playing games, and won't he get rid of that silly get-up now?  In answer, John Law explains that he feels strongly that something must be done to stem the ever-growing crime wave, and since he is always coming up with ingenious methods of crime-busting in his books anyway, why not put some of those ides to actual use!  He further explains how he was inspired by observing his pet tarantula to design his equipment after it.  (True, a tarantula is an offbeat kind of pet to keep, but then again, writers are an offbeat kind of people…And anyone who would set out to be a costumed do-gooder has just got to be a wee bit unusual to start with!)  The crime-writer created a web-gun that shoots a liquid silk which solidifies into a variable type of webbing once it is fired from the weapon.  He can use the equipment to quickly travel from place to place by swinging on its silken strands, or to weave webs in which he can trap his opponents.  He has also devised suction cup devices for his feet and gloves, which enable him to walk on walls and ceilings.  Once these inventions were perfected, he set out on his web-spinning, wall-crawling career.

His reflection is interrupted, however, when a radio-newsflash announces that Ace-Deuce and his gang have managed to escape from police custody, threatening to pull an especially spectacular theft.  The scene now switches to the hideout of Ace-Deuce, the next day, where the master criminal is plotting one last super-crime before leaving the city for good.  The plan is to steal the proceeds of a War Relief Party that is being held on the sixtieth floor of a skyscraper, but they will need the services of someone who can stall the elevators and allow them a clear get-away trail.  Ace orders one of his henchmen to get Rags O'Bannion to do the job, and that evening, the robbery gets under way.  However, Rags O'Bannion turns out to be Tarantula, in disguise.  Tarantula makes quick work of subduing the criminals and, following a wild roof-top battle, he manages to thwart Ace-Deuce's escape by autogiro (a forerunner of today's helicopters).

That, in essence, was Tarantula's first excursion into crime-busting.  Although there weren't very many more adventures in store for the spider-man, he did manage to combat and defeat an assortment of villains, including The Crime Candle, The Blade, and The Fly, in his short, but memorable career.  And memorable is the word for Tarantula!

We may never know the real story, Silver Age fans, but perhaps your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man ultimately started with an idea by Mort Weisinger two decades prior back in 1941.  I'm reminded of the words of the philosopher who said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

Okay, hopefully next time around things will be back in the groove with a better offering to review (couldn't hardly miss on that) and an interview for your reading pleasure.  Thanks for your interest, as always, and if you'd like to reach me, do not hesitate:  professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2008 by B.D.S.

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