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Friday in the Mountains of Madness

Much has been written, some of it even here on this weblog, on the long-standing enmity between Harlan Ellison and Gary Groth. I’m not interested in getting into all that stuff… if you really want to read about it, there’s a nice bipartisan index of the various articles taking one side or the other, put together by Christopher Day, that you can find here — personally, I found the Gauntlet article pretty compelling reading, in a can’t-look-away-from-the-trainwreck kind of way. Seriously, no one comes out of it looking good and I had the vague feeling afterwards that I never wanted to have anything to do with fan communities again. It’s THAT embarrassing. Although your mileage may vary.

But, as I said, today’s column isn’t about that. I got to wondering — how many of you remember the “insanity” that provoked the whole thing, years ago? Because I do. It led me to a lot of really cool comics, in fact. That initial characterization, “a really twisted writer,” was what got me interested in this particular creator. I was curious what would prompt a comment like that from Harlan Ellison, who was, after all, the author of several fairly twisted stories himself — I’d read “Catman” and “A Boy And His Dog,” so I doubted he’d throw around adjectives like “twisted” lightly — and Michael Fleisher certainly lived up to the billing. At least at first glance. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to characterize his books as ‘the product of a twisted sensibility,’ as Harlan Ellison did… but they definitely were different than the usual DC fare.

Whatever their rep might have been in the industry, *I* thought these books were cool.

Back in 1980, I actually was a little surprised to find out that Michael Fleisher even wrote comics, to be honest. I’d thought of him as a historian: the guy that wrote the magnificent Batman Encyclopedia that no Bat-fan should be without.

This is actually coming back into print, I think.

This was actually just Volume One. The plan was to do an 8-volume set. Volume 1 covered Batman; Volume 2 was Wonder Woman; Volume 3 would be Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and The Spirit; Volume 4 was Green Lantern; Volume 5 was the Flash; Volume 6 was Superman; Volume 7 was designated for Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch; and Volume 8 would have been Dr. Fate, Hawkman, Starman and the Spectre.

The Batman and Wonder Woman volumes were published in 1976, and the Superman volume was published in 1978, finally greenlit because of the Christopher Reeve movie — it was released as The Great Superman Book, and there was nothing on the cover suggesting it was one volume of a much larger set.

I was amazed then, and am still mildly amazed today, that ANY of them got released — from a major book publisher!– because these were seriously nerdy books. And I mean SERIOUSLY nerdy. Today if you had a project like this, maybe a small-press specialty outfit like TwoMorrows might look at it — but these were big, mainstream books. I have no idea how they did, but I suspect the encyclopedia format might have hurt them, sales-wise — they looked like big coffee-table paperbacks, and they were profusely illustrated, but they were definitely reference books, very didactic and schoolmasterly. Probably the first time superheroes got that kind of treatment in print. At any rate, being a huge nerd myself, I adored them. (I gather DC’s bringing them back into print, at least the DC-related ones. More power to them.)

So it wasn’t until reading the infamous Ellison interview in The Comics Journal #53 — yeah, bought it off the stands, I’m THAT old — that I had any inkling Michael Fleisher was also writing horror comics. Pretty bad-ass ones too, from the sound of it.

DC does EC.

I was never all that into the Spectre as a character. I’d seen the rather uninspiring Murphy Anderson version…

Cosmic Spectre. Not my thing.

Note that something that should be an incredible, apocalyptic moment looks like nothing so much as the Spectre being attacked by a Mexican wrestler with a beachball. (Murphy Anderson is a favorite of mine, but this was emphatically not the strip for him.) And I somehow missed the Neal Adams issues. I sort of knew who the Spectre was from JLA-JSA crossovers, but I never read an actual Spectre story until I came across the one reprinted in Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. I thought it was kind of interesting and cool, in a quaint sort of way — I was a big Dr. Strange guy and I’ve always had a soft spot for occult heroes. But that reprint made a much bigger impression on someone else: Michael Fleisher.

Golden Age Spectre was pretty bad-assed, too.

Fleisher was taken with the brutal, Old Testament feel of the strip; he said that what really stuck with him was a scene where the crook looked into the Spectre’s eyes and “saw only death” there, and died himself on the spot. (The original Spectre strip was created by Jerry Siegel, whose early Superman work clearly also often falls under the heading of vengeance fantasies.) And Fleisher responded to the bleak outlook of the hero… the Spectre is “doomed to haunt crime,” superheroing’s a curse for him.

So when Fleisher got a gig at DC, he hatched a scheme with Joe Orlando to revive that version of the Spectre. No more of this Julius Schwartz “Discarnate Detective” crap — THIS Spectre was going to be the weapon of an angry God.

I would have bought this just for the art, honestly. But I didn't find them till college.

The art was from Jim Aparo, who did some of the best work of his career. Creepy, atmospheric, flawlessly designed yet looking very organic and raw, it came across as the perfect complement to Fleisher’s elemental, passionate scripts.

These stories are generally described as ‘controversial,’ when historians refer to them. Personally, I just thought they were cool.

