When DC shifted Julie Schwartz from Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space to Batman and Detective Comics, former Bat-editor Jack Schiff took over Schwartz’s science fiction comics. Just as Schiff had once added science fiction to Batman’s stories, now he added superheroes to the two SF books.
It made perfect sense, after all. He’d introduced Prince Ra-Man and the supervillain Eclipso into House of Secrets, though that didn’t save the book. He had slightly more success adding Robby “Dial H for Hero” Reed into House of Mystery. Although Adam Strange lingered painfully on in Schiff’s Mystery In Space, Schiff added the more superheroic Space Ranger, then ditched them both for Ultra the Multi-Alien. Over in Strange Adventures he made comics history with #166 when he introduced Cliff Battles, the Split Man.
Kidding; Cliff is about as obscure a footnote as you can get. He was an explorer who receives a magic belt from an old native whose life he saved (indigenous people handing nice white people their sacred talismans or appointing them tribal protectors happened a lot in those days). The belt let him split in two, but if he stayed split after sunset it was curtains for Mr. Battles. After he merges his two selves right before the fatal moment, the story ended with a promise more adventures …but none were forthcoming.Around a year later, in #177, we met Immortal Man. Unlike Split Man we didn’t get any promise of further adventures but they happened anyway. In #180, a hunter named Buddy took the first steps to becoming Animal Man though as I noted before, it looks like a typical one-shot standalone story from Schiff’s creative staff.In #187 Schiff gave the book one final hero when he introduced that “switcheroo witcheroo,” the Enchantress. Unlike Animal Man and Immortal Man, she never got a full cover, just a banner under the go-go checks.I’m guessing that all three sold better than Split Man but not enough to justify making them a steady feature. Instead we got semiregular appearances from all of them until their collective swan songs in 1967. Immortal Man said goodbye in #198.The Enchantress had her farewell to comics in #200, which also gave us the iconic cover image of a man whose head has turned into a comet. Seriously, have any of us not seen that endlessly memed and swiped in the years since? Or was all that in my head? Damn, I need help.Then came #201 in which Animal Man has his final battle, facing off against “The Mod Gorilla Boss.”It’s the only time A-Man faced a genuine supervillain, a criminal scientist whose chemical potion turns him into a talking gorilla. That doesn’t explain the mod suits but hey, maybe the crook enjoyed hip fashion. And you know how the old joke goes: “What does a 500-pound gorilla wear? Anything he wants.”
Like Animal Man’s previous story, this shows Buddy uses his head when he uses his powers. He’s developed a repertoire of animal calls to lure beasts close when he needs to duplicate their abilities. When locked up by the gorilla boss he imitates a frightened calf, attracting a bull so that he can draw on its bovine strength and ram his way out.
Then, astonishingly, we got one last appearance by the Split Man in #203, Schiff’s last issue before he retired. Makes me wonder if Schiff had the story ready to go when he got sales figures on #166 and just stuffed it into a file cabinet. Or maybe he liked the character and wanted to give him one more shot. Either way, Schiff’s Strange Adventures was done with that issue. New editor Jack Miller would launch a much more successful series character, a ghostly acrobat by the name of Boston Brand, AKA Deadman.At least, that’s how it looked in 1967. In hindsight, Schiff’s creations did better than I would ever have guessed (if I thought about such things as a kid). Animal Man has had three series; the Enchantress was a long-running member of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, even making it to the first movie; Immortal Man has popped up repeatedly over the years. It proves my point yet again that characters who don’t look like stars can still turn out highly successful in the right hands.
But maybe not Split Man.
#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Dick Dillin, Bernard Bailey, Carmine Infantino, Jack Sparling, then Infantino on down.