Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
Fox on the run

Fox on the run

Late 1968 must have been a scary time at DC.

Since the Golden Age, they’d been top dog in comic books. Now Marvel was making steady gains and the massive boost in sales from the Batman TV show had gone away. I’ve read that when their new corporate parent discovered DC Comics didn’t have a license to print money, they were most unhappy.

And then some of DC’s writers had the temerity to ask DC to show them a better reward for their labors. Instead, DC showed Gardner Fox, John Broome and Arnold Drake the door, along with editor George Kashdan. I’ve read the writers wanted better benefits, or were thinking of unionizing. Writer Mike Friedrich, quoted here, says Fox was cut loose for turning in sub-par material. The Fox biography Forgotten All-Star says he wasn’t fired, he was reassigned from his friend and long-time editor Julius Schwartz to the notoriously bullying Mort Weisinger. Fox decided that made it a good time to quit.

Fox did, however, go out on a win, the fifth Justice League/Justice Society crossover. Part one was the Fox/Dick Dillin story “Stormy Return of the Red Tornado.” In the opening pages, Red Tornado, legendary Golden Age hero bursts in on a JSA meeting β€” except as you’re probably all aware, he looks nothing like the original Red Tornado.

That cool cover hooked me, particularly as I’d heard of Ma Hunkel, AKA the original Red Tornado. DC had begun running text pages in their comics in addition to the letter columns: details on how comics are made, articles about famous heroes of the Golden Age. One such listed the entire JSA membership including Ma Hunkel, though she’d never done more than make a cameo at one meeting. That makes it a retcon that to prove he’s the real deal, Red Tornado shows he knows the team’s identities and origins, something I doubt they ever told the original.

Furthering the mystery, under his red mask, Red Tornado has a blank face. The JSA are puzzled, and a little suspicious when a gang of high-tech, blank-faced criminals pull off a museum robbery. Even so they allow Reddy to come along, which proves a disastrous mistake. Whichever of the five JSA members involved Reddy works with, somehow things go wrong and they die. Even though I knew they couldn’t be really dead, it was unsettling.

Finally we learn what’s going on: Thomas Oscar Morrow, an old foe of Earth-One’s Green Lantern and Flash, transferred himself to Earth-Two when he apparently died in Flash #143. In that story he’d found a way to spy on the future; if he saw someone constructing a super-weapon or the like, he copied it. Now he’s reached the point he can simply steal the tech, including an infallible computer that mapped out his entire crime campaign for him. He knew creating a Red Tornado android would get the JSA members killed; using Reddy again as his unwitting dupe, Morrow kills the android and the rest of the team. Next up, the JLA, for the infallible computer has assured him the only way he can fail is if Red Tornado stops him.

Even though deaths from his futuristic energy are easy to reverse, Morrow figures there’s nobody left who knows that. He successfully wipes out the Justice League in #65, “T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League … Today!”

Now itching for an even bigger bit of villainy, he decides to trigger an Earth-One/Earth-Two war β€” after all, nothing can stop him, right?

You will be shocked β€” shocked! β€” that Red Tornado has survived. He manages to revive a few of the JLA by hand-wave methods (read the link to Attack of the 50 Year Old Comics, above, for details), then they go after Morrow. The villain goes down, then Reddy revives everyone back on Earth-Two. The JSA want him to become a member; he wants more.

At the time I found this incredibly moving. I was a lonely kid at 10 years old, lonelier than I was aware of (loneliness was normal, I had no reason to think there was a different way to exist) β€” much as I wanted to be Beast Boy more than I admitted to myself. I would have paid for a Red Tornado series without hesitation. It still works all these years later. I didn’t read the Vision’s near-simultaneous debut at Marvel but even though it’s a good story, it’s never affected me the same way.
As I read letter columns, I must have seen the announcement that Denny O’Neil would be taking over as writer with #66. I don’t recall any strong feeling about it; I’m sure I assumed the style and tone of the stories would continue unchanged. Boy was I wrong.

Let me state up front I’m not a Denny O’Neil fan. No question he’s done some great work β€” I loved his Bronze Age Shadow series, for instance β€” but most of his stories feel like the product of a second-rate hack. In #66, “Divided β€” They Fall” (Dillin art again) I will give him points for trying some characterization but it’s bad characterization.The point here is that the ground-level heroes β€” Green Arrow, Batman, Atom β€” want the League to investigate a stolen invention. The high-and-mighty big guns think it’s too picayune to bother with.

Um, no. The big guns do stuff like that all the fricking time. Hell, the League helps out with this kind of “bush-league” case all the time, most recently in #57.And the Leaguers know perfectly well that “scientist says his new invention was stolen” is a big red flag that they need to investigate. As in this case: General Demmy Gog, cast out of the small nation of Offalia (agents from Offalia also turn up inΒ Beware the Creeper #4, also by O’Neil) has stolen the machine to use its confidence-enhancing powers on himself and his six-man army, while stripping the confidence of his foes.

This is a workable plot but O’Neil writes as if he were pitting Gog against Super-Hip or Plastic Man in one of DC’s comedy books. It’s way out of place here, though not as bad as the campy bits in Green Lantern #66, where GL does stand-up!

Clearly Denny O’Neil will never turn in a good Green Lantern story, better take him off the book forever.

while Fox showed Wonder Woman as the woman in charge of cleaning up the JLA Secret Sanctuary, it’s a shame a younger writer like O’Neil made it look even more sexist. In fairness, lots of younger writers had that problem.

You’ll be happy to know that according to Forgotten All-Star, Fox didn’t suffer after his retirement. He wrote some work for Marvel though he didn’t click with the Marvel method, then went on to more success writing paperback science fiction and fantasy novels. Plus at least some adventures of Eve Drum, the Lady from L.U.S.T. such as the one here.

Gardner Fox shaped the style of JLA adventures, to say nothing of his work on Hawkman, Atom, Justice Society, Adam Strange, the Star Rovers, Batman and β€” well, take a look. Probably more than any other writer, he defined the Silver Age for me as a kid, and still to a large extent now.

That said, while I think he was treated shabbily at the end, I’m not as sorry about the changeover to new writers in itself. Sixty-five issues of Justice League of America gives me more than enough Fox-written stories to read and reread; I’m happy to see other writers take up the mantle.

Well, some other writers. As in, not O’Neil. But what can I say, you do a reread with the Silver Age you’ve got, not the one you wish you had.

#SFWApro. JLA #66 cover by Neal Adams, #57 by Carmine Infantino, all other JLA art by Dillin. Green Lantern by Mike Sekowsky.






  1. Nice to see you getting around to this after we conversed in a previous post’s comments about the “great DC cull following some writers asking for benefits” saga.
    Didn’t know about the Mike Friedrich quotes nor that Gardner Fox had a biography.
    I’m glad Fox found his feet (I was aware he had a sci fi career) and for someone who was at the dawn of the Golden Age, eg “Batman vs those vampires” from that classic early Detective Comics issue, I hope he’d put enough money aside to have a comfortable later life.
    Fox had the same sci fi novels/fandom background as contemporaries Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger so I’d imagined he would do OK for himself not being solely reliant on comics income unlike, say, the unfortunate Dave Cockrum.

    1. His books are enjoyable β€” I’ve read a few. And yes, apparently he did well in his later years. He was planning a Hawkman miniseries as a comeback when he died β€” it’s what later became Hawkworld.

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