Instead of suing, Fleisher probably should have THANKED Ellison and Fantagraphics.

Here’s the thing. Michael Fleisher was a scholar of comics, a Golden Age authority, an aficionado of horror and of horror comics… but he really wasn’t a fan. At least not in the sense we mean when we use the word. He hadn’t come up through the ranks, he hadn’t started as a letter-column regular or been on the convention circuit and, most especially, after he broke in as a writer, he had no interest in continuity or in interacting with the larger DCU. And in a climate where the biggest things happening in superhero comics were the innovative cosmic epics over at Marvel and the faux-historical tapestry guys like Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were weaving from what began as throwaway, junk culture, Fleisher was coming from a whole other place.

Specifically, he was doing EC horror stories that happened to star a DC superhero. Bad guys gleefully reveling in their badness, until the Spectre shows up to mete out hideously appropriate justice. Add the fact that the series was edited by Joe Orlando, an old EC hand himself who delighted in pushing the Comics Code right to the edge, and you got what many people found to be a weirdly disturbing series of stories.

Hey kids, guess what the selling point was for THIS story? Hint -- it wasn't the subtle examination of the human condition.

Fleisher and Orlando could claim innocently that the Spectre hadn’t REALLY hacked a woman to bits with a meat cleaver, it was just a mannequin animated by an evil sorcerer… or that, hey, the Spectre turned the guy into a wooden log before backing him into a buzzsaw, who could object to sawing wood? But the horror — and, let’s be honest, the real power of the image — comes from the fact that these WERE people and the Spectre was killing them without remorse. Not just unrepentantly but actually — well not gleefully, exactly, but with imagination, and a certain black satisfaction. No wonder the DC faithful were appalled. Their beloved Discarnate Detective had become the Disemboweling Dynamo.

The trouble with the EC horror formula of bad people coming to a bad end, though, is that it IS a formula. Fleisher realized this early on and took steps to try and work out of it, and that’s when the strip really gets interesting.

I loved this particular story. It was the one where Fleisher finally went beyond the EC formula.

Remember, the Spectre isn’t fighting for a cause. He didn’t volunteer. He’s a crimefighter because he’s damned to be one. Fleisher took that concept and ran with it, it became part of the horror of the strip. Jim Corrigan fell in love with a woman named Gwen Sterling, who was devastated to learn that the man she loved was, well, dead. Eventually Corrigan petitioned the Voice that created the Spectre to let him off the hook, hadn’t he earned the chance to live again? The Voice agreed, and Jim and Gwen got engaged… and then Corrigan was murdered AGAIN by thugs, and understood that being the Spectre would forever be his destiny. And that ended the series. Next issue, Aquaman was headlining the book.

Fandom breathed a sigh of relief. Personally, when I found the stories in a used-book shop in 1981, I found them extraordinarily compelling, and thought it was a pity the series had been such a short-run thing.

As it happens, there were a few more stories that never saw print. Eventually, after the Ellison lawsuit brouhaha and the attendant publicity, DC had Jim Aparo illustrate those scripts as well and put them in the final issue of Wrath of the Spectre, a 1988 miniseries that had previously reprinted the original run.

And these would have taken the series in a more Marvel-style direction, if it hadn't been canceled.

These were interesting in that they picked up a previous subplot, about a reporter who’d been convinced that there was some sort of common supernatural thread behind the unusually nasty deaths that had recently befallen so many criminals. Eventually he discovers the existence of the Spectre — though, of course, his editor doesn’t believe him — and in the final story of the series he stumbles on to the connection between the Spectre and Jim Corrigan’s former fiancee Gwendolyn Sterling. And then it really was over, but you could see that Fleisher had worked out a solution to the problem of a premise that was too formulaic — he made the continuing characters and their emotional issues so interesting that it doesn’t matter if the basic plot’s always the same. Call it the House M.D. solution.

But that was years later. In 1981, I’d just had a brief glimpse of Michael Fleisher bringing his A-game with the Spectre. Shortly thereafter, I came across a lengthy Journal interview with Fleisher where he talked about not only his approach to the Spectre, but also what he had been trying to do on Jonah Hex and Ghost Rider. That got me interested enough to look into those series as well — and it was Jonah Hex that made me a Fleisher fan.

Whether you like Hex or not, you can’t help but respect the accomplishment. Fleisher took a genre that no one else could make work at the time — every other Western book on the stands had sputtered out by the mid-70′s — and he actually built a following. Throughout the 70′s, Jonah Hex was flourishing.

Fleisher worked out an intricate biography for Jonah Hex.

And it was all Fleisher. He created an intricate biography for Jonah Hex, he put him through all kinds of horrors, he turned the genre Western on its ear. It was a tour de force. (It’s criminal that DC isn’t rushing the next Hex Showcase volume into print. All the other leadoff hitters in that series are up to volume two now — and if they get around to volume two of Hex, it’s when you’ll really start to see the good stuff. I’d be on board for the Showcase set of the entire run, if DC would ever get off the damn dime.)

