Friday, November 15

Kings of the Comic Books (2013)

By Martin O'Hearn [Kindle Edition link]

We all know the story of the two Jewish boys who created, for all intents and purposes, the American pop cultural phenomenon of the comic-book super-hero, right...?  – Who had trouble finding a publisher for their creation but who believed in it themselves and persisted over several years until they finally succeeded...?  – But who, young and naïve, yes, but necessarily bowing to what was standard business practice in the nascent industry at the time, the late 1930s, signed away all their rights to their own creation with that first sale for a mere pittance...?  … Well, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster do indeed appear in this charming, well-researched, and well-written little book about the origins of the genre, along with many other famous names of that heroic age in which comic books literally exploded into late-Depression-era America standing on the cusp of the Second World War, but they are not the main characters.  They serve instead as the general models for O'Hearn's own self-styled “Kings of the Comic Books,” two high school boys in New York City – Steve Hersh and Curly Goldman – and Superman is a close enough archetype for their own creation, Sam Stark, Super Sleuth, that although they had created him before April 1938, DC Comics' Harry Donenfield was able to interdict publication and kill the feature.  In that, of course, O'Hearn bleeds in the famous case of Victor Fox's Wonder Man [link], the first and most blatant outright imitation of Superman, who hit the stands for a single issue in 1939 (ironically, the same month as DC's own Detective Comics #27 featuring the first appearance of Batman).  And from that mix of general models, plus a generous helping of period flavor and sensitively written characterization, O’Hearn creates a tale capturing perfectly what I imagine life at the birth of the Golden Age to have been like.  As I stated in my short review [link], “This is a must-read for any fan of the comic book genre.”

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!
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Note:  O’Hearn also runs a wonderful blog [link] wherein he seeks to identify the writers and artists of the Golden and Silver Ages when most went uncredited in the published stories themselves, a task that requires a considerably more discerning eye for subtle distinctions in style than I myself possess.  It’s an amazing accomplishment.  – The Prof

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