Golden Age Showcase: Bozo the Iron Man

Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?

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I mean, I can understand why.  Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds.  The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society.  The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.

Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it.  In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.

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While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.

One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.

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Origin and Career

Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.

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While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.

He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,

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Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.

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The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.

The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot.  In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

The comic then goes through the standard motions.  The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped.  However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story.  Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.

Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.

So what happened?

Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo.  This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.

Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted.  They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.

The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.

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For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.

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Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.

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I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.

Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character.  Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret.  He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.

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Comic book company showcase: EC comics

Happy Halloween everyone!

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A while ago we did a write up of an old comic book publisher called Camera Comics and since that post did pretty well so we decided to do something similar.  Today we’re going to talk about a comic book publisher from the 1940’s, but this publisher isn’t obscure or unknown.  In fact, this publisher was one of the greatest comic book companies ever created, a company that pioneered the comic book as an art form, and one of the founding fathers of the horror comic.

Ladies and gentlemen: EC Comics.

Origin

The company was founded by a man named Maxwell Gaines.

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If you don’t know the name you definitely know his work.  Gaines actually helped pioneer the modern comic book in 1933 when he worked for a company called Eastern Color Printing and was struggling to come up with an advertising idea for one of his company’s clients.  He would up packaging newspaper comic strips into a magazine format with an included coupon from the client.

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In 1934 Gaines published a collection of stories called Famous Funnies through a company called Dell Comics.

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It was the first book of its kind to be distributed through newsstands and is widely considered to be the first American comic book.

Gaines would continue to publish original material and in 1938 he partnered with a man named Jack Liebowitz

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and began publishing material under the name All American Publications.

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Liebowitz just so happened to be a co owner of another comic book publisher named Harry Donenfeld, who owned a company called National Publications and agreed to fund All American Publications.  Gaines and Liebowitz would go on to publish little known characters such as

Wonder Woman

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Green Lantern

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and Hawkman

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In 1944 Donenfeld would buy All American Publications and merge it with National (and several other companies) to form a company called DC Comics.

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While many people would have probably have just taken the money and enjoyed the retired life secure in their legacy, Max Gaines wasn’t done by a long shot.

Gaines used the money from the sale to start his own company: Educational Comics.

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Gaines decided to not focus on superhero stories and published educational and historical stories instead.  Titles like Picture Stories from American History and Picture Stories from the Bible were going to be published and marketed to schools and churches.

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While it could have been a great direction for the company to go in, the plans were sadly derailed when Max Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947.

The company would be taken over by his son, William Gaines.

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William wanted to take the company in a new direction.  While he kept the Bible stories he decided to change the name to Entertaining Comics and publish non educational material.

The new EC Comics quickly gained a reputation as a publisher of high quality comic books. Among their many innovations was a letter section in the back of a comic book where artists could communicate with their fans.  This was a first in the publishing industry and would go on to become a staple of comic books.

Another thing that EC did was adopt the novel idea that their artist SHOULDN’T be treated like complete and total garbage.  This may seem like a strange thing to bring up but you have to remember that a lot of early comic book publishers didn’t pay their artists very well and didn’t give them the credit they deserve.  EC was unique in that it paid their artists well and encouraged them to develop their own styles and techniques.

This paid off big time.  EC Comics attracted some fantastic artists for their stories about more mature subject matter such as crime,

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war,

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and science fiction.

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But by far their biggest sellers were their horror titles such as The Vault of Horror

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The Haunt of Fear,

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and most infamously, Tales from the Crypt.

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These weren’t your average comic book story.  More often than not they would feature tales of wicked people suffering gruesome and ironic fates which were narrated by macabre individuals such as the Crypt Keeper.

Times were good and in the late 1940’s EC comics became known for its fantastic art and lurid storytelling.

So what happened?

In a perfect world EC Comics would have gone on to become one of the greatest and most popular comic book companies in the world and would have helped to advance the medium of comic books into a legitimate art form.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and in 1954 a German psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that comic books were corrupting the minds of American children.

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The backlash grew so strong that there was a Congressional hearing to investigate the rise of juvenile delinquency in America and the comic book industry suffered.

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In response, the industry leaders banded together and created the Comics Code Authority.  It was a regulatory body that established certain guidelines for what could be published and distributed to children.  A company could still create any comic they wanted, but if they wanted to get it distributed they had to submit it to the Comics Code for approval and get a stamp if they wanted to see their book sold to make a profit.

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The Code decimated the industry and EC comics was hit especially hard since you were no longer allowed to publish comics with words like “horror”, “crime”, or “terror”.  You can read the full list of limitations here.

Despite poor sales and a decimated title library, EC Comics did manage to survive.  Despite the fact they couldn’t publish any of their old comics they had a small title simply titled Mad.

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Gaines decided to publish the title as a magazine, thus avoiding the Comics Code, and the new Mad Magazine continued to sell well and is still around today.

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Gaines would sell EC Comics to the Kinney Parking Company in the early 1960’s.  The history of that deal is way to complicated for this article but long story short, EC Comics would eventually be owned by the same company would later own DC Comics and Warner Communications.

William Gaines would die in 1992 and despite all the terrible things that happened to the company that he and his father built, the one thing that is ensured is their legacy and great comic book creators.  Even though they had been decimated by the backlash against comic books in the 1950’s EC comics still had a fantastic reputation among fans and creators alike.

In the 1970’s Tales from the Crypt was licensed as a horror movie.

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The movie followed the anthology style of the comic books and was a big enough hit to spawn another movie based off of the EC Comics title The Vault of Horror.

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In the 1980’s there were two movies titled Creepshow and Creepshow 2.  Both of them followed the EC horror comics format, both of them were influenced by EC Comic stories, and featured scripts written by Stephen King and George Romero.

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In the 1990’s HBO would take Tales from the Crypt and turn it into a long running horror anthology series that lasted for ten years.

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The legacy of EC Comics would be ensured, but if you’re interested in reading the original work then have no fear, reprints are here.  While many publishers have made a killing off of reprinting these fantastic stories they are currently being republished by Fantagraphics Books.

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In a world where superheroes dominated the comic book landscape EC comics dared to be different.  To this day they are well known for their fantastic art work and exceptional storytelling abilities.  They were the founders of the modern horror comic and deserve a place as one of the greatest, and most chilling, comic book publishers out there.

Happy Halloween everyone, sleep well.

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