Jonah Hex ready to kill a shitload of people. This was, accoding to Fleisher, Hex's inevitable destiny.

The wonderful thing about Fleisher’s Jonah Hex was that it was, like the Spectre, variations on a damnation theme — but here, he really found his voice. And it was a lot easier to ring changes on the idea of an old West bounty hunter doomed to live by the gun than it was to do it for an avenging omnipotent ghost. Fleisher did all kinds of things with Hex — showed us his youth, showed us his life and loves… but always with the shadow of violence, inevitable and relentless, dragging Jonah Hex back to the gunfighter’s life.

Poor Jonah just can't catch a break.

This was decades before Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but it was that same bleak outlook, leavened with dark humor. But it was when Michael Fleisher actually dared to kill off Jonah Hex — for real, not a hoax or a dream or a parallel universe story — that we found out that there was absolutely nothing off-limits.

Despite -- or because of -- its weirdly morbid ending  for Hex, this is an AWESOME book.

From the cover you’d have no idea it was anything other than a regular Jonah Hex adventure, but it ended up being the wildest one ever. It was an amazing story. Jonah, in his sixties, discovers there’s really no place for him in the burgeoning industrial America of the early 1900′s. And then he’s gunned down… and stuffed and mounted and put on display in a traveling Wild West show.

Even as a stuffed dummy, Hex was still deadly.

It was at once outrageous and ironic and creepy and completely out and away from what anybody else was doing at DC or Marvel. And it put a lot of fans off, though I thought then and still think today that it was a great story.

But as I said before, Michael Fleisher was not the kind of writer that came from the comics-fan point of view… or, in my opinion, ever even understood it. He tripped over this a couple of times — particularly when he was promoting his novel.

The book may be brilliant, I don't know... but the ad sure is creepy.

Chasing Hairy is a deeply harrowing book — mining the same vein of psychological horror and Grand Guignol bloodshed as Thomas Harris would do years later with Hannibal Lecter, but Fleisher does it with more sex. I put the ad up so you all could see how ODD it was, and what a remarkable misreading it is of what might entice the typical comics-reading demographic of the time. (One writer sniffed, “I wrote comics for Disney. Maybe I should write a book called Lesbian Cheerleaders in Bondage and have Daisy Duck advertise it.”) I wonder to this day how the hell DC and Marvel let this ad pass.

However, in prose or in comics, as far as I’m concerned, Fleisher never really matched what he did with Jonah Hex. I daresay he’d have gone on and done it for another ten years, easy, but his publisher pulled the rug out from under him. In their insane need to tie everything to the Crisis, DC canceled the book in 1985, and then put out a revamped version called Hex, where a time-displaced Jonah must fight across a dystopian future world.

There aren't emphatic enough words in the universe to convey the awfulness of this idea.

This is in my opinion the single dumbest revamp/reboot anyone’s ever done for a series in mainstream comics. Jonah Hex in the old West was unique. Jonah Hex shooting at monsters with rayguns is — apart from being DUMB — indistinguishable from dozens of other 80′s books. As loyal a reader as I was, even I couldn’t stomach the revamped Hex, and apparently no one else could either.

As much as I loved Hex, Fleisher's Conan was... well, it just felt wrong.

Fleisher went on to do a few other books — he had a fairly long run on the Conan books that was okay, but nothing great. A couple of other short-lived series, Haywire, Dungeons & Dragons, and a bunch of stuff for 2000 A.D. All of the later work feels vaguely perfunctory somehow, adventures by-the-numbers — nothing that has the passion and commitment Fleisher brought to the Spectre or Hex. You get the sense that losing the lawsuit with Ellison and the Journal irreparably damaged Fleisher’s approach to doing comics, though this is sheerest speculation on my part. Nevertheless, the memorable character moments are gone from Fleisher’s later stuff on Conan and Warlord, and whatever macabre plot twists show up seem almost for show — as though Fleisher felt obligated to “do a Michael Fleisher.” And as far as I know, he left comics entirely in the 90′s.

The saddest thing is that the whole lawsuit episode was so stupid and unnecessary, and so was everything that followed; all the feuding and bad feeling spiraling out of that one moment. It’s grotesque that so many people have ended up damaged and in some cases, even had their livelihoods threatened twenty-seven years later… as a result of one hyperbolic moment when Harlan Ellison said Michael Fleisher was ‘clearly twisted.’ Especially since, if anything, instead of libeling Fleisher, Ellison and the Journal probably sold way more comics for him than he’d ever have managed just on word-of-mouth in those pre-internet days.

Certainly, they sold them to me, and I can’t have been the only one that ended up a fan of Fleisher’s Jonah Hex as a result of Harlan Ellison’s comment. I’d bet a year’s pay against a jelly doughnut that DC never would have reprinted those Spectre stories without Ellison and the Comics Journal talking about them, let alone had Jim Aparo come back and finish those unpublished Fleisher Spectre scripts. Michael Fleisher might have done better to give Ellison and Groth a thank-you note instead of suing them for two million dollars.

But that’s comics for you. Crazy business.

See you next week.

40 Comments

“Today if you had a project like this, maybe a small-press specialty outfit like TwoMorrows might look at it — but these were big, mainstream books. I have no idea how they did, but I suspect the encyclopedia format might have hurt them, sales-wise ”

I’m not so sure about that. I have a book, “The Dictionary Of Imaginary Places” published by Harcourt Brace; 900 pages or so of multi-paragraph entries about places from fiction and legend, some well known and many not. Lovecraft, Oz, Dunsany, Erewhon, etc. Quite a few entries are accompanied by black & white maps.

Comics are probably a more respected genre than they were in the 70s. (Or, at least, comic buyers’ money is more respected.) Certainly they have a greater fandom than many of the source texts for the Imaginary Places book.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

April 21, 2007 at 1:34 am

Were there Fleisher stories in the first Jonah Hex showcase?

I can’t remember if it was him or Robert Kanigher on his way out, but there was an arc spread over a few issues (a 70′s style arc where it was a normal story, but on the last page you saw it tied in) with a villain from Hex’s past (his friends father), and I remember not liking that as much as the earlier stuff.

Was it Fleisher who also wrote in the hooker who knew Jonah previously, and was sweet on him?
I didn’t like that too much either, as it diminished the impact of him being such terrible person that you’d never want to meet him.
Even in Hellblazer they’ve gone to great lengths to explain why Chas still hangs around with John, as it’s against any conventional wisdom.

Someone needs to compile all the primary sources they can find for this… thing.

Like, say, the Charles Platt piece on the Larry Shaw tribute. What did it say? The “Peter David” letter and the reply. Etc.

This is basically the queen mother of all Fandom Wanks. We need documentation.

Pedro Bouça

April 21, 2007 at 4:10 am

Michael Fleischer wrote the last few stories on that Hex showcase.

But the best of hs stories are on the regular Hex series. THOSE are the ones that need to be reprinted!

The “Death of Jonah Hex” story is also a classic. No other comic ever got me as depressed as that one. Seriously!

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

April 21, 2007 at 4:47 am

Michael Fleischer wrote the last few stories on that Hex showcase.

I don’t have a copy near me, but did he dolllow straight on from Robert Kanigher, or was there someone else inbetween?

another excellent piece, Greg!

like you, i was introduced to Fleisher via his lovingly rigorous encyclopedias (The Great Superman Book was my first – quite a head-scratcher for a six year-old!) before i discovered Jonah Hex in the 80s and was astounded to find that i could give a damn about a cowboy comic in the age of mutants and Titans!

one thing, though… was Jonah Hex’s book killed and rebooted due to the Crisis? i can’t quite remember, but i *think* i remember reading somewhere (a Meanwhile… column perhaps?) that the book was about to be cancelled due to low sales and Fleisher just happened to have been working on a completely unrelated pitch about a man who is transported to a Mad Max-like future wasteland.

apparently, someone in editorial really wanted to save the Jonah Hex character (if not the series) and suggested that Fleisher cross-plant Jonah into the “futuristic western.”

looking back on it now, i wince in embarrassment just thinking about it… but i actually liked Hex quite a bit at the time. it was the 80s, man! (i need to re-read the series to see how it holds up today, though…)

That Hex! series seems to be a need to cash in on the Mad Max craze, not to tie into Crisis, but I could be wrong.

As someone who was buying those Adventure Spectres off the rack, and who was blown away by them at the beginning, I guess I should offer the opinion (shared by more than a few, I’d imagine) that after the first three or four issues the stories had become a bit formulaic and stale, with cardboard villians being set up for their grisly demises strictly by the numbers. Which is why I think the series got knocked in the head; it was difficult to sustain that at-first-fresh idea behind the revival. That said, that series finale you mentioned was a good way to wind up the run…I recall being happy that Fleisher finally did something different.

I especially loved the art by Aparo on those early issues; it was before his inkline became thick and flat and his facility had begun to fade. You can see the difference in the cover of Adventure 433 and those Wrath of…s that you posted. I wish you had posted more of the former than the latter, even though that Wrath of… #3 cover is nicely done for JA at that time.

I used to have that Jonah Hex Spectacular, but stupidly let it go when I sold most of my original collection back in 1987…I’ve been looking for an affordable good condition copy ever since, with no luck. And now that you’ve cast a spotlight on it, it’s going to be even harder, damn it! I still remember reading that one for the first time; I wasn’t a regular Hex reader, nor was I a fan of the character- I bought it because Bat Lash was in that issue, and because the great Russ Heath drew that Hex tale. I think my mouth hung open for a few minutes after I finished it, because I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that DC allowed someone to show their character get backshot, then stuffed and mounted and put on display in a sideshow! And that last little bit of black humor in the panels that you posted above was a surprise as well…but overall it was such a downbeat and depressing tale, and all the more memorable for it.

I don’t have a copy near me, but did he follow straight on from Robert Kanigher, or was there someone else in between?

John Albano wrote 10 of the first 11 issues in the Showcase (with an Arnold Drake story in the middle). The subsequent 12 issues are all Fleischer.

There are no Robert Kanigher Hex stories in the Showcase, although he did write four of the “Outlaw” stories.

OK, if brackets aren’t the way to do it (seeing as how that didn’t work for me), then how do you create the quote box like Funky used?

Your mention of the Encyclopedia makes me think that a history of comic book history would be cool. The two volumes of Steranko’s history, the Jules Feiffer retrospective, whatever that Comix book was from the 70s/80s, the Smithsonian histories of comic strips and books, the Olshevsky indexes, and I don’t know what before the rise of the fanzines and later, the web.

Perhaps rolled up into that or on its own could be information about the first generation of reprints: Superman/Batman/Captain Marvel From the 30s to the 70s, that Wonder Woman book with the intro by Gloria Steinem, Secret Origins of the DC Super-Heroes, Origins of Marvel Comics, etc….

Fleisher wrote about half the Jonah Hex material in the Showcase — Weird Western #22 to #33. He was the second scripter; the first was John Albano. Kanigher’s contribution to the Showcase was the unconnected Outlaw series that ate up the last fifth or so of the book…a series that’s almost unreadable, but does feature some very good Gil Kane art.

The quote thing is the command “blockquote” and then “/blockquote”, only framed by the pointy greater-than, lesser-than HTML brackets and NOT the vBulletin square ones.

I fixed Loren’s because I am a pathetic OCD case. But that’s how it’s done.

“I have no idea how they did, but I suspect the encyclopedia format might have hurt them, sales-wise….”

This may be colored by the fact that it’s where I found these books in the first place, but I wonder if the books (especially the first two) had an unusual percentage of sales to libraries? Given the paucity of reference material about comic books then, I could see how they’d be a welcome niche-filler for libraries to purchase.

I’m starting to get really curious about the sales of the Encyclopedias. I saw them for sale in the B. Dalton’s of a backwater suburb of New Orleans (Hammond), and I bought the Batman and Superman ones in 1978 when I was ten. Admittedly, I was hardly your typical ten-year-old, but just the fact that they were available in in your less-than-average mall makes me wonder if their sales weren’t half-decent.

I’m starting to get really curious about the sales of the Encyclopedias.

Me too. I was just taking my best guess, I have no idea what the real numbers were. I basically remember the books just sitting and sitting whenever I went into B. Dalton’s… I couldn’t AFFORD them, not until I was out of high school. Income being what it was for me in my youth, I had to budget carefully and the lawnmowing money went for the Marvel Fireside books like Origins and Son of Origins, the Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers collections, the 30′s-to-the-70′s DC books… I really liked the Batman book but it was a REFERENCE book and somewhat dry reading. For me, collections with actual reprints were a higher priority, and I was basing my guess on the notion that other fans would probably agree. I might very well be wrong, but it strikes me as significant that the Superman volume wasn’t marketed AS a reference work like the other two. It was sold as a movie tie-in, almost.

But it certainly would be nice to KNOW.

I own The Great Superman Book; Greg is right to say that it is SERIOUSLY nerdy. Great reference book, though.

I may well be the only person on the planet who will actually fess up to enjoying the Hex series.

I enjoyed Hex!, and even bought the DC Heroes RPG adventure based around it….

I own the Superman and Batman Encyclopaedias. DC is reprinting them starting this year, so I’m hoping to get the Wonder Woman one if DC chooses to reprint it.

One of the brilliant things about both volumes is the psychoanalysis Fleischer performs on Superman and Batman (look up their respective entries), such as:

There are, however, deeper reasons behind Superman’s creation of the meek Clark Kent persona, reasons which go to the very heart of Superman’s unconscious life. It is incorrect, first of all, to think of Superman as the real person and of Clark Kent as only a shallow persona, for the psychological truth is very nearly the opposite: in Superman’s mind, Clark Kent is the real person and Superman is the masquerade.

Clark Kent is the outward expression of Superman’s inner self. He is Superman’s interenal experience of who he really is.

And:

Like most survivors [Superman] feels immense guilt at having been powerless to save those who did not survive, and immense anger at having been “abandoned” by them. As the planet Krypton shuddered and rumbled toward the doomsday cataclysm, Superman was not really “super” at all; he was cringing Clark Kent, spinelessly fleeing the scene of terrifying events he couldn’t control. And while he fled to safety, others died.

Like most youngsters orphaned in childhood, Superman appears to have experienced the death of his parents as a personal desertion. In the unconscious mind of the infant Superman, he was unworthy of his parents’ lasting love and so they desrted him. The deep inner feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing engendered by this unconsciously perceived rejection find their outward expression in the personality of Clark Kent, who continually reinforces and confirms his own lowly estimation of himself by arouding the loathing and contempt of others through his cringing, unmanly behavour. On the other hand, Superman’s mortal anger at his parents for having “rejected” him finds socially acceptable expression in the personality of Superman, who has sublimated his enormous agressive impulses to the task of battling evildoers and apprehending criminals.

Three thoughts always occur when I read this:

1) This is an amazingly detailed analysis of a comic book character, which is both original and incredible for the late 1970s that was way above the heads of what people perceived to be the audience of the character

2) I don’t know whether to be amazed at the achievement of subjecting a fictional character to armchair psychoanalysis like this or to find it all laughable bafflegab. I guess both.

3) I have no idea how Michael Fleischer got this past his editor at Warner Books and the upper eschelons of DC comics– I presume they were distracted by the cataloging of appearances of the Toyman and Bizzaro

FunkyGreenJerusalem

April 21, 2007 at 11:48 pm

John Albano wrote 10 of the first 11 issues in the Showcase (with an Arnold Drake story in the middle). The subsequent 12 issues are all Fleischer.

There are no Robert Kanigher Hex stories in the Showcase, although he did write four of the “Outlaw” stories.

Well, that shows how reliable my memory is, although most of my brainspace when I read it was being filled up with ‘Tony DeZunga is some sort of art god’.

From memory then (which probably doesn’t mean much now), I think I prefered the John Albano issues – they weren’t as polished but they were more fun to read (especially when he tried to have ironic endings that weren’t actually ironic), but I might take a look at the Fleisher issues again.
(as there’s a good chance I was a bit Hex’d out by the time I got to them).

The cover to the second(?) issue in the Showcase, where Jonah is staked in the desert I believe, drawn by Joe Kubert is absolutely amazing.
I looked it up to see the colour version, and it pales compared to the B&W one in showcase.

Couple of points; just to be clear, only the Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman Encyclopedias were ever published. Don’t know how much work was done on the other projected five volumes, but I’ll be extremely surprised if DC’s reissuing goes beyond those three already published ones.

Also, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Hex Showcase v2. What I’ve heard is that due to a change in reprint fees that cuts in at that date, Showcase won’t go past 1976 in terms of what it reprints, since to do so would up the price of the volumes considerably. I believe Hex v1 went as far as they can go under that policy.

But haven’t they reprinted some stuff past 1976? At least the Shazam! and scheduled Who’s Who material has some post-1976. If it’s not a hard-and-fast policy, maybe we’ll see Jonah Hex v2? I understand the Hex volume sells pretty well, if I’m not mistaken, so it might justify the extra fees.

I heard about the post-1976 difficulties with royalties as well, Tom. But — and, again, I don’t have actual sales figures so I could be talking through my hat — but the impression I’ve gotten from retailers and fans of my acquaintance is that the more obscure Showcases like Haunted Tank or Phantom Stranger or Jonah Hex tend to do better because the material hasn’t been reprinted elsewhere. And if that in itself isn’t enough to make up the shortfall in expected profits, I’d be completely okay with fewer pages. I’d be perfectly happy with a Showcase that went, say, 17 issues instead of 24, or whatever the template is they have now. I would have been fine with volume one of Hex at the same price and no Outlaw reprints, and from what I hear, most other fans would too; the reaction to the “Outlaw” pages seems mostly to be, “Why am I getting this and not more Hex?” It just draws attention to the short count.

The original Green Lantern and Superman volumes were published at $9.99, so there’s got to be a LITTLE wiggle room there. Didn’t Marvel have some sort of similar issue with their Essential line, and didn’t they get over it pretty quick when they saw what a demand there was for Howard The Duck and Tomb of Dracula?

That’s not rhetorical — I’m genuinely curious. It would be great if someone seeing this who knows the score could clear it up. Because if it really is about DC not wanting to pay fees for work past 1976, that means a lot of other good stuff is off limits as well. That would be a shame.

As far as I know, the only Marvel Essential that went above the standard $16.99 price point was the Godzilla volume ($19.99), and I’m guessing that one was more expensive because Marvel had to negotiate with (i.e., cough up cash to) Toho in order to reprint the material. Since a number of Essentials reprint stuff originally published well into the ’80s (and beyond…the Killraven book ran a Linsner story from 2001 or something!) without any cut in page count or raise in price, I’m guessing that either the post-’76 royalty change is internal DC policy or…um…Marvel is just more willing to drop cash on these books.

My guess is the former, being that (a) DC, a subsidiary of Time-Warner, surely has WAY more money to throw around than Marvel, and (b) the mid-’70s would tie the royalty change to around when the Seigel/Shuster brouhaha over the Superman movie was in full swing. DC came out of that much kinder to their freelancers than they’d ever been before; better royalties seem a likely development. (And an ironic one if better royalties mean the publisher balks at actually paying the improved royalty fees and therefore elects not to republish the material at all, but never mind…)

The original Green Lantern and Superman volumes were published at $9.99, so there’s got to be a LITTLE wiggle room there.

There might be some wiggle room, but that may also just be a case of DC deliberately losing money by offering those two volumes at that price as “loss leaders.”

The last few days, my online time has been VERY limited, so let me catch up.

I haven’t seen DC’s SHOWCASE collections, but the one Marvel ESSENTIAL I flipped through (Dr. Strange) was not only in b/w, but the art didn’t seem to have been prepared for the lack of color (like the very first collection of the Goodwin/Simonson MANHUNTER, published in the old graphic album-like format and out-of-house in about 1980). Don’t like THAT.

As for JONAH HEX becoming HEX, DC didn’t cancel the title, any more than they cancelled WONDER WOMAN at about the same time; they just revamped it to the point of deserving a new #1, and in Jonah’s case, altering the title ”per se” as well. This was clearly very abrupt, as several loose ends were left dangling, including a cliffhanger situation in the very last Western issue, with Hex’s being lifted out of his own time and transported to the future abandoning a young woman in a dangerous predicament.

Greg, you talk in detail about the shelved Spectre scripts eventually drawn abd published in the last issue of 1988′s “WRATH” miniseries, and mention THE COMICS JOURNAL’s 1980 interview with Michael Fleisher. Ever notice that while the former presented THREE stories, the latter specifically stated he left TWO? And Mike went on in depth about what he felt was and was not the right way to handle Spectre, especially criticizing the approach of the 60s version, yet just a few months later, BRAVE AND BOLD #188 presented a Batman/Spectre team-up credited to him (and Jim Aparo) that was exactly the sort of story found in that Julie Schwartz-edited run! His description there of the 40s version is in stark contrast to what is to be found in the Spectre’s archive volume a few years ago. Does anybody know if Fleisher’s lawsuit also contained (or didn’t) a complaint about his own interview (which was in #56, just three issues after the Ellison one)?

I remember Michael Fleisher describing the origin of the Hex series in a column in the back of the first issue.

Jonah Hex was facing cancellation from low sales, but Fleisher wasn’t considering any reboot of the character until he saw the Hex logo, which I believe was designed by Ed Hannigan. Hannigan was just having fun sketching the name, but the look of it inspired Fleisher with the idea to drop Jonah into a post-apocalyptic future.

Fleisher pitched it to the powers that be at DC, and although everyone agreed it was a bit out there, they approved it because Jonah was ending anyway.

Whether it was the concept or the new #1 on the cover, the initial books sold well enough and there were a lot of positive letters in the column where Fleisher corresponded with readers. There were enough fans of the book that it lasted 18 issues–an additional year and a half that DC didn’t believe Jonah’s western book could have done.

Hex’s reboot had nothing to do with Crisis on Infinite Earths (or at least it wasn’t specifically tied into the series). Jonah appears in COIE with Bat Lash, Nighthawk, and Scalphunter in issue #4 in the Old West with the time-traveling superheroes to defend the Monitor’s machine from the Anti-Monitors shadow-demons. He doesn’t significantly appear again until issue #12 and Harbinger refers to Hex fighting for survival in the future.

Overall, I enjoyed the Hex series because I picked it up at a time when I was first getting into comics and because I was a huge Mad Max/Road Warrior fan. The first seven issues are the best of the bunch as the story is one continuing arc.

A scientist has been abducting warriors from throughout the time-stream to battle in re-created virtual environments for the amusement of the wealthy. Jonah escapes, hooks up with the scientist’s daughter, the warrior Stiletta, and befriends Stanley Harris, an American soldier taken out of Vietnam. With Stiletta’s help, Jonah and Harris just want to return to their own times.

There was some good character development in those first issues (especially Harris), and Mark Texeira illustrated a wild world that was part-Road Warrior and part-Star Wars. Then Texeira left and Keith Giffen took over the art–and the extreme style change was too much for most readers. Fleisher’s scripts became as abstract as Giffen’s art and Hex ended abruptly–the final story having Hex come upon his stuffed and mounted corpse, realizing that he will return home someday.

Fleisher penned one last Hex tale for Secret Origins #21. In 1987, Jonah’s ancient Indian wife, Tall Bird has found his body and wants to bury it properly. A collector of Old West artifacts wants the body for himself, and when he threatens to kill Tall Bird he is shot in the back by Jonah’s corpse.

Considering how most fans feel about the Hex series, I was surprised and amused to find Jonah refer to his time-traveling experiences in the Justice League Unlimited episode “The Once and Future Thing.”

Hex was my first introduction to Fleisher and the first Jonah stories I read. I liked the series enough that I bought around 50-60 back issues of the original (and arguably superior) Jonah Hex series. At the time I got into comics, I probably never would have heard of Jonah had Hex not been published, as most of my friends were into 80s media comics and superheroes.

I also have a soft spot for the Hex series because I had a brief correspondence with Fleisher at the time of its publication. I had written into the letter column asking about the Hex advertisement I had seen in several books (“In a violent new world, old habits die hard”), and if it was available as a poster. Fleisher was kind enough to send me his own copy of the poster. At a recent Big Apple Con, I had an amused Mark Texeira sign it.

Thanks for posting this article on Michael Fleisher. Does anybody know what became of him after he left comics?

Thanks for posting this article on Michael Fleisher. Does anybody know what became of him after he left comics?

he went on to “pursue other interests,” Paul… for instance, he published this here book:

http://www.amazon.com/Kuria-Cattle-Raiders-Violence-
Vigilantism/dp/0472086987

and, oh yeah… i’m pretty envious you got in that “In a violent new world, old habits die hard” poster. i wanted that thing even before i even fully realized that the ad was in any way connected to Jonah!

Paul Wargelin on HEX: “Fleisher pitched it to the powers that be at DC, and although everyone agreed it was a bit out there, they approved it because Jonah was ending anyway.”

Sorry, but I stand by my statement that there was a ton of unfinished business in the JH title, including the cliffhanger in the final issue. Let me put it another way: While one could see house ads promising a big change coming for the series, Fleisher was ADDING new plot machinations in the Western format, which were just—and very abruptly—abandoned with the transition to HEX. Doesn’t jibe with cancellation already a given. I have always suspected that some other revamp was planned but jettisoned in favor of the SF shift. And a statement in the text page of HEX #1 that the Western book had already gotten its pink slip anyway should have thrown THAT out the window (I had every issue until a 1994 cross-country move). Do you still have that issue and a way to post a scan of that page?

Hi AFKAP,

Thanx for the info on Fleisher’s book. It’s certainly different subject matter from comic books. :-)And getting that poster from Fleisher was definitely an unexpected surprise.

Hi Ted,

As I said before, I picked up the Jonah Hex books after I read Hex, and I never did pick up the final issue. In any case, I haven’t read issues from either series in several years so I really don’t remember the dangling plot lines from JH–so maybe I’m not remembering Fleisher’s exact comments either.

My copy of that issue is in storage and not easily accessible.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

April 24, 2007 at 1:02 am

This was clearly very abrupt, as several loose ends were left dangling, including a cliffhanger situation in the very last Western issue, with Hex’s being lifted out of his own time and transported to the future abandoning a young woman in a dangerous predicament.

I flicked through the last western issue years ago at a 2nd hand book store, and from what I remember of the last page, it had Hex shot and dying, or possibly dead, and then his body going pink and dissapearing with a ‘The End?’ caption, and on the next page an ad for ‘HEX’.
So I’m not sure if there was a cliffhanger there – although I only looked at that last page.

Funky Green Jerusalem is totally one hundred per cent wrong about how the last pre–HEX issue of JONAH HEX ended. He is standing in a saloon about to defend a pretty blond girl, who was raised by “Indians” and is dressed like it, against some toughs when he disappears. I repeat–standing.

Hex was shit, but it’s got one thing going for it: At one point, Hex runs across his own stuffed corpse from that Wild West show, and quips, “Guess this means I’m going home.”

I just want to put in a word for the Fleisher run on “Dungeons and Dragons”. Maybe it wasn’t ground-breaking like his earlier stuff, but those were pretty good comics.

I haven’t looked at one in ~18 years, but I can still remember characters and moments. For instance, one of the protagonists was a paladin with an alcoholism problem. IMS he’d fallen and then crawled back to redemption, but he still had the problem…

I think that series has disappeared without a trace and never been collected. Which is a shame, because it wasn’t bad. In fact, for what it was — a comic book adaptation of a popular role-playing game — it was fantastic, because you’d expect something like that to suck worse than gravity.

Doug M.

I have to admit I have a soft spot for Hex, it works as a very weird western concept, and because it’s written by Fleisher the character feels right. I even love the Giffen artwork.

I don’t have the last of the western series at hand but it does leave the lady in the lurch. In the Unlimited Access mini series Axel Asher is shown to be the cause of Jonah’s jump into the future, and I vaguely recall that Asher interacts with the lady, but I can’t remember the full details.

Check out http://www.lonely.geek.nz/jhcj56.html for as much as I’ve been able to trace of information and links about Fleisher’s later career, the most informative being http://rodrigobaeza.blog-city.com/i_find_that_they_are_comic_books.htm

Thanks, Darren. There was some growing romantic entanglement there, as I recall, although it may have been only on the woman’s part, especially since Jonah was a married man at the time. His Chinese wife and their baby (son?) may not have been seen or even mentioned for a few issues, but not that many. Was anything further ever made of that offspring somewhere?

Was anything further ever made of that offspring somewhere?

Not that I can recall. It would be a nifty trick to play, deciding which DC current day hero is a decendant of Jonah.

Was there ever a TPB collection of the Fleisher Specter stories?

Perry Holley: “Was there ever a TPB collection of the Fleisher Specter stories?”

Sure, came out just a couple of years ago, under the same title as the 1988 miniseries that first reprinted them and premiered the then-newly drawn last three, WRATH OF THE SPECTRE. I understand that there is absolutely nothing in it but those 13 stories, not even a representation of Peter Sanderson’s text pieces from that old mini.

Darren: Concerning a modern-day descendant of Jonah’s lost kid–I hope you just gave somebody at DC an idea!

[...] Speaking of incomplete histories, I talked about Michael Fleisher’s Encyclopedias in this space a few weeks ago… [...]